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Meet the makers: She ditched L.A. to become a fiber artist in the desert

As a fiber artist working with deadstock fabric and vintage tufting tools, Svetlana Shigroff has an acute appreciation for what she describes as “old-school women’s work.”

“There is something so special about using your hand with these old tools,” Shigroff says of her hand-tufted tapestries. “I don’t want to become mechanized.”

After working as a high school teacher in her native Australia and in the fashion industry in Los Angeles, the 36-year-old moved to the Yucca Valley last year. Now, the full-time working artist and occasional wardrobe stylist creates colorful, powerful tapestries in her two-car garage overlooking the desert.

“Being in the desert allows me to be free and delve a little deeper into my art and what’s going on with me,” she says. “I can be a little less self-conscious out here.”

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Australian artist Svetlana Shigroff at her studio in Yucca Valley. Shigroff creates tapestries inspired by mythology from dead stock fabric that she tufts with vintage wood tuft tools.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Interested in tapestry but intimidated by the process, Shigroff taught herself how to tuft by watching a dated, grainy tufting video on YouTube.

Today, she works 8 to 12 hours a day in the garage, crafting pieces from leftover or rejected knits she buys in the downtown Los Angeles fabric district. After cutting the knits into half-inch strips with a rotary cutter, she then tufts them onto a fabric canvas using a well-worn antique wood and metal shuttle punch.

Her custom pieces take anywhere from two to six weeks, and range from $350 to thousands of dollars.

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Her work is inspired, she says by her family, mythology and “half-truths.”

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"Lucid Dream" (2018) by Svetlana Shigroff.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A faceless Medusa juggles heads on a bed of flames in one unfinished tapestry hanging in the garage. An “alchemistress” grips a spider, scroll and flames in another. Coiled snakes tufted onto fabric are widely represented, hinting at her interest in lore and legend.

“I draw a lot of goddesses from different cultures and mash them up,” she says. “My own family history is a little hazy. They were in China for 15 years before they came to Australia. There was a lot of trauma, myths and half-stories. Being European in Australia was weird.”

Viewers experience her work differently, Shigroff says. They see the snakes and faceless figures and add their own narrative.

“I love hearing what people think,” adds Shigroff, who also creates one-of-a-kind jackets using patch versions of her tapestries. “It’s not always super-obvious, but femme-identified individuals seem to get it.”

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She views her work as a mix of sculpture and painting.

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“It transcends sculpture and tapestry. It’s like painting,” she says. “Sometimes I don’t know what my pieces will be about until they are done.”

Is her work always about something? “Always,” she says with a smile.

Looking ahead, Shigroff will have a month-long residency and show at Midnight Oil Gallery in Yucca Valley in April. The residency will also serve as an opportunity to see her in action as she plans to work on a large frame in the gallery’s main space, which will be open to public.

Maker: Svetlana Shigroff

Craft: Hand tufted tapestries

Info: svetlanashigroff.com

Studio playlist: Iggy Pop, the Distillers, psychedelic rock, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Why handmade things matter: “There’s a beautiful quality of hand that you don’t get from store-bought goods. I love the personality and quality of craftsmanship. You can actually see the personality of the person who made it.”

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Your turn: Do you know a maker who deserves a wider audience? Tell us about them and why their work is so special at home@latimes.com and we may include them in our ongoing series about makers, crafters and artisans in and around Los Angeles. Include a few photos of their work and a link to their website, if possible.

home@latimes.com

MEET MORE MAKERS:

Makers: After two years spent working in his garage, a woodworker distinguishes himself

Meet the Makers: A SoCal artist weaves her way to a new career

Makers: For stained glass artist Janel Foo, it’s all about the colors

Why woodworker (and actor) Nick Offerman wants you to unleash your inner crafter

Makers: Ceramist Pawena Thimporn goes bold and big with her pieces


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