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Arlene MacAusland of Twisted Knickers and her penny rugs

by Peggy Miles

Arlene MacAusland (photo: Peggy Miles)I have an inner need for material.” says crafter Arlene MacAusland. She has a hankering for buying, cutting and transforming different types of fabric into something beautiful. “I love all kinds of materials…cotton, acrylic, yarn, wool.”

Arlene is the crafter behind Twisted Knickers and works from her home studio in Darnley making hand stitched penny rugs using wool felt blends and/or wool fabrics. Surfacing in the mid 19th century, the penny rug is a folk art style of applique where decorative shapes are layered and sewn together with blanket stitch embroidery. Coins were often used as templates to make the round shapes that were incorporated into the design of the rugs.

Arlene describes the penny rugs that she creates as contemporary primitive; her work reflects the traditional medium, but she gives it a modern flare. She has a knack for assembling dynamic colour combinations. Some designs are more tradition, giving prominence to flowers and Celtic symbols, while others are fun animal themed works featuring sheep munching on clover or multi-coloured cows. An average piece has between 3000-5000 stitches.

Arlene also makes bunny blankets, with each blanket having an attached bunny stuffy. In addition, she makes tin punch ornaments, and sells kits for those who want to make their own penny rugs. The last few winters she has been kept busy making 4,000 fabric finger puppets for a national children’s organization.

The talented fabric artist hails from Saskatchewan and has always had an interest in creative work, reflected in her younger years by making her own clothing and attending university design courses. However, her pursuits included environmental studies and she began a career. Moving to the province in 2001 with her Islander husband Mark and their small children, she found herself delving into the craft world as a way to satisfy her passion and to be home with her family.

Arlene credits the influences of her spouse’s late grandmothers as a source of inspiration. Her husband’s MacAusland grandmother was connected to the MacAusland Woolen Mills in Bloomfield, and provided her grandson’s wife with a rich family legacy, as well as with woolen fabric that the artisan still uses in her craft pieces. Her other grandmother in-law was an avid quilter and also provided fabric remnants and decades of experience.

The PEI Crafts Council member expresses her desire for society to value handmade things. “It’s important for my kids, and for others, that these skills are retained.”

You can find Arlene wares at the gift gallery at the Eptek Art & Culture Centre in Summerside, Northern Watters Knitwear on Victoria Row in Charlottetown, and at the Artisan's Studio in Avonlea Village, Cavendish. Her items are also available on Etsy and she welcomes visitors to her studio in Darnley.

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