Sumac mid-winter.

Last fall I began taking photographs of images along the Friendship Trail: some close up, some mid-distance and others further away. I didn’t really know where I was heading at the time but knew that what I was seeing must be shared with others.

Almost a year later I have covered four seasons and accumulated enough work to present as a “work in progress.” I’m hoping you will enjoy what has evolved from the first of dozens of photographs above, to more than a dozen completed works. My fibre work has lent itself as a medium that creates the tapestry-like texture and colour that these images so closely align with.

I began this project as something “just for fun.” For a few years now, photos taken of the giant Iguanas on the island of Cayo Largo, off the southern coast of Cuba (Iguanas below), have been waiting for an opportunity to realize themselves. SAQA’s call for entry, “Fur, feathers, fangs and fins” seemed the perfect fit!

Here we go: I envisioned a wall mounted work to reflect the rock face with the Iguana basking on a rocky ledge. I had saved a silk fusion “skin” from a previous rock sculpture which was never completed. This I thought would give me a leg up on the project. I had also envisioned some very textured remnants of handwoven fabric from my weaving days, covering the rock face and in fact, the Iguana itself – a perfect camouflage fit.

That aside, I began with the construction of the creature. What to use as an armature? I could see some left over pool noodles as just the right size and nice an squishy to shape the body, but wire was also necessary to keep that shape and to fashion legs and toes – oh those toes! How many are there? I researched on line only to read that they could be anywhere from 3 – 5. I zoomed in on my own photos and determined in the end that the Cuban species had 5 and that was what I would go with.

I built a “cage” around the noodles to flesh out the body; however that would not be enough to support the outer skin. I filled the gaps between with leftover polyester stuffing. This all had to be covered to create a nice even and solid surface onto which I would “dress” the Iguana. I searched through my tape supplies to find a cloth tape that would both smooth and hold everything together quickly without having to wait for drying. When fashioning the rock, I had used both PVA and cellulose paste with strips of cotton and cheesecloth – hours of work and time to wait while it all dried.

This rudimentary Iguana shape took about 3-4 hours to construct and was about life size. Gee, I had looked over the prerequisites for SAQA’s call and recalled a very large window of sizing options, so dismissed that and became immersed in the creative process.

I’m starting to “see” an Iguana and it’s turned out life-size. All has been formed by looking over a selection of my own and some posted images of Cuban Iguanas from Cayo Largo and one of its outlying small islands. Apparently, you can take an excursion there to be among the creatures on the beach! you might like to check this video out. The face was certainly far from correct, but, understanding anatomy, there has to be an allowance for the eyeballs, so plenty of that space.

The head structure took a little problem solving: I had some silk fusion fabric left over from the “rock” structure, some toy animal eyes, lots of cheesecloth for a cloth version of papier mache and determination. The head was shaped by building up the structure of the skull, mouth and eyes temporarily inserted (they were blue which didn’t work, so that had to be sanded off and painted white – on the back). With a series of pleated silk fusion shapes, handstitched, the head slowly began to take shape.

Now for the actual “dressing” of the Iguana which I am separating in this blog, but during the actual process, both head and skin were developed simultaneously.

A new update on “WordPress” is allowing the descriptions to show on the actual image, so here in sequence, you can now “read” the process. With a combination of stitching by hand and machine, and using PVA glue to adhere the skin to the body structure, the Iguana is beginning to take on an almost “lifelike” form. It’s almost creepy to hold the life size creature. When our children were young, we had a “pet” Iguana. I don’t believe I ever held it!

Key concepts from 101

Linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, horizon line, vanishing point, organic lines, foreground, mid-ground and background.

This time we are going to apply these ideas/concepts to this architectural form of a modest country church. This is not my own photo.

You will need a regular sheet of letter size paper and a legal sheet (or 2 sheets of letter paper taped vertically) and soft, sharp pencil.

Please do not use a ruler and avoid an eraser until the end.  You could spend the entire exercise erasing and becoming frustrated.  Practice with your pencil until your lines are soft and easily corrected—without an eraser.  Curl your hand so that you can use the outer/baby finger side to slide across the paper as a guide.

In this exercise we are going to use 2 point perspective where previously we used just a single vanishing point.

1.To create markers:  Fold your larger sheet in half horizontally.  Make a visible dot on each end of the horizontal line.  These indicate the horizon and are your vanishing points.  In the picture, the trees obscure the horizon.

2. Take your smaller sheet and fold in half horizontally, then again horizontally to divide the sheet in quarters.  Do the same vertically to create a second set of quarter lines.  There should be 16 rectangles dividing your sheet.

