Standing inside Jodi Ballinger’s many-windowed workshop, inspiration isn’t hard to come by. Natural light spills into the studio, creating an ever-changing mood that accompanies the sunset or sunrise scene unfolding outside.
The space overlooks a small, charming lake, which Ballinger advised is called the “big pond.” Inside, bins of buttons and bits of coloured fabric fill the workspace of her home-based business, the Dandelion Bucket.
“I’m quite inspired by texture and the feel of all different types of materials,” she explained.
Ballinger is a textile artist with a passion for recycling, reclaiming, and re-imagining. In her creative endeavours, she brings new life to items destined for the landfill.
She can turn a wool sweater into an army of stuffed bears with backpacks full of pine cones and has transformed a yellowed corduroy jacket into a family of bees that hang delightfully from a nursery mobile.
“It’s no secret that I use discarded materials and things that are done their life,” she said. “I will go to re-use its centres and share sheds and find pieces. I’m looking for texture, I’m looking for beautiful material that inspires me to make my art.”
Ballinger is always mindful of the pieces she chooses to work with, taking time to consider where her materials come from and who they once belonged to as she stitches together the fabric of each new creation.
“As you put layers and layers into these pieces of art, it builds upon it and creates something beautiful to look at.”
Ballinger sources most of her material from Our Social Fabric, a nonprofit organization in Vancouver that rescues leftover fabric from factories, manufacturers, and the film industry.
Before relocating to the 108 Mile Ranch, Jodi and her husband lived in Quesnel for ten years. Jodi grew up in Williams Lake herself, but the couple has lived in a handful of small communities throughout northern B.C.
After three years in the South Cariboo, Ballinger is ready to make her artist’s debut.
She has brought the Dandelion Bucket to the Medieval Market in Williams Lake in the past, but she and her husband are both employed full-time, which makes the business a labour of love.
Ballinger was well established in Quesnel, where she won a Home-based Business of the Year award in 2011 at the city’s Business Excellence Awards.
Her family has always been creative, but she did not receive any formal education in her craft. Instead, she learned through experience and inspiration. Her mother and grandmother taught her to embroider, and challenged her to think outside the box, instilling in her a desire to craft “something from nothing.”
“When you’re a fibre artist, it gives you freedom,” she said. “There’s no right or wrong way to do something“
On the wall of her studio, a textile landscape hangs. Pointing it out, she explained its significance: “Years ago, I found this piece at a yard sale. It’s gorgeous… That’s the piece that inspired me to create landscapes.”
Ballinger was already working with textile art before she came across it, but the piece brought inspiration that has been important for her artistic journey.
Her creations are forever changing as she becomes inspired by new textures and aspects of nature. Currently, she is working on a piece that includes materials such as an old sweater, strips of a jean jacket, burlap, and wool.
“It looks like nothing right now, but these are discarded materials. That’s what I love, is saving this material from the landfill and creating art from it.”
Her toadstools were some of Ballinger’s first pieces that have since become bestsellers. She created them from natural materials, fashioning their stems from a backyard Saskatoon bush that needed pruning.
Her newest designs are whimsical little pixies, each with a name of its own and a beautiful dress of delicate, floral cloth. One of her pixies’ wings was actually fashioned from a 1950’s wedding dress.
“I find if you put little details into your creations, it gives it a story, and it gives it something that people are excited about. It’s not just a toy, there’s a bit of a back story to it.”
Ballinger has always made dolls, she said, noting that the pixies she began making last year are all named after her female family members. In the process of creating them, she makes sure to say hello to each new pixie and greet it by name.
The Dandelion Bucket began as a business over 15 years ago, but the roots behind its name were planted long before then.
“My parents have always been very resourceful, so we always looked for things that we could forage,” Ballinger recalled.
“We would get ice cream buckets and fill them up with dandelions. Dad would make dandelion wine, Mom would make dandelion preserves and jellies, things like that. She would dry the roots and make dandelion tea. It was a memory of inspiration and foraging.”
Ballinger believes that art boosts self-esteem, encourages creative thinking, and is an excellent stress reliever.
“Crafting something of beauty with my hands has given me a sense of accomplishment,” she said.
Shortly after moving to the 108, the Ballingers attended the Studio 2 Studio self-guided art tour and found that it offered them a real sense of community.
For those who have never attended, Ballinger believes the art included on the tour can appeal to everyone.
“It’s just a fun afternoon. It’s free. It’s a nice drive. It’s always intimate and fun to actually come into somebody’s studio. Actually, for an artist, it takes a lot of bravery to come into your personal space.”
This is the first time that Ballinger will open her own studio to the public, which she said is a gift in itself.
“Most people have an appreciation for art, whether you enjoy observing, creating, or volunteering. I encourage everyone to experience it. Load the car with friends and family and come out to see what your art community has been doing.”