How Is a Textile Designer Like a Turtle? Leda Devoldere Is About to Find Out

Leda Devoldere, LINES collection

Join us on a trip to Oostakker, Belgium where we meet textile designer Leda Devoldere in the art studio she has in her parents' garden. Leda designs carpets, pillows and plaids in bright, vibrant colors and abstract shapes. She also has a lisp, which makes some English words hard to pronounce and her voice very easy to love. She knits almost all of her work by hand on her historic hand knitting machine, which makes every single object a real act of devotion. We are in full awe of all this beauty and high design coziness!  

Leda Devoldere in her art studio
Leda Devoldere in her art studio, Oostakker (Ghent), Belgium

Leda online:
Atelier Leda on Instagram

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All music during the interview is from the album Abel by Kabas, a Ghent-based jazz quartet, with Jan Daelman (flute), Elias Devoldere (drums) (Leda's brother!), Thijs Troch (piano/harmonium) (Jozefien's cousin!) and Nils Vermeulen (double bass).  


Listen to the episode

Transcription of Leda Devoldere's interview



JB: Jozefien Buydens

LD: Leda Devoldere

Voiceovers in italics


JB: Leda and I met at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium, where we were both studying textile design. One of my favourite stories about Leda is about her pet turtle, for which she only got to care for a short period of time before it passed away. It was winter when the turtle had died and she and her mom had buried it in the garden.

I told her that I had heard that some turtles hibernate in winter and that she might have buried her sleeping pet alive. The emotions I saw on Leda's face that moment are indescribable. And when I think about it, I actually still don't know the end to that story...

[transition music]

It's a grey, cold and cloudy morning when I drive my dad's car to OESTACRE, where I'll meet Leda at her parents' place. Leda lives in Ghent but her studio space is at her parents' place.

JB: All right… [JB talking to herself in Dutch]

I arrive and park the car on the street while listening to WOLLON RADIO.

[car beeping insistently; JB grumbling]

I thought I had switched off the car but apparently I didn't.

[footsteps on gravel]

When I finally succeed in releasing myself, I walk up to the beautiful house of Leda's parents, which lies at the end of the small dead-end road. It's so peaceful and quiet over here.

Heyy! [bisous]

It's been a year since I saw Leda for the last time so I'm really excited seeing her.

[Dutch chatting]

Leda starts preparing us coffee and tells me about this very cool New Year's party she went to last night. We're both sleep-deprived so this promises to be a really interesting conversation.

[echoing voices]

I've been to Leda's parents' house before. But I never actually went into Leda's studio. We go out through the back door of the house, walk through the garden, and enter this cozy, organised and well-lit studio space. And guess what? On top of all these wonderful qualities, the studio even has a wooden floor.

[cooing in Dutch over wooden floor]

LD: What it looks like to me is a small room in the house of my parents, in the garden. Which is pretty important for me to be around it, by the nature. The studio space itself is pretty small and full of things I've made before. Things mainly when I was studying. A lot of colours, a lot of graphic shapes and it's more like do you say it?

JB: Storage? It's more like storage space?

LD: Now it looks a bit like storage because I'm always surrounded by things that I've made before. I feel when I try to make new stuff that I'm always inspired by the stuff that is still there that I made a couple of years ago and because it's still here I still make the same things in a way.

I studied textile at the Academy of Arts in Ghent. Funny thing, when I was studying I always thought that I didn't want to use textile as a material. I was, like, a bit in a conflict. I always wanted to, I felt like I was a person to be around the Fine Arts in a way. And the education was very applied. And I like to use materials in a free way.

Like, I didn't really want to give it a function. And mainly in textile they expect you to have a context. Like, for example, to use it in interiors or in fashion and I didn't want to be around those worlds. Which was what I thought. But then I graduated with plates and carpets!

JB [who likes plates and carpets]: Yay!

LD: Which is very applied in a way, so that was a bit of a surprise when I think about it now. So the whole concept was that I wanted to make objects that could be related in different spaces, different contexts. I went to a lot of different spaces and I was doing this kind of research: what's the room? Or the space? Or what the context could mean to me, and to my work, and the other way around.

I call it one carpet but actually it's a series of five smaller carpets. And you can put them just as one, or you could split them in five, and put them in, for example, if you have like five spaces or five living rooms (I don't know who has this, but yeah, I think very rich people [laughter]) you could, for example, put one carpet in one space and if you walk through different spaces you have the development of the one carpet in different spaces. Or you could put them together, you could put them on the wall or whatever people wanted to do with it.

And that's what I wanted, to make people play in a way and look around again, not just like buy it and just put it there and never re-check it again.