3. Place the smaller sheet vertically on top of the horizontally oriented, larger sheet.  Centre vertically but align the bottom edges.  Tape to hold in place if you like.

4. To create the first pencil line indicating the line of the church where front and side walls align:

Step 1: From the right bottom edge count one and a half spaces in and mark with a dot in the centre of the space.  Step 2: Count 2  half spaces up and make a second mark. 

Step 3. Make a line to create the vertical wall abutment which is closest to the eye (between the window and door).

5. Getting the perspective of the walls:  Without using a ruler, draw a line from the bottom dot to the right hand vanishing point ( on the bottom layer of paper).  Again, the top dot to the same vanishing point—you should have a long, narrow triangle.  Do the same from the top and bottom dots to the left vanishing point. 

6. Create your outside verticals:  The left is about one and a half rectangles in and the right about 3/4 of that rectangle in.  You should now have a box with slightly diagonal lines top and bottom but should have true vertical walls.

7. Roof:  Make a dot in the centre of your page.  From this point join with a line to the left outer wall and a second line to the centre wall. You should have a triangle.  From the centre dot, extend your line to the right hand side vanishing point to determine the slope.  For the top of the roof, count one and a quarter squares in and make a mark to join the roof to the top of the right hand wall.  Join the 2 lower points to form the bottom edge of the roof.

Window and door:  determine the height with small dots .  Although they are actually centred on the building, the near wall portion should be slightly wider than the distant portion to allow for perspective. When adding any detail that requires perspective lines e.g. sills and lintels, use your vanishing points to determine the slope.  Guessing could give you a line that looks askew.

8. Bell tower:  Start with the vertical join which is slightly to the right of your centre line.  The top is slightly higher than your first fold at the top of the page.  Mark and joint with a vertical line.  Extend upwards for the cross.  The top of the cross should be on the same slope as the walls—use your left vanishing point.

9. Roof line slopes:  From the ball, make a diagonal about 1/2 inch out on either side and about half way down.  Notice that the tower is joined into the roof about 1/2 inch down and the top structure sits on a small “foundation.”  Use the vanishing point on the right to determine the angle.  Create the inner framework of the window openings and extend the roof seams  of the tower from the window peek to the tower peek at the ball.

At this point you can take out a ruler and eraser to neaten things up—but you may like the way it looks drawn freehand.  Be sure that all vertical lines are TRUE verticals and all lines that would be “horizontal” on the actual structure, go back to the vanishing points on a diagonal, even if they are just tiny window sill lines.  This drawing will serve as your pattern.

Now that you have your church drawn (congratulations, this was not an easy exercise), continue to add the background and any details that you would like to add in, although that can happen as you work on your textile or fibre piece.  Just remember the perspective rules:  Objects and details are larger in the foreground than in the distance and atmospherics can create more depth to your work. 

Steps outlined visually.

The SAQA pod has taken up the challenge to render this more difficult exercise.

Effie took the concept to re-imagine the traditional “log cabin” quilt. Here she has placed the structure within a forest with a path leading to the front door. The colours give us a “rustic” feel and even earthy smell of an evergreen forest.

Pam has interpreted the “grain elevator” icon from her connection with the “prairies” of mid western Canada. The beautiful perspective of the structure and linear rows of grain is enhanced by the addition of the foreground hay wagon. The eye is led into the scene and wanders through via the linear connections. Colours and fabrics are well-chosen to provide the illusion of light.

Comments: A little more angulation upwards of the cabin’s right side foundation line and windows would give a feeling of receding into the distance. Exaggeration of the path’s width as is leads forward would provide a foreground dynamic and work in conjunction with the larger tree forms.

The wagon in the prairie scene is beautifully rendered. A slight exaggeration of this form would also provide further dynamic to the feeling of foreground perspective.

Both wonderfully executed.

This is a significant date for Southern Ontario, for the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) organization and for me personally. It represents the beginning of an unexpected change in our lives: Ontario was on the brink of closing down many non-essential businesses and events and its citizens going into self-isolation, and SAQA’s first international conference was on the brink of opening in Toronto that coming week. All was rapidly changing.

As I made my way down the Niagara escarpment to work at the Jordan Art Gallery , I saw before me a compelling site:

It was an image that would not leave me and percolated through my thoughts until early October. (Meantime, SAQA held its global conference in virtual time – one of the first organizations to do so via the Zoom platform. It was an amazing success offering its prearranged conference speakers and chat rooms for registered participants. So, although there was much disappointment that our organizing efforts had to be rearranged and travel plans cancelled, we still “met” and shared each other’s experiences, knowledge and talents. The Jordan Art Gallery closed its doors until May, but continued to “open” to the public via its website. As an aside, we sold our Fenwick home that weekend and bought a new townhouse in Ridgeway. The start of another chapter in our personal lives.)

The image was “larger than life” which in my mind commanded a scale beyond my usual. I had saved an old “throw” that had enough porosity to allow for needled felting. It measured just enough for SAQA’s call for entry themed/titled “Light the World”, which I had thought about as well over the summer. Now was the time to begin with a deadline of November 30. I had not entered a needle felted piece, so this would be the first, and it would incorporate stitching through layers. There was also a scurry of improvising as my 12 inch square sponge was not going to offer enough underlay for working up the piece. Hastily, I peeled away the covers of my 4 flat outdoor sponge cushions and laid them out, side by side. They nicely fit my fold out table width-wise and the 60 inch width of the work.

As with all my other needle felted works, the ground composition is laid out with wool, then the detailing layers comprise various silk fibres and other plant and animal fibres to add texture, colour and light – lots of it in this case to work with the image which I put through Adobe Photoshop to enhance the blues and contrast of the original photograph. The composition nicely fit the “x 3” rule.

The above images show the work progressing in its early stages from something flat in both colour and dimension. As contrasting colours and materials are added, the image and impact should, with some luck (for I believe it is only a select few works that have a magical property), begin to “appear.”

As the work progresses, it is both exciting and disappointing. As with any artwork, there is continual problem solving and a switch between observing, rendering and tedious work. There is endless needle punching involved, first securing with a single needle, then using my spring loaded, 5-in-one punch to work with the texture and against it. By the time all is completed, I will have worked over the surface more than a dozen times. With the smaller works, I also flip the work over and needle felt through the back layer as well to secure in both directions. I am not sure if I will with this piece.

After many hours working on the sky formations, it’s time to return to the foreground. My handspun is invaluable for outlining the tree formations and beginning work on the vineyard. I have run into a roadblock with the mid-ground skyline. As the tree formations extend into the sky background, I will have to stop to work on the Toronto and surrounding area skyline. But just how to go about this work is foremost in my problem solving mind.

Using my Publisher program together with some mathematical calculations, I am able to generate an exact skyline. The remainder of the work is my own rendition; however, I feel it important that the skyline be recognizable as what it is. Colour and eventually light will be important, as well as the profile. The skydome is really prominent. See below the steps from felting the long blue skyline to cutting then felting in place. I can now go back to build the tree tops that overlap into the skyline.

My next posting will cover the foreground as I build up texture, colour and light. It is amazing how much the eye begins to see as the work progresses.

Several weeks have gone by, but I have been busy. With the November 30 deadline for this submission looming, my focus was on completing the project. Days of adding detail and texture, working on the composition itself and stabilising to a quilted backing (repurposed, bed protector quilt). Below you can see the dramatic cloud formations taking on more dimension and contrast. The top layer of felting is now being stitched through to the backing to stabilise and to add a 3-dimensional effect.

The foreground was an especially detailed portion of the piece requiring both the application of fibre variations for texture and colour, but also the overlay of handspun yarns which required invisible stitching to anchor securely. Here you can see the sewing pins anchoring the top layer to the backing ready for stitching. The reverse is just a recycled, quilted cotton bed protector.

The quilt is nearing completion with just edges to finish before photographing. I set up my new photography studio for this large needle felted work. Using the tip from SAQA to use insulation panels, I took 3 side by side, covered them with stretched canvas. This method allows you to use sewing pins to hold the work in place. Below is the final work, 45 inches high x 58 inches wide.

It was submitted to The Grand National call for entry “Crossroads” with the following statement and biography. I have a price of $3,500 on it.

Corona Premonition, March 13, 2020

For Southern Ontario, March 13, 2020 signifies the end to large gatherings, closure of non-essential services and isolation.  My needle-felted artwork is based on a photograph which I took on that symbolic day.  This premonitory view of a “corona” cloud formation above 17th Street descending the Niagara escarpment, over Lake Ontario and distant Toronto also captures a physical crossroad leading into an unawakened vineyard.  17th Street itself leads to old Lakeshore Road which runs the circumference of Lake Ontario.  The work is a metaphorical crossroad intersecting the “normal” and the “pandemic” landscape.

My fibre and textile artwork explores nature and its ecological fragility.  Educated in fine arts and interdisciplinary Canadian Studies provides me with a rooted knowledge; my lived experience in the Fiji Islands, New Zealand and Canada, my career as an educator, and my travels, prompt me to create and share these perspectives. 

Needle felted and quilted image Corona-Premonition, March 13, 2020

Update: The artwork has been accepted into the Crossroads exhibition and will travel Canada over the next 2 years.

Our SAQA Pod took on the challenge of understanding perspective through a fairly simple landscape/seascape image.

Here is lesson should you like to give it a go:

Perspective 101

Instructions by Greta Hildebrand, September 2020

Don’t let the idea of perspective prevent you from going in this direction.  Perspective is not difficult once you know what to look for and what to do!

I have Googled the word and find that there are several definitions, but basically, if you can understand just 2, you’re well on your way. 

a/ Perspective can be, LINEAR meaning the lines in your image diminish into the background.

b/ Perspective can be ATMOSPHERIC, meaning that the objects close up are generally brighter and more in focus than those in the distance.  This is caused by the amount of water in the atmosphere, impairing our vision of objects far away.  It’s also because our eyes don’t focus that well on distant objects.

Combine a. and b. and you have something that gives the illusion of space.

Here is a photo that I took last week on Lake Erie from Windmill Point, looking West along Lake Erie. It’s one of my favourite walks since moving to Ridgeway this summer. 

Looking West from Windmill Point, Fort Erie

We are going to create a pattern, then, using our preferred materials/medium, create our own version of the scene.

Next time, we can work on an architectural image, but for now, this is a much easier way to understand the concepts.

I would like you to take a piece of unused paper – letter size is good for this exercise.  Also, a nice pointy pencil.

  1. Orient the paper vertically and divide in half, widthwise. You have just created your HORIZON LINE – where water and land meet the sky in this case.
  2. Now, in the centre of your horizon line, make a tiny dot – this is your VANISHING POINT. If you look at the picture, you have just made 2 markers:  one to divide the skyline from the water, and the other, the end of the beach, as we can see it.

If you look carefully, you’ll see that the lines are not straight and that’s because our subject is found in nature.  We call these lines “organic”.  There are lovely curves/arcs in this image.

  • First bring your horizon line to the right, horizontally, in a nice curve about 2 inches down from the horizon. This line is now the base of the tree line.
  • From your vanishing point, create the waterline in a curve to the left, just a little lower than the treeline – notice that the line is not perfect and goes in and out – the result of waves.  The curves are closer together in the distance than in foreground.

Look at the way the debris on the beach forms a line on either side of the vanishing point, forward.  It’s really wide in the FOREGROUND and diminishes towards the VANISHING POINT in the BACKGROUND. 

  • Now, create a line for the top of the trees – note how high the trees in the MID-GROUND look compared to those that extend the coastline right to the left edge of the HORIZON LINE.

See below for the 5 steps as diagrams.

Diagrams leading to a pattern for your own creation.

Congratulations.  You now have a grasp of perspective and a vocabulary to go with it:

Linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, horizon line, vanishing point, organic lines, foreground, mid-ground and background – and, I bet you knew all of this before.

There’s still the other form of perspective, ATMOSPHERIC, that gives further dimension to the image:  bright and sharp in the foreground and less so in the background.  Colour is affected as well, as objects close up are brighter than those further away. This concept also applies to the sky – lighter on the horizon and much more intense in colour directly above.  The size of clouds overhead are much larger than those further towards the horizon.  Check this out next time you’re outdoors on a clear day.

Let’s take what we have done to be our pattern.  From here, you use your own fabrics and other media, using this one as a starting point.  Create your version of the beach scene.

Today was our regular meeting date; replaced by a combined email in-Facebook record of how people were working through the perspective exercise.

This is how my own efforts progressed:

I worked on a tiny piece measuring approx. 5 x 7 inches that I would like to insert into a deep frame to give a rounded 3-D effect.

Starting out I lay the wool fibres on the loose Merino felted wool base. This provides me with a foundation composition – note that I am following the horizon line, the vanishing point, the base of the treeline, the water line and the top of the treeline. I’m not too concerned about shading at this point.

Next I lay carded/blended silk fibre over the top tor the sky, then white wisps of white silk for clouds. Next I work on the waterline trying to achieve somewhat of a wavy line, but this will be enhanced later.

I am next going on to the trees which have more texture and detail. There is a little of early autumn showing in some of the trees; however this has to be very subtle. As the treeline diminishes into the background, the colours become more faded as atmospheric perspective.

A little rough green silk is added to the beach to give the impression of the seagrass – larger in the foreground and very subtle hints into the background. I add a little more white silk to the beach in the foreground to bring it forward.

Clouds become more obscure as they fade into the horizon. I turn the edges of the felting under and felt to the back to create a “turned” edge. I back the piece with 3 consecutively smaller layers of backing to give the piece some rigidity, then stitch through the layers to anchor and further enhance the treeline. I have bent the piece into the deep frame so that it curves towards the centre. I think I’m done!

Hope you enjoyed this exercise in perspective. Next time we can do an architectural piece. Let me know through my website or email if you’d like to join in.

Here are some of our group’s results, including mine above. Some are still works in progress.

Can you find and correct these challenges?

How could you improve the shape of these deciduous trees?

What happens when the horizon line is not horizontal?

What direction do waves normally roll into shore?

What happens to the foreground when a wave is as long as the beach-line?

Where is the sky most intense in colour?

Where is the darkest part of a cloud, usually?

These are not meant as criticisms, but observations that allow perspective to be seen for what it is. Creativity, however, can trump realism, and in so doing, allows for our own creative interpretation of reality.

Spring represents rebirth and the start of something new. In these troubling days, a project that represents this idea is all important to me. Last spring I photographed a magnolia in our little town of Fenwick. I had the photo printed on fabric as well as a second version that was printed a little larger, with the intent of adding a foreground dimension to the work.

I am using the larger overall image as background and started here by outlining and working some of the foreground flowers. Turning the quilt over, you are able to see the trapunto technique which employs stuffing to add dimension. Tiny slits are made in the batting underlay (I am trying bamboo for the first time) and polyester stuffed into the pockets.

The second printed version is now started. Sections are roughly cut out, backed with a stabilizer, then backed with polyester backing which I use to provide more puffiness and dimension. The sections are then trimmed back closer to the stitching line, polyester trimmed back to the stitching, then seam allowance pressed. Below is the start of the quilting detail.

The mid ground employs some of the combined flower imagery. I backed these sections with a thinner cotton quilt backing. All has been stitched around and trimmed back. The detailing employs my side to side “smocking” technique that provides texture to these more distant images.

I am now at the point of playing with the add-ons. It’s really just working on the composition to provide balance and lines for the eye to travel through the composition.

The visible background areas will be the next to work on.

In previous works of this applique series, I have researched the medicinal and other interesting information about each species. I may incorporate a textual component to the perimeter of the quilt. I’m undecided on colour as well.

Since my last update I have been working on the quilt as a daily “indulgence.” My mind becomes so consumed with the repetitive tranquillity of the process that the outside reality of our present day world is shut out. I have been working up the texture and dimension of the background and foreground. Stems are worked with stitches side to side to raise the tube-like fore. Appliqued petals are stitched strategically in some spots to create raised forms and tunnels where underlying images can be seen in darkened shadows.

I have now reached a point where the border is necessary to continue. I had just enough blue from my Turbulence quilt to add a border on 3 sides. I don’t think the bottom requires a border so this quilt will actually reverse what I had bordered for Turbulence. I want to extend the imagery over the edging to create the feeling of the sky extending infinitely. But until this step has been completed, I won’t know exactly what I will need.

Once I had the border stitched down I began the methodical and decisive process of selecting imagery from the remaining fabric remnants that would extend the magnolia into the infinity of sky. Mid-ground imagery was backed with iron on fusaline to prevent fraying but as I got towards the smallest petals at the top, I simply cut the pieces out. There was enough size in the fabric to keep the pieces intact. I used the finest needle that I could thread the quilting cotton through to stitch these delicate pieces down. Last of all I went around all edges with wallpaper size to strengthen and prevent fraying. Any fibres that did not flatten were trimmed away.

Below I have added the quilt as it presently stands. It’s interesting to analyse the composition from a photograph. I think the bottom right edge needs something to add “weight” and “balance.” I had originally wondered about adding words, but now I think the quilt will stand on its own, or could that be something to add to the bottom? Time to reflect again.

Magnolia on Canboro, last step is to finish with backing. Do I need to add weight to the right, bottom third edge?

For many years I have picked up and admired the “lace leaves” that tiny insects create – you’ve seen them, the leaves that lie on the ground with the most delicate and beautiful of structures left behind after insect feasting and devastation. Here is a paradox worth considering!

I have knitted 2 of these sculptures now, each measuring approximately 48 inches long by 18 inches across. They can be made smaller or larger and that all depends on the size branch that I use as an armature support. Here’s how I make them for those wonderful people who love them and want to discuss the process with their friends.

I start with a branch that is freshly cut and which offers a pleasing symmetry – I am, after all, turning a branch into a leaf with life-supporting veins. After searching my garden trees I decided that the Linden tree on our boulevard offered just the right structure, and the branches that would have needed pruning, were not being cut unnecessarily.

