Tools of the Trade: Ilka White

By Brianna Read “Art is the objectification of feeling, and the subjectification of nature.”

Susanne Langer (1895-1985)

This quote is from the text Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling by another inspiring creative woman –  I cannot think of a more appropriate way to introduce Ilka White. Ilka’s creative practice simply does not fit neatly into any box and while Ilka herself is unsure about labels, for the purpose of describing to the readers a little more about her work I shall informally call her a textile maker and educator.

One of the first questions I ask the subjects of this column is “Which tool makes your practice possible?” Ilka’s immediate response to this query was “My mind.” This  initially puzzled my very literal and practical self but through the course of the interview I came to understand a little better why Ilka’s work and teaching practice both leave an indelible mark on those who encounter them.

Whether works are initially explorations of materials or ideas White’s pieces always exude a depth of concept in partnership with a mastery of craft in each medium she employs. Often drawing both inspiration and materials from the natural world the work always speaks of where its materiality originated from and of the hands that shaped it’s new form.

When I inquired after how her practice has evolved over time, Ilka observed that recently her meticulous analytical nature has given way to a gentler approach to making and self-critique. This shift in her practice has also seen a change in the focus of her work which she described as valuing process as much as product  and an interest in “making work in response to the essence of something, rather than depicting it's physical form.”


Feeling that 'mind' did not adequately describe the essential tool of her practice, Ilka searched a little longer for the right words to summarise this elusive ingredient, and proposed 'perception and soul' as a more adequate answer. From the outside though it seems very clear that her work is extraordinary in its ability to communicate both the mind, hand and heart of its maker, of course there is no single word to sum this up as it is many things… passion, intelligence, talent, dedication, an open and inquiring mind and on the list goes.

Ilka’s work recently showed at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick as part of an exhibition titled Material Culture, several of these pieces are currently on display at Pop Craft until the end of June. July and August see Ilka sharing her wealth of textile knowledge in numerous workshops across Victoria.

To contact Ilka about her work or classes email or follow the links below for further information on each event.

Decorative Techniques for Fashion (Intensive 5 day workshop at RMIT)

Responding to the Natural World in Textile Practice (Lecture as part of the Beautiful Silks Natural Dye Symposium)

Weaving Connections - A week of textile activities, classes and demonstrations in Castlemaine. August 20 - 25

Works by Ilka are showing in Petite Miniature Textile Exhibition at Wangaratta Art Gallery from June16  - July 22.

Brianna Read is a designer-maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds employs hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops.