Les Petits Bonheurs – Brenda Colling

by Ruth on January 30, 2015

in Inspiration, Inspiring Me, Stories of silk & textile treasures

I don’t know why it took me so long to get into Instagram but now that I am, it has opened up this entire world of creativity, collectors and artists.  I get such a kick when I find a ribbon without documentation and now know enough to take a stab at the epoque and ribbon maker. It has been a wonderful journey of discovery – and yet there is so much that I don’t know and I can’t wait to learn and grow. Isn’t that what makes life interesting?

I discovered this weeks Les Petits Bonheurs muse, Brenda Colling, on a particularly dreamy textile voyage on instagram, her incredible range and diversity of antique textiles is truly inspiring. I couldn’t help feeling a kinship with Brenda, someone who cherishes craftmanship, design & colour.

I think for people like Brenda and I – it is not just the warp and weft that draws us in but the whispers of stories woven into these threads, stories of a tribe, be it the tenturiers of Burkina Faso or passementiers of Saint Etienne. The essence of these people is to be found amongst the fibers and by holding them in our hands, we can be a part of it – even for just a moment.

Brenda is not simply a collector and dealer of antique textiles, she is an accomplished artist who creates beautiful paper sculptural work and I am so happy that she allowed us a glimpse into her world, her creativity and collection.



 “Whether the tradition is 50 or 500 years ago, these textiles have stories to tell, silently woven, appliquéd or embroidered into the fibers.”

“To begin my history, I will start with my grandmother, pictured below, with some samples of her work.

She was an expert needlewoman (English smocking), and my mentor.  Every year, right after Christmas she would begin making smocked dresses for her granddaughters. There were many of us.  It would take the year to complete them.  She would sit in her rocking chair sewing, and I would sit in another rocking chair, watching and absorbing her techniques. I have cherished these pieces, as they represent the beginnings of my collection. Dowry textiles still existed when I was a child.  My mother had a trunk full of handmade quilts when she married. We used them daily, until they disintegrated.  Later, when I  Ieft home, she bought handmade Mennonite quilts for my use.

Acquiring vintage textiles was a random activity when I began.  Friends would give me their old lace collections. Others would scour their attics for textiles untouched in decades.   From there, becoming a textile artist was a natural development.  There was an abundance of scrap material, and clothing that could be cut and recycled into art.”


“Pictured below is one of my favourite sources for fabric.  It is the Garage Antique Market in New York City, which closed a few months ago.  Many of the vendors can now be found at an outdoor market nearby.  As you noticed, my collecting interests are diverse.  The indigos from Burkina Faso are a perennial favourite.  There is a worldwide passion for indigo, that never abates.  African indigos are a sizable part of my holdings. I would love to share more pictures, but they would take up a lot of space.  Occasionally, there is a piece that I don’t want to part with, such as the Dida weavings.  The tradition has disappeared, and the pieces are quite rare.”

unnamed“Occasionally, there is a piece that I don’t want to part with, such as the Dida weavings.  The tradition has disappeared, and the pieces are quite rare.”

“The first magnificent textiles I saw were Ching Dynasty robes on exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum. They were truly breathtaking for their opulence of embroidery and colours.  Below is a garment I purchased much later.  Though not an imperial piece, it does have exquisite gold couching, in the dragons, buddhist symbols and ideograms. My interests have evolved since then.  The textiles and adornment from Africa inspire me most.”

3This wonderful fabric “is Adire from Nigeria.  The design is created using a cassava resist paste.  This tradition still exists, though it is diminishing.”

“African textiles continue to be my main interest today.  The vitality of design never ceases to inspire me.”

4Pictured here is an antique Hausa robe.

“It is made of hand woven cotton strips.  They are sewn together, by hand.  The embroidery is done in wild silk.”

6Above is my piece exhibited in a doll show.   Antique African fabrics and beads are combined in this doll headdress.


Pictured above are several pieces that will be shown/worn in Brendas upcoming show, Wearing a Cloud, at Art 101 in New York.

“All of the pieces are made of paper, from various sources.  Many of the pieces have a soft hand, and can be mistaken for fabric. I was asked a few years ago to work on paper installations, and since then my work has grown to include paper jewellery, hats and garments.  I envision these pieces with multiple uses.  They are both wearable, and sculptural items that can be wall mounted or displayed on stands.”

photoAbove – Photograph of Brenda Colling, wrapped in one of her designs.

 About inspiration & working through creative block:
“My inspiration comes from all around me:  Tribal art, picture reference files that I have been building over the years, my own textile collection, museums, flea markets,  outsider art and nature. When I have creative block, I start going through by picture files and pull out images.  Often I rework an old design in a different medium, or in another scale.”

“While working, I always listen to music;  European classical, Cuban rumba, tango, African traditional and popular, and middle eastern. Sylvan Leroux, founder of Fula Flute is a favourite performer.  The list of inspiring artists is long.
Marion Tuu’luq, an Inuit textile artist, and Norval Morisseau, painter, have always inspired my work.”
Above: Antique Hausa robe
How do you sell your work?
“I have annual Open Studios, where I sell my work. Most of my sales come from private commissions.”
“Here is a peek into my studio”


“Pictured above is a corner of my studio.  Some of my treasures are stored in these baskets. I have a live/work studio.  The front room is where i work and store materials. But the whole apartment is full on occasion:  if I am doing 30’ draperies for example. I am happiest when I am working on a project.  This could anywhere in my home where there light and space are suitable.”

 IMG_5110This is the bodice detail of an indigo dress from Palestine.  A favorite of Brenda Colling

“I have many collections:  African indigo, aso oke, strip weaving, kuba, Miao. There are many pieces that I am willing to share.  Many can be seen on my blog, brendacolling.wordpress.com or website,  www.brendacolling.com

Pictures of tv and film interiors can also be seen on my website.

Every piece that I acquire is something that I love and cherish. When I go out sourcing, it is with an open mind.  One never knows what will be out there.

IMG_5111 Below is an embroidered, batik Miao apron.  Another beauty in Brendas collection.

Occasionally, a client will ask me to source a particular textile. But that is usually after they have seen a piece in my collection, and want something similar. Other than my family heirlooms, I am able to part with my textiles after a time.
The display in my showroom, is constantly changing.   I feel it part of my mission to educate people on the splendours of traditional textiles.  They have rarely been credited as inspiration for artists, and relegated to a lower status in the art hierarchy. Whether the tradition is 50 or 500 years ago, these textiles have stories to tell, silently woven, appliquéd or embroidered into the fibers.
TV and film work evolved alongside my fibrework. I have a background in costume design, which led me to work in theater, dance, fashion and film. From costumes , my work extended into interiors for film and television. My long history working with textiles has allowed me to work in any scale, with any materials, often on a tight deadline. The materials I enjoy are natural fibres;  linen, cotton.  For clients, I use anything the job requires, from canvas to synthetics.”

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