From the selection of images above you can see the first stages from finding a real “lace leaf”, selecting a symmetrical branch, pruning it off the tree, removing the leaves, squashing flat on a large sheet of paper, tracing the outline that will provide the pattern for each individual section of knitted lace to flattening the branch under plywood while I am working on the actual knitted structure. I estimate 3-4 weeks on each leaf as I reserve this work as a portable project to work on when I’m waiting somewhere or in the evenings when I’m too tired for my studio.

So now you can see the sections being filled with knitted lace blocks, each shaped to fit exactly. My lace stitch is “free-form” meaning that there is no pattern and that is intentional. Do insects follow a pattern? Highly unlikely, so that’s my rational. If a pattern looks as if it’s emerging, then I intentionally take the pattern in another direction – a little harder to do than it might seem. I knit in sections partly to keep the lace confined and to create a “vein” between the blocks, which will eventually be dyed with walnut dye – of my own making from partly decomposed walnuts, thanks to my squirrel helpers. I use a very fine cotton slub-linen blend that have have had for some time, which I obtained from the Cambridge Mills in Cambridge Ontario. I wish I could find a similar yarn as this cob has almost run out. I intend to call the mills to see if they might have something to replace this precious resource.

Work on the leaf is progressing. Meantime, new ideas are evolving. I am always amazed at how unlikely objects have elements that relate: texture, colour form and sensibility. Here I am showing a new photo taken of my summer “Tomato Fields” in Fenwick, only this one is the first snowfall of our 2019 winter, early November. I can see this as a fairly large piece worked up using my needle felting with silk technique. I am also working on a new sculpture that I’m presently calling “Carrara Marble in Silk.” It stands about 4 feet tall and 18 inches wide x deep. Over the initial armature of wood and wire I am layering paper maché paper, then will build up quilt underlay before the final silk fusion of various types/tones of white silk. I can’t wait until I get to this point.

Hopefully, they will be completed for installation at the Jordan Art Gallery by early December.

Just to show where I’m up to with the leaf. About 4 more sections to complete the main structure, then the centre stem is knitted separately. The two sides are stitched to the centre stem and all stitched to the wood frame – still being pressed.

Here are the last stages of completion:

The centre stem of the leaf is knitted in stocking stitch to create a solid fabric. The piece starts off wider and tapers towards the tip of the leaf. Once the long centre section is completed, the two side sections must be aligned correctly with the side “veins.” When all is pinned in place, the stem is sewn down to the sides.

Once the centre stem is attached the completed surface of the leaf is loosely tied in place then stitched securely. Although I do not have an image, there is a step in which the entire under surface is coated with my clear cellulose paste to shrink and stiffen the fabric. When dry, the leaf is flipped over and using walnut dye which I make myself by boiling ripe walnuts, I stain the centre and side ribs of the leaf. I like to start with a diluted solution and repeat the process several times to build up the intensity of darkness. This enables a more controllable and natural result as in the actual leaf, the centre and thicker part of the stem is darker, lightening towards the tips.

My leaf is just about done. The ends of the branch are trimmed back then I coat these ends and stitches on the back of the branch with white glue which adheres to the edges of knitting and seals the stitches in place.

I am excited to see the end result:

Carefully transported to the Jordan Art Gallery, it is now suspended below my newly installed Christmas selection. The leaf can be hung vertically, horizontally against a wall or suspended in a space to create a light partition.

Hope you enjoyed watching the evolution of my “lace leaf.”

I responded to a SAQA call for entry using this Ontario Government document as my lead in.

We received this letter last year which referenced the property in Pelham which we had lived on for 10 years, and the same township that we presently still live. I had often seen this white aster, but was not aware of its significance as an Threatened species. I was to learn more.

An update: My work has been accepted for SAQA’s Global exhibition which opens at the Sonora Desert Museum in Arizona on October 5, 2019. Here’s how it all happened:

SAQA’s (Studio Art Quilt Associates) call for entry “Connecting our Natural Worlds” had specific reference to endangered species, flora or fauna: what was the cause of its endangerment and how one might propose its preservation. In Pelham’s protected Carolinian wetland area, the white wood aster has been enabled a chance for survival due to it and its cohabiting species not being disturbed significantly. However, a nearby housing development has eliminated a large portion of the former 75 acres surrounding the wetland itself. Human and animal presence in the area, therefore leaves more vulnerability for this endangered species to be trampled, sprayed with noxious weed chemicals, invasion of domestic and non native species and for the plants to dry up during extremely hot and dry summers, which we are experiencing more frequently.

