Resourceful repurposing: artist puts textiles on Clunes map

Christine Lethlean admits she felt like a traitor moving to Victoria.

Christine Lethlean. Picture: Rochelle Kirkham

Christine Lethlean. Picture: Rochelle Kirkham

The farmer’s daughter grew up in Western Australia’s eastern wheat belt and has lived in the state almost her entire life. 

But it is in Victoria that she has created her ‘forever home’, and an art studio at her house on the hill in one of the Goldfields’ most preserved historic towns. 

Clunes is her ‘little slice of heaven’.

It was her daughters’ move to Melbourne from Western Australia over 10 years ago that inspired Ms Lethlean to pack her bags. 

“I used to visit a lot while they were here and I would always come home inspired,” she said. 

We wanted to be rural. We were looking everywhere and then we found Clunes. We didn’t have to look any further.

Christine Lethlean

The couple first stumbled across their Clunes house over three years ago. Her partner Phil had remained in Western Australia for almost two years to finish off work on their house to sell, while Ms Lethlean lived in Bentleigh and hunted for their next home. 

Now, she has established an open mix media studio, an art gallery, a textile exhibition, a stitching retreat and has been one of the founding members of the Clunes Makers Market. 

“I think in a way I have put textile art on the map in Clunes,” she said. 

Quilts are draped over stitched chairs in her Clunes studio, while lampshades and embroidered cushions line the top of crisp white cupboards. 

Quilts, chairs, cushions... Christine Lethlean creates art by stitching. Picture: Rochelle Kirkham

Quilts, chairs, cushions... Christine Lethlean creates art by stitching. Picture: Rochelle Kirkham

Ms Lethlean’s artwork is about repurposing, a theme that stems from her childhood where being resourceful was a necessity. 

“Mum and Dad were pioneers of the 50s. They got land as part of a big stretch in Western Australia that was opened up for agriculture. They had to start from new. They had to knock down the bush. There was no electricity, no running water, no septic toilets and no telephone for many years,” she said. 

“Mum made us things as a child. Our garden was done with recycled water from the kitchen and the bath.”

We learnt to be resourceful.

Christine Lethlean

The three children travelled almost an hour and a half to school on the bus each day. 

After leaving school in Year 10 with no senior high school near their home, Ms Lethlean fulfilled her desire to travel before returning home to study and work as a nurse, mostly in rural Western Australia. 

“When you work as a nurse in small country hospitals, you have limitations on your resources. You have to get pretty clever about what you do and you become quite multi skilled. You never know what is going to come through the door. Sometimes we had to deliver babies and sometimes there were serious life threatening accidents.”

Resourcefulness translates into Ms Lethlean’s repurposed artwork today, which she teaches to students all over the country as part of conventions, exhibition and classes on ships. 

She has opened the doors to The Margie and Bert Studio to other creators since 2015, and her Clunes stitching retreat has attracted students from afar. 

The last two Clunes Makers’ Markets attracted over 3000 people each day with over 80 traders offering hand made goods. 

Ms Lethlean is also part of the Clunes Tourist and Development Association and volunteers with other events in the community like the Booktown Festival. 

“We have a lot more people coming to town and more businesses opening up on the main street. I see the arts in Clunes continuing to grow too.”

For more information on Committee for Ballarat’s More than Gold campaign search @morethangold.ballaratstories on social media.