Conversation with the Artists & Gallery Tour

Two sisters, Ellen King and Irene Manion come together in this exhibition to express their love of native birds through their chosen media. Ellen works in felt, while Irene explores visual imagery 2-dimensionally, using fibre and watercolour.

Ellen King

Ellen’s recent encounter with a spotted pardalote and the sighting of a Gouldian finch in the wild in the far reaches of Western Australia has been a springboard for her wearable art in the “Birds of a Feather” exhibition. Ellen has taken inspiration from Australian birds, in particular the colours of their feathers: from the many shades of black, white and grey in the magpie, to the soft green and blue of the kingfisher.

Ellen is a feltmaker with particular interest in wearable art, creating light-to-the touch, draping garments in soft merino wool and luxurious silk. They envelop the body, offering warmth and comfort, whilst simultaneously capturing attention through her striking, eye-catching designs. She uses a wet felting method which includes nuno felting and shibori techniques to create texture, movement and depth of colour. The result is a deep reflection on and translation of her experiences and encounters with nature in abstract form.

Irene Manion

Celebrating mainly local birds near her home in Lake Macquarie, Irene’s work expresses her deep awareness of the interconnections between all life forms and the environment.

In this exhibition she depicts many of our favourite backyard birds such as the magpies and rainbow lorikeets, however, she has also worked on studies of birds on endangered lists such as the Regent Honeyeater and the Gouldian Finch. In many of her pieces she has intentionally placed the bird in its favoured environment where food sources are located.

Pushing the stitched medium in new directions in her fibre work she incorporates a range of techniques including digital design, photography, dye sublimation printing and unconventional machine stitching techniques.

Her watercolours are a more spontaneous expression of her avian obsession.

It’s not often that we have an exhibition which integrates two sisters combined artworks. And, it is incredibly rare to have this union merged with immense artistic creativity across multiple mediums. I am absolutely thrilled again to be presenting an exhibition by sisters Irene Manion and Ellen King. Their dedication and passion for the arts, and in particular their chosen fields are second to none.

‘Birds of a Feather’ is a conceptual exhibition relating two sisters’ celebration of love of native birds. Birds that thrive and are seen in every backyard stand side by side with endangered species that are rarely seen and are on the verge of extinction.

Both sisters work in different media interpreting their common subject in unique ways. Ellen King pushes our understanding of felting in exciting directions in her wearable jackets and shawls, while Irene works 2-dimensionally both in watercolour and in fibre. I am sure you will fall in love with this exhibition.

Irene Manion works in a range of media including textiles, photography, watercolour and digital graphics. Celebrating local birds and insects, her work expresses her deep awareness of the interconnections between all life forms and the environment.

Pushing the stitched medium in new and untraditional directions, her textile techniques include dye-sublimation printing, machine and hand embroidery and appliqué on various surfaces including Perspex.

Artist statement

My obsession with birds as subject matter started many years ago when I discovered the presence of families of rainbow lorikeets in a line of tree alongside a busy urban railway station in South Sydney. At dusk the trees were filled with the raucous, strident almost deafening bird sounds that coincided daily with the setting of the sun.

On my regular walks in my new neighbourhood of Lake Macquarie, NSW, I always carry my camera with telephoto lens at the ready, in case I sight local birds, and especially birds in flight. So many scenarios present themselves such as the time I captured a murder of crows invading the nest of distraught noisy miners, or when a family of galahs hung upside down from telegraph wires during a torrential storm. So much has recently been uncovered about the intelligence and behaviours of birds in academic research. My focus on birds can be a celebration of their beauty and personality, usually in the watercolours and photos. They can also appear as symbols in personal narratives or as conceptual statements relating to environmental issues.

My medium of choice is textiles.  The versatility of this medium has always been enticing to me. Initially my work was entirely in the batik technique which was employed to explore the NSW Blue Mountains landscape.  Over time, my interests and knowledge of textile media have evolved and currently dyeing, transfer printing, machine and hand embroidery as surface embellishment dominate my work.

Editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator are also employed to manipulate design elements in preparation for the final image. The completed designs are generally dye-sublimated onto fabric. The printed fabric is then further embroidered.

After completing numerous workshops in machine embroidery in the 70s and 80s, I slowly developed a unique stitching technique that came about as the result of trying to recreate the patterns of barbs on feathers. I was inspired by the way the embroidery module on my sewing machine moved considerable distances to create stitches in precise patterns. By stitching slowly and pulling the fabric extended distances between the needle entries, I was able to develop my unique long-stitch technique. This technique resembles hatching and crosshatching in lithographs and ink drawings, and bears similarity to traditional Japanese hand embroidery techniques, used to embellish Obis. Light at various angles captures the sheen of each line of thread and illuminates the surface, reflecting the rhythm and pattern of the stitches. An embroidered fabric changes considerably when moved, or when the viewer moves, as the lighting reflects uniquely at different angles and levels of luminosity.