I was able to photograph at the woodland property in the late summer just at the height of the Wood Aster’s flowering cycle. In my mind, the series of wind turbines that I had photographed in our area earlier in the year, seemed to enter my mind; their propellers mimicking nature to scoop and disperse air. Furthermore, we had just had a conservative government elected in Ontario and the issue of environmental preservation coupled with discussions on developing more of the Southern Ontario Greenbelt, was now in question.

For both White Wood Aster and Wind Turbine, a symbiotic relationship formed a “storyline” in my mind. How would it play out if one assisted the other to disperse seed heads far and wide? I prepared some uploads for printing with the thought in mind that I would be piecing this composition. The exact process would evolve as I problem solved each step. This series of wind turbine photos is actually one turbine taken lying on the ground from front and back of the structure. I liked the positive vs negative element to my choice. Problem one was that the sky is either lit from front or back, and my composition needed a consistent sky. I formatted the turbines separately to the background and visual components, each on a yard of quilting cotton. The designs were sent to for printing. I was thrilled with the results.

Some months lapsed between ordering and starting the project. This was the incubation period where my methods were still being mulled over. I began shortly after Christmas when all was cleared and my mind able to grasp the project. In the above images, I have stitched around and cut away the turbines leaving a small selvage. I decided they would need a backing of their own. Quilt backing was cut to the stitch line and fabric glue used to secure each piece to its back. I tested the fabric first to ensure that the glue did not seep through.
I played with the composition of the three turbines to get the illusion of distance and a background for the wood asters.

I realized I had forgotten something important. I hadn’t backed my main piece with cotton quilt backing. Fortunately, not too late. I secured that with pins and would leave the tacking until later – and started in to the turbines. It worked.

Once satisfied (can that ever be a “for sure” decision) that I had placed the turbines correctly, I began the appliqué stitching – this is actually the part that’s least like work for me, as there’s no real decision making. It’s purely mechanical. I had to think through the tiny points of the turbines and decided to try stitching the selvage together first before the
appliqué process itself. I will come back to cover some of the stitches later on with various pigmentation – if they bother me. I know stitching is part of the process and some like to see it, but that’s part of this decision making process as well. I want the turbines to float off the surface.

I was now ready to tackle the white wood aster – both exciting and daunting! I fused a stabilizer cotton interfacing and added a quilt backing with another layer of interfacing to prevent the machine from ripping up the quilt backing – which had happened when I created the lichens for the Beausoleil Saracen project in 2016. This time it was easy using my sewing machine to create a cutting outline around the various components of the woodland flora. I used every piece possible!

In the final composition, I wanted to show not only the aster itself, but other plants growing symbiotically along with it. I found even the tiny yellow chains of what might be goldenrod, and the leaflets of the the Virginia creeper. I know all grew in our Carolinian backyard. My task was now to connect the turbine structures to the florets through the air turbulence that their propellers might create. There was a degree of thought behind the placement; however, the end result looked somewhat contrived and simplistic. Although simplicity is something that an artist strives for, there is also a degree of depth as well – this was now my next step. At this point I also decided to give the white tower a more metalic glow with oil pastel which was then “fixed” with a layer of water. This process dissolves to some extent, the pigment, which allows it to penetrate the fibres.

I wanted to solve this problem of preservation. Yes, the wetlands themselves needed protection, but the dispersal of seed offered yet another solution. What if the turbines could scoop up the flower heads along with their seeds and scatter them far and wide? SILK! This was my go to solution.
Not only do I have natural silk in a variety of shades, but I have dyed silk noil in yellow and pink – colours that the photography had picked up. I added more to represent the pollen and seed being dispersed by the wind turbine currents. Each section was held in place with tiny French knots. I also took my white aquarelle pencil to the borders of the more distant plants to fade them out into the distance. Although somewhat satisfied that the work was moving ahead – albeit very slow – in the right direction, it wasn’t producing enough of the effect that I imagined.

I decided to card some silk mix with cultivated (straight fibre) and noil (nubbly stuff) and just apply to the surface to see what the result would look like. Yes, much more effective. Now, it had to stick there. I mixed a weak solution of wallpaper size and sprayed it over the surface and let dry. Okay result but much too flat. More French knots which anchored the fibres so that I could fluff them up in the wind direction – two days worth in fact, but still not enough. It needed more silk! In a hurry to get this layer to “stick” I took my multi-headed (five needles) needle felting tool and decided to give it a try. Voila! It was like magic. Because I have an underlayer (actually 2 now as I have stabilized the towers) of cotton batting, the silk had something to grab and cling to. It still needed something to really hold this layer permanently and to strengthen that feeling of wind currents.

