Meet the Maker with Tanja Gawin

Updated: Feb 25

Speaking with felt artist, Tanja Gawin is a vibrant experience - there's a real air of joyfulness and creative play that follows her. She has an enthusiasm for her craft (and life!) that feels omnipresent as she speaks. To see her work is to have a peek into this wonderful world of Tanja: it's whimsical, it's colourful, it's happiness with form. Tanja sat down with us to talk about her felt work, and her progression to basket coiling. We hope we've captured her essence as much as possible - because it really is a joy to be around!


How it all began

I am a German who, quite unexpectedly, transported to the other side of the globe, namely to Melbourne, some 25 years ago. I had an architecture degree, but this remained behind in Germany. Instead, I focussed on bringing up my gorgeous, redheaded daughter, and in time, I trained as a natural therapist and counsellor and eventually ended up working in community service, which I have done for the past 15-years.


My fibre arts story starts with a stash of wool, leftover from my daughter’s rather short lived knitting career in primary school plus the chance encounter in a book store with Loani Prior’s book Extremely Wild Tea Cosies. This was about about 10 years ago. These instances re-opened the door to my dormant Maker’s heart and there has been no looking back.

Seeing Loani’s work inspired me; and gave me licence to play and explore. I’ve never been good at following instructions or reproducing someone else’s work, so I set about designing my own tea cosies, as colourful and outrageous as I pleased. The only requirement was that they had to fit a teapot!


My artworks have developed their own personality; they are recognisable as uniquely mine, which pleases me no end.

It soon became apparent that I am too impatient for knitting. But perhaps serendipitously, there was a felted tea cosy in one of Loani’s other books. This led me to Melbourne based felt artist and teacher, Elizabeth Armstrong. I still remember the pure bliss of driving to one of her workshops – held in her studio, which is drenched in colours and whimsy.


Since those early days, I have become an accomplished felt maker and have developed my own artistic language. My artworks have developed their own personality; they are recognisable as uniquely mine, which pleases me no end.


Felt creations

(Felt) Making has swallowed me whole and a life without making has become entirely unthinkable. Nowadays, I have had work published. And I am a happy member of a thriving, international community of makers. Eureka for the Worldwide Web!


It is such a pleasure to have made something that I love, and if my partner laughs out loud when he sets eyes on a new hatchling, my mission is complete.

The objective of my creations has distilled into something very simple: I want them to bring a smile to my face when I meet them again in the morning. When new work has hatched, I usually can't wait to say hello and meet it again in the new light of day. I love looking at them in all their colourful quirkiness. It is such a pleasure to have made something that I love, and if my partner laughs out loud when he sets eyes on a new hatchling, my mission is complete.


I now have a Facebook page (Smile Works) and am on Instagram (@tanjagawinfelt). A website is also in the works (www.smileworksfelt.com.au).


Recently I made a list of the words that pop up repeatedly in the comments on my posts; words like, fun, smiles, joy, FUN (fully unmitigated nonsense), exuberant, whimsy, whimsical, funky, whacky, humorous, colourful, quirky, happy all appear. It doesn’t get much better than that!


Last year I was preparing for my first solo exhibition when the worldwide reset button was pushed (COVID) and a change of plans and lifestyle was required.


A new craft, perhaps?

Wet felt making is wet business. It also has to be done standing up. Sadly, Melbourne’s last, seemingly interminable lockdown (we are out of it now and the world is starting to turn again! Yay!), knocked the stuffing out of me for a bit and a more sedate, less wet, more sofa-centred form of making, to soothe ruffled nerves was required.


I love that basket making, like felt making, has a mind of its own. Relaxing, being adaptable and going with the flow is an imperative – a most pertinent lesson for life in general, really.

As per usual, the universe provided the answer to my plea in the form of Ruth Wood’s online tutorials on coiled textile and raffia baskets. I started these a few months ago. If something grabs my interest, I develop a slight obsession (I asked the Thesaurus for synonyms for obsession and it gifted me with: passion, enthusiasm, fascination – I find these much better!) for the subject, so many, many a basket has been coiled since.



I just love coiling! It is a craft that can be done on the sofa; it is rhythmic, meditative and slow. It slows me down and after a while, I feel how my breath synchronises with the stitching.


Who would have thought there are materials for making baskets right here in my little inner city backyard? Now, as I wander the neighbourhood on my evening walks, I have to keep myself from jumping neighbours’ fences to collect interesting plants bits.

I can still indulge in my passion for colour. I just adore strong bold colours. ‘Meine Lieblingsfarbe is bunt’ means in German, something like: ‘my favourite colour is multicolour’ - a sentiment shared with the late Mies Van Der Rohe, director of the Bauhaus School of Design.


There came a point where I felt coiling, lovely as it is, became a little too meditative and something new was required. Again, as per usual, the answer in the form of Ruth’s Baskets from the Garden workshop popped up in my inbox, and voilà!



Who would have thought there are materials for making baskets right here in my little inner-city backyard? Now, as I wander the neighbourhood on my evening walks, I have to keep myself from jumping neighbours’ fences to collect interesting plants bits. There’s a collection of twigs, leaves and vines drying in the bungalow and I am working up to knocking on a complete stranger’s door to ask whether I might pilfer some of the flax I spotted in their front yard.


I love that basket making, like felt making, has a mind of its own. Relaxing, being adaptable and going with the flow is an imperative – a most pertinent lesson for life in general, really.


Ultimately what I want to do is to combine felt making with basketry and already the ideas are whirling in my head! So, fun times ahead!



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