Words by Hosna
'I feel like when I’m absorbing so much information I need to sew... I get an itch to sew.'
Barefoot, messy hair and a big smile greeted Monica and I as we were 1 hour late to our interview with textile artist Olive Gilbert, or best known for her bags under ‘Olive made.’ Her house is a rustic townhouse in Newport, covered by an abundance of leafy greens and a splendour of foliage. Much like her environment, Olive is eclectic and lavish.
Her studio is set in the Bungalow behind her house nestled between wild cacti and veggie patches. Her walls are covered with textiles and posters of graphics. She doesn’t have a cupboard, but stores her things in milk cartoons probably found somewhere in Footscray, because that’s her favourite place. As Palm Trax's mix of funky, groovy and danceable tunes play throughout the interview, an abundance of natural light enters the space, where you feel immediately inspired. I am a firm believer that your space can have a heavy impact on your attitude, character and reactions. Olive’s creative hub is certainly reflective in her textile work. She’s practical yet chaotic.
Her practicality is reminiscent in what she makes. Known for her graphic tote bags and pouches Olive Made in the Melbourne scene. Gilbert explains that what she ‘loves about making bags is that it’s functional.’
‘Like there’s a need for it, my art is functional and useful.’
In year 12 when others made formal dresses or gowns, her major project was a Moroccan tent. She creates things for the people.
Not only does her creativity spark from practicality, it also sparks from consideration. In high school, she baked for people, ‘any excuse, I would bake for people.’ When she was in primary school she would make button hair ties for her classmates, which would eventually lead to her brand Olive Made. It is the combination of functionality and consideration that cornerstones her artistic character.
Gilbert explains that she ‘can’t just do nothing’ because she gets an ‘itch to sew.’ She bought a sewing machine in Berlin just for 3 weeks so she could sew. She never really has an 'idea', but she’ll see a colour, a pattern or something kooky that would ‘put an idea in [her] head.’ She begins to sew, and that’s when Olive makes.
It’s honestly crazy, how creative and inspiring Olive is. She litters sentences half way through a conversation, as we look through her year 12 folio:
‘Oh I miss this.’
Or she’ll glance for 3 minutes and smile thinking about her next pattern design or work. It's a stare of pure passion and vision.
Describe your aesthetic in 3 words.
Colourful and chaotic.
Where do your inspirations come from?
I feel like when I’m absorbing so much information I need to sew. I do a lot of op shopping that’s where a lot of my fabrics come from. Also when I travel overseas. I lived in Berlin after I graduated from uni and that’s where I bought a lot of my fabric from. There’s Turkish markets in Berlin that have all this fabric, for really cheap by the roll, they have the best fabrics. I have a few books I like to read. The Selby books by Todd Selby. I literally go to bed at night reading them, they’re my bible. They just celebrate craziness. I was also telling someone the other day how I think inanimate objects are my biggest inspiration, I love them.
When did you start sewing?
I started when I was in year 5 at school, making button hair ties for kids and selling them. Then in high school I was making pencil cases for fun and for my friends. I started uni and I just wanted an excuse to keep sewing and doing something creative, because what I was doing at uni were essays and I wasn’t making. That’s when I decided I wanted to make a label.
How has Melbourne shaped you?
My parents moved us here because they knew it was a creative city. I think being in Melbourne, you know being able to go to the other side of the town there was so much art around. But I do spend a lot of time in the West. Especially Footscray. I spend so much time eating or being at the Vietnamese coffee shops. I just love it there; I feel like I’m in the world. There’s just so much going on.
The best thing about being an artist?
Having an excuse to collect things. It’s inspiration, well actually it's hoarding. But being able to give and make things for people. I love the idea of creating treasures for people. Even having an excuse to go to the post office, wrapping orders is so fun!
Which artist would you like to work with?
My grandad, he was an artist. I have faint memories of him, because he passed away when I was six but my grandma always says that she sees him in me. Like his chaotic and colourful works, his need to always be doing something. I have been thinking of collaborating with my aunty who is a textile designer and painter. She painted some fabric for me last year, and I got a really good response. Plus she does incredible stuff, so hopefully I'll spend some time with her and just make some original fabrics.
How do you get over a creative block?
There’s days when I sit down and tell myself ‘yes I am ready to sew,’ then I just can’t. I think just time, going out. For example going to Footscary, I love doing that. Going to the $2 shops and finding stickers for packaging, rope to make straps. I just love seeing things, seeing how someone wears something ‘oh I like the way they’ve done that strap or this and that,’ so then I go and sew.
What are your plans for 2017?
I’ve just moved into an artist space, so moving out of my bungalow at home. It's an artist collective with 45 other artists in Melbourne. It’s nice to be a part of something, and to have my own studio. More bum bags. I think in Melbourne, especially the festival scene everyone needs a bag, and specifically bum bags. Crazy fun bum bags, I need to do more of. Kinda make them into art pieces. I’ve always had this idea of just an exhibition of bum bags. But they’re so fiddly and time consuming. But that’s what so fun about them, that each one is never gonna be alike another one of them.
Where do you want your label to go?
I’ve been thinking about it. I definitely want to try to get some stockists for a few shops. The dream is to have a resort collection, luxe holiday wear for bags. Now I am not going back to uni, kinda just contemplating if I give it some time where it can go. Cause I really don’t know.
What type of music do you listen to?
Ahh right now I have Palm Trax playing, a 2-hour mix.
What’s your favourite shoe?
Ideally no shoes, but that’s not exactly ethical.