I had worked up some sample images of the wind turbines months ago when I first started this series. I used some basic stitches – large – to emulate the wind currents. I had been thinking about doing this again, only on a large scale to cover the background and foreground of this piece; currents divided and influenced by the three large structures, dispersing the seeds. The propellers of each worked together in a symbiotic relationship. Okay then, this was what I needed to do to make this piece more cohesive. It would be quite an undertaking though.

Before I could start however, I had to neaten the edges of the work, which I did using leftover pieces that I had cut away from the original wind turbine prints. I sketched out a small version of the currents for a rough guide, found some of my vintage embroidery floss that would pick up on the sky variation and allow a “background” and “foreground” to the wind currents. I didn’t even want to guess at how much time this would take, but all the same, I was excited to know that I was going in a better direction.

A few lines multiplied into many until I was looking at what belonged in front of and behind the propellers and turbine columns themselves. I worked 10 or more hours some days and that didn’t come without the occupational hazard of punctured fingers. I use a thimble, even one of the new silicone inventions, when I have to push though a thick layer, but cannot sew continuously with them. Thank goodness that my months of physiotherapy manipulation and strengthening to help with neck and shoulder pain have helped. I may not have been able to continue with this type of work if not. I have only to overcome my allergy to raw silk fibre! It’s a love – hate relationship, more love than the other thank goodness.

At the same time I broke this laborious although mesmerising task by embellishing the florets with French knot seed-heads and also decided to embroider with satin stitch the name of the White Wood Aster and its Latin name, Eurybia divaricate. Interestingly, my Ontario Wildflower guide features a species called the Large Leaved Aster (Eurybia macrophylla) also found in woodlands and forests of Southern Ontario, but is likely a slightly different genus. I used greens which I hoped would tie the foreground plants to the top of the work – I think it worked but had to tone down and enhance the colours a little to work.

On the home stretch now with entry details to get in place. The moment actually did arrive when I knew I had placed my last stitch. I photographed on the 28th of January and put my statement and other entry details together. I always like to do this ahead to allow time for it to sit, and time to reread and revise – can’t stress this process enough. I also found my title. See this information below and scroll right to the end to see the submission images of the finished quilt and details.

Turbulence:  White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricate)

In 2018, both Federal and Ontario Govt.’s requested input on the Threatened White Wood Aster growing in the Carolinian, wetland forests of Pelham, Niagara. Together with our backyard wind turbines, both formed a symbiosis especially critical in light of the newly elected, Ontario Conservative Government jeopardizing the environmental preservation measures of the Niagara greenbelt.

In our wetlands, the White Wood Aster survives with cohabiting species. However, a housing development has recently assumed a large portion of the 75 acre wetland. The activity of human and domestic animals exposes this threatened species to trampling, herbicides, invasion of non-native species and with decreasing habitat, to insufficient moisture during increasingly dry summers – all the basis of a call to action.  For both Aster and Turbine, a symbiotic relationship formed a creative “storyline.”  What if the propellers of each dispersed seeds far and wide? blogspot tells the story.

Materials:  Quilting cotton top with cotton stabilizer and quilt backing, embroidery floss, cultivated silk and silk noil fibre, aquarelle pencil

Techniques:  Digital photography, machine stitched edges, hand appliqued, needle felted silk fibre, Kantha hand-stitched wind patterns, embroidered seed heads and species names, aquarelle.

Today’s update: After the thrilling news that my work was chosen as only one of two Canadian entries for the Global exhibition (around 40 in all) at the Sonora Desert Museum in Arizona, I have read through the instructions to complete the backing to SAQA’s requirements, packed the work to their specifications and am ready mail it.

I want to include here the travelling exhibition that resulted from Fibre Content.  See my home page for details.

I did not blog as I worked on this piece, thinking at the time it was a worthy statement.  The printing was too dark and the composition not impressive.  However, with some chopping, rearranging, highlighting and inclusion of research into the hydrangea, I ended up with this result.

What does it say?  It is a jumble of research and personal information – as life is!

Hydrangeas connect my past and present; brought to Europe in seventeen thirty six, sailed over water; Asias, N. America; like porous soil; Japanese macrophylla; leaves roots flowers, antimalerial, diruretic, antitussive cough; antihaemorrhagic; peegee contain rutin; leaves of lacecaps are sweet, water to drink, hydor; pink, red, white, blue; flower power, paniculata; angos means vessel; alkaline for pink and red; sweet leaves; Annabelle from Americas; Hydrangeaeae; hydor, acqua vita, drink; morning sun; afternoon shade; absorb aluminum; acid soil for blue

My title, Clouded Heads, is both literal and metaphoric.  For me the piece represents a group of people, huddled and protective.  In my sequel to this work, I will tell you the endearing story of the Annabelle hydrangea.