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A picture of Robyn Lees-West

Robyn Lees-West

Textile taxidermist

in artist, windows

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Robyn Lees-West and I'm a textile taxidermist.

I make faux taxidermy birds from retro and reclaimed fabric. I've always had a love of pattern and colour and hoarded retro fabric (curtains, table cloths etc.) I moved from the UK to Australia about 9 years ago and absolutely love the birds here - they're so colourful and noisy. The kind of birds you would only see in a zoo or pet shop in the UK.

I was regularly taken to a couple of taxidermy museums as a child and was fascinated by them - The Booth Museum, and Potters Museum of Curiosity. Hence I inherited a fascination with taxidermy.

My faux taxidermy birds bring all these loves together.

The first bird I made was because we had loads of polystyrene in the house that I didn't want to go to landfill, I wanted to make something beautiful to be kept from it, so I carved a bird out of it and covered it in fabric. It has all developed from there. I keep a focus on upcycling materials.

Each bird I make is unique and has its own character. They all contain many hours of hand stitching and embroidery. Sometimes they wear hats. I make all kinds of birds, from tiny fairy wrens to a life size pelican bust, and this year I have promised to make a full life size cassowary.

What hardware do you use?

I'm pretty old school and do most things by hand, so my hardware is mainly my needles, pins, fabric and embroidery thread. I do a little machine sewing on a Janome MyExcel 18W sewing machine that I bought second hand for $50 about 8 years ago.

I take all my photos on my iPhone 11 Pro and edit them on Instagram. I am a complete technophobe and stick to what I know. The photos for my website are edited on Instagram then I take a screenshot. I do have a cheap lightbox that has really helped to improve my photo quality.

I use my son's old Asus laptop to manage my website, and my phone for everything else.

I'm a big fan of a hand written 'to do' list and my sketch book is full of them. I love a Bic Biro to both write and draw with.

And what software?

As I said I'm a technophobe and I don't really use any software. My website is through Wix, and I use Instagram for photo editing.

I use Minuteman Press for all my business cards, prints, greetings cards etc. They are so patient with me and take images and text I have spliced together in PowerPoint and edit them to be perfect, free of charge. They were my best discovery of 2020.

In a previous lifetime I was in project management, so I'm pretty confident with Excel for my bookkeeping.

What would be your dream setup?

I think I have my dream setup, to be honest. We moved to Eltham, Victoria (in the green wedge) 3 years ago. I have a room with all my fabric out on shelves so I can see it and my sewing machine and lightbox set up (currently commandeered as a home office by my husband).

I actually spend every day hand sewing on the sofa with my dog, with amazing views over trees with cockatoos, lorikeets, kookaburras and king parrots visiting. I can't think of a better setup than that.