By Dora Ohrenstein


Experimentation is very important and forms a large part of my work – I love using common materials in unusual ways.

I was born in Denmark and spent most of my childhood there. I migrated to Sydney, Australia when I was 13 years old.

As a child I was always making things and studying everything in the garden. I was a magpie collecting many things, and still do. One of my greatest inspirations was my paternal grandmother, Agnes Jørgensen, who did exquisite embroidery, tatting and crochet. I used to love to watch her making things. I inherited a lot of her work and these pieces are very precious to me. Other things that inspire me are time, light, the natural world, the ocean, the beach, the bush, my garden, patterns, textures and shapes in Nature. I love to work at pre-dawn when the house is quiet, the possums are running across the roof on their way to bed (a Dragon Blood tree that I propagated from seed) and the birds are waking up. This is the time when I’m very focused and my mind is clear, full of energy and desire to create. It’s just me and the kookaburras.

I studied Biology at university here in Sydney and worked in scientific research for approximately ten years, always feeling like a fish out of water. I really wanted to make things and decided to become a carpenter. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an apprenticeship, so decided to retrain as a Horticulturist. I now have a small horticultural business to which I dedicate two-three days a week. The rest of my time is dedicated to my art. How lucky am I? Moving from Science to Art was a personal transformation for me, and I have gradually become more interested in creating and studying Drawing and Art in general. I have been exhibiting and selling my work for the last five years and hope to be exhibiting my Crochet Sea Creatures at the LACE Gallery in Los Angeles in January 2008, as part of the Coral Reef Exhibition put together by The Institute For Figuring.

I feel the Crochet Sea Creatures are the culmination of my interest in the Natural World, Art, Craft, Science and Mathematics. All my skills and interests have merged to create these, and I finally feel as if I have found my niche.

A Brief Interview

DORA: Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?

HELLE: Thinking is vital for me. I need time to daydream and create to stay sane.

Ideas are triggered by patterns, colours, textures, shapes, smells, movements and are processed sometimes for months, even years. There’s usually an underlying theme to my ideas, e.g. the ocean, plants and insects, playing around with scale etc. A lot of time is spent thinking about media, technique and the process of making a piece from beginning to end. Sketching is part of this process. If I can’t resolve an idea, it’s put on the shelf and revisited later. It can be difficult to recreate a mental image or idea in 3-D; the piece can be modified, unpicked and remade many times before I’m satisfied, and it’s usually a compromise.

The ocean has been a source of inspiration for many things I have made. I love the microscopic diatoms, dinoflagellates, plankton, also seaweed, coral and sponges. The shapes are very beautiful. I had wanted to make something for years related to these shapes but couldn’t find the right medium. Whilst crocheting soft toys for my nephews last year I realized I could use this technique.

DORA: How do you turn plastic from shopping bags into yarn you can work with?

HELLE: I posted a tutorial on my blog last week. It should answer most questions regarding this technique. [scroll down to the February 12 post]

DORA: What stitches do you use, and what other materials?

HELLE: Double crochet [sc in American] is used for major components because of it’s rigidity and smooth look……. but anything goes! It can be difficult to get the necessary structure. I use wire and timber dowel, plus polyester fill and plastic bags for stuffing. I’m still experimenting with solutions to achieve structure. I’d like to try starching or perhaps resin. Medusa nematocysta (approximately 80cm tall) took me about 3 months to create. It was taken apart many times and I still feel it can be improved, so there could be another version in the future. I hadn’t done any crochet for along time, so I spent many hours relearning techniques and methods and how to handle the plastic yarn. Once these skills were relearned, the subsequent pieces were made in weeks; they are also smaller (most about 20 – 30cm).

I also work with leftover tapestry wool from unfinished tapestries found in Op-shops. The wool quite often comes in beautiful mixtures of colours, which go well together. I’m making whimsical meadows out of this tapestry wool at the moment,

DORA: Have you made any conventional crochet items, like wearables

HELLE: The only conventional piece I’ve made is a scarf, last year (pattern: Interweave crochet). Perhaps I will attempt a cardigan for our Southern hemisphere winter.

Helle’s newest piece, Whimsical Meadow, modeled by Ekaterina Peteskaya. Photo by Helle’s husband, Tigger Newling. UNVEILED FOR THE FIRST TIME HERE!!



Cunjevoi, made with bullion stitches, wow!


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