Watercolour painting has been a more recent interest, and I my aim is to create looser studies that allow the fluidity of this medium to be demonstrated. It is an exacting medium that challenges me to push limits and explore design in depth. There may be many iterations of a subject before I accept that my final objective has been attained.

I have been exhibiting my work for the past thirty years in numerous group, selective and solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas. My work is many private collections. A secondary Visual Arts teacher and head teacher for a considerable number of years, I also taught photography and video production.

Ellen King is a feltmaker, she is fascinated by the versatility of felt, the ability to produce strong sculptural pieces, and soft wearable garments with the potential to drape the body in, delicate and gentle form.  Ellen uses a wet felting method which includes nuno and shibori techniques to create her sculptural wearables.

Ellen’s aim is to produce well-felted soft fabric, with stunning design and style.  For this exhibition a close look at birds was the goal.  Ellen has used her recent encounters with birds to be the inspiration for her garments she has chosen to concentrate on the colouration of the plumage and feather patterns as her inspiration expressed abstractly


Artist Statement

As a child I was attracted to fibre: I relished the feel of wool and with my mother’s guidance learnt to knit and eventually spinning and dying was incorporated into the mix.  I dabbled a little with felting but my initial cardboard attempts were unexciting. I purchased a “How to Felt” book and most school holidays I started cautiously.  Working full time and with no set space to work, the progress was slow. I retired as a secondary school teacher, in 2014 and built a studio in the back yard and my felting passion blossomed. Also, in 2014 I instigated the formation of Blue Mountains Feltes, realising the need to gather like-minded felting craft-persons who share a common interest.

Along with my passion for felting I am also a very keen bushwalker.   Living in the World Heritage area of the Blue Mountains and being surrounded by nature at its finest, with its stunning vistas, and remarkable flora and fauna provides me with constant inspiration for my artistic practice as a felt maker.  When out walking I invariably have my camera or sketchpad on hand to capture imagery that inspires me, I try to envision how these forms and colours can be translated into felted forms.  My aim is not to realistically copy nature, but to reflect on and translate my experiences and connections with my surroundings in a more abstract way.

Merino wool is especially suited to the demands of felt making. Its softness is luxurious, and its flexibility makes it extraordinarily adaptable. Nuno felting often appears in my garments along with shibori techniques.  Nuno felting is a term when silk and wool are felted together, connecting beautiful silks to wool allows the creation of luxury garments.  I like to dye the silks, often overdyeing several times to achieve a depth of colour with a unique outcome. My felting is often embellished with hand stitching, which allows me to further enhance the detail in my work. For me the moment of making the artwork even more personal begins with the stitching.  Felting for me is an artistic freedom. A realm to discover, imagine and it provides unlimited opportunity to create exciting textural combinations.

With felting I appreciate the ecological sustainable method of taking fibre and transforming it into both functional and beautiful garments. I have been exhibiting my work for the past ten years in groups and solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas. My most recent, was selected as a finalist in the Australian Fibre Arts Award. I received the Judges highly Commended Award and the People’s Choice Award.


When watching magpies closely as they visit our garden, my attention is drawn to the magic of their varying feather patterns and colouration.

It is not just the striking black and white plumage of the adult birds, but also the soft feathery shades of grey with splashes of brown that are part of the rich fluffy coat of the young magpie that I find most attractive.

The magpie series of garments envelops the wearer in a soft draping covering.

A link to this well-loved bird.


The Spotted Pardalote is covered in small distinct white spots, which help to
camouflage the tiny bird, whilst feeding amongst lerp covered gum leaves.

The males are particularly colourful, with bright golden throats and rust-red rumps. On a bushwalk, we rested on the side of the track, when a little spotted pardalote became anxious and flew in and amongst the group of walkers. We realized we may have been too close to a nest, and quickly moved away.

The Striated Pardalote is a small bird, inhabiting woodland forests. On a recent bushwalk, a pair of striated pardalotes chirped and busily flitted in and amongst the foliage, far too quickly for me to capture with my camera.

The male has a golden yellow face and a bright red spot on his white striated wing. My sleeveless jacket emulates the flurry of colours the birds created, as I watched them for that brief moment.


The kingfisher is an unmistakable bird which inhabits riverbanks. Its beautiful blues, sharp eyes and swift flight are identifying features. It poises on water’s edges, ready to dive and create that sparkling splash on the surface on the water as they fish for food. On the Barwon River, in inland NSW, I had the pleasure of watching a kingfisher grooming its feathers in the morning sunlight after procuring a breakfast catch.


The Gouldian Finch in the wild is rare, but whilst walking in the Drysdale River National Park in far north WA, I had the good fortune to watch a very small flock flitting around in tall grass.

Beautiful colours, and a soft twittering song. A moment I will always treasure.


Whilst bush walking in Gundabooka National Park, western NSW, I watched a beautiful red robin dancing about on a dead branch in the late afternoon sun.

With alert attention he would fly away and then return to what seemed to be his favourite lookout position. This small bird with bright red and black plumage was the inspiration for these garments