I had a sample of my original Oak and Birch photograph printed some time ago.  While I waited for the large piece to arrive, I decided to start working it up.  The colours are just what we need at this rather dull time of year.

I will take photographs tomorrow of the dynamic piece that arrived today!

Meantime, here is the original photograph.

The second piece in the Decew Series is a little different in perspective.  It is a view straight on looking through the fall trees onto the back view of the old Morningstar Mill and waterfall.  When out taking these shots, this view reminded me of Tom Thomson’s hypnotic work from 1914-15 titled Northern River.  It has always held a spell-binding hypnosis for me and something quite spiritual.

When I received the printed version I found it to be a fair bit darker than the original photograph.  However, the challenge will be to bring up what is important and leave other areas in a silhouette.  Aquarelle’s have been invaluable for this purpose.  Darker areas can be enhanced with charcoal to create even more depth.  These photos taken with my cell phone for the purpose of blogging, are overexposed.  I will try different lighting to bring out the richer tones of the actual piece.

The piece itself is quite fiddly.  However, once I begin a section I do find it quite mesmerising to work on and am actually well into the piece now.  I must think about the overall effect and how each of these smaller sections will eventually be part of the whole.

November 1, 2017

Although I have now completed the quilting of the this quilt, I will post more of the work  and the finishing steps.  There was a great deal of detail in this quilt that I had not realised/admitted to myself before starting into the work.  However, it became very compelling and beckoned me each day.  We call this “mapping” when venturing into something there is more to discover at each turn.

I am now at the point where the tree trunks must be backed to hold their vertical form.  I found heavy felt that I’m hoping will provide this support. Select leaves also require filling to add more dimension.  The final photograph in this series shows how the pull in tension, especially in the fine work of the background, has created an unevenness – not something that is uncommon.

The top was now complete and had to be corrected in size.  The stabilizing cotton that I use for the backing was measured and a rectangle to the exact finished dimension drawn on its surface.  The quilt was pinned down and carefully stitched to the drawn line.  The work required a fair amount of stabilizing to hold the surface without rippling.  I was pleased with the end result.

A few things were still bothering me about the darkness of the foliage, especially on the left side.  I used “bleach,” yes, that drastic stuff, to lighten some of the bottom leaves.  It went a little too light in a couple of areas, which meant using my aquarelle pencils to add colour back.  After some time, I finally found what I was looking for and was glad I had made this correction.

The quilt now waits for its finishing border.  I have two shades of gold that I will stitch together to create a fairly narrow border that will complement the golds and help lighten the overall effect.



Last fall I took a journey into the Decew Falls conservation area, close to my home in Pelham.  My objective was to capture suitable imagery for my new-found passion for sculptural quilting.  Line, shape, colour, texture, light and ultimately form served as inspiration in this piece.  I have for the last year been searching for a printing company who could accurately render my photographs on quilting fabric with no limit to size and at a reasonable cost.  This spring I found such a company “Design Your Fabric” located in Mississauga that I cannot speak more highly of.  I would recommend them to anyone interested in this pursuit.

I worked up a small 8 x 8 inch sample of one image to see how the end result would look and was pleased enough to go BIG – 80 x 110 inches.


I was excited by the prospects of beginning work on this image, although slightly overwhelmed by the size and time it would take – still, no longer than some of my former projects.  I estimate around 50 hours to complete.

As with other quilting projects, the subject necessarily dictates the technique.   The photo itself is ambiguous to read.  It is heavy with shadows and light, thus creating projections of shapes and colours.  This is what I particularly liked about this photo.

My aim is to project to the viewer the texture and dimension of the image. I began here with the sumac leaves aiming to create the feel of the slightly jagged edges. At times a straight running stitch for outlining is all that the image requires.  Working up the branches, especially the heavier ones requires some form of trapunto (back stuffing) technique – whether without stuffing or with some degree of rigidity.  My earlier attempts at giving these branches a rigid form were not satisfactory which sent me to my reserve of fabrics.  I found a piece of old ironing board underlay which did the trick – never throw anything away!  Deciding what to leave unquilted for a distant background effect was also an aspect of the decision making.  I am presently working on my first sumac bud.  I always find this type of texturing a lot of fun.  I call it my free-form smocking technique.

I am now just over 3 weeks into the project and thinking ahead to the next quilt and further pieces.  My aim is to complete 20 quilts.  My thinking is evolving as I see this dynamic of colour and form in nature and perhaps the way in which we see it juxtaposed against a human made landscape.  This part I will keep hidden for a while yet.

The process of creating a raised surface continues from one area to another, dictating the technique that will provide the texture and profile that I feel will most compliment the photograph.  I don’t know why I feel this necessity to take the illusion of 3-D into the ream of the “real.”  I have challenged this concept before asking the question “what is real?”  I am moreover mesmerised by the process and am completely transported when engaged, this despite the neck