JB: That's, the play, that's something important to you right?

LD: Yeah

JB: 'Cause I remember when I met you, six years ago I think, right? Or maybe longer?

LD: We're getting old! [laughter]

JB: I think six years ago, I remember that you said that you didn't want to become an adult. And that you liked the whole Peter Pan story because Peter Pan stays, like, this boy and adults get so serious and children are so full of wonder—

LD: I'm really jealous of the way that children look at the world. Everything is a game in a way. And the playing is always a way to free the mind, a way of getting away from reality. When you play you are in focus. I don't play that often anymore. But the way that I play is when I make my installations or make stuff: I always arrange and it's like something gives a way of a structure. And for me it feels like play.

That's, you arrange for example, many different objects. And sometimes I place them by colour, by form, by whatever—I don't know, I can't think about anything right now! But yeah, and that you don't think about anything anymore. Just the rules that you make for yourself. And I think it's kind of the same with playing. You are living in your own fantasy and you just forget about everything else.

I think it's mainly what I like about making stuff that’s—you just break your own rules and nobody can tell you what to do anymore because you play the way you want to play and you make what you want to make and you do what you want to do and yeah.

Maybe my studio right now is an installation in a way. Always when I feel I am chaotic or something like that, I come here. And I don't always make work but sometimes I just arrange and make structure. Last week I was having a really bad day and then I arranged all the yarn and I arranged just everything. I put the boxes all together that have the same form, I put things on the wall. I arranged. And like I said before, yeah, it's to free the mind. So maybe it's kind of, yeah...


JB: So there is like a really fancy machine standing next to the wall. Can you tell a little bit about the machine?

LD: It's a knitting machine. I don't think I was planning to have one until my old—it’s not called 'nanny' but the lady of the daycare, when we were going to the daycare—she knitted all these sweaters for us. And two years ago she came to me and she was, 'OK you've studied textile now. I don't use the machine anymore and I would like you to have it.' And I just like the whole story and the history, of the fact that she made these sweaters for me 20 years ago and now I have this machine. I feel like I'm a bit obligated to do something with it but I haven't done it yet. I have these little samples I made...

JB: Oh yeah I can see them hanging on the wall.

LD: Yeah. I'm just playing with the machine right now and nothing useful is coming out of it but maybe it will be useful in like a couple of months, I don't know. It takes time and research to get to know the machine before you can make something. I can really go to my studio and think, 'Today I'm going to knit a scarf'. And then you can go to the machine and the machine doesn't do what you want to do. And it can frustrate me so much. And that's when I give up. Because the machine doesn't do what I want to do.

[atmospheric music]

LD: When you want to make a drawing you just take a paper and you start to draw. And you do it yourself like totally. There is nothing between you and the paper and you just do it and if you fuck up it's because you did a bad thing and whatever.


LD: I'm also working as the assistant of an artist. Her name is Berlinde De Bruyckere and she uses a lot of textile in her work, mostly old blankets. And materials we use just in our lives. And the work that I do with Berlinde De Bruyckere, she makes rules and it's also, it also feels like a freedom that I don't have to make my own rules. And there I can just play with my hands and work with wax, with textiles, and really like make stuff. But not by making my own rules. And in my work, I make my own rules and I don't really make stuff right now! It's an interesting thing, I don't know if I'm saying it right or if you understand me but—

JB: Mmmhmm, yeah yeah yeah! No no no, I get the feeling.

LD: And just create and not create in my head. And in my own work it's the other way around. I'm creating in my head constantly but I'm not making stuff! [laughter]

JB: Yeah [laughter]

LD: That's kind of how it goes

[jazz music]

JB: Do you think you'll move back to textiles again in the future, or do you have an idea, like, I'll see what happens?

LD: I think, I think I'll work with it again. It's very interesting that I took a bit of a distance of the work and now I'm starting to find it interesting again. Which was something I couldn't say like two years ago.


JB: If you could change the, your studio, is there something you would change about your studio space?

LD: Well I would definitely make it bigger. Which is also like a funny thing to mention. I always compare my studio with a turtle in an aquarium.

JB: [laughter]

LD: It's really stupid but apparently, turtles, when you put them in like a very very small aquarium they are always going to stay tiny. And when you put them in a lake, they grow and they become super big. And I think it's the same with my studio space. It's very small and right now all the things I make are very small. And I think when my studio space would be bigger, my work will grow automatically. Yeah.

[transition music]

JB: And so. It seems Leda still has a fascination for turtles. Remember the story of her hibernating pet? It's turtles all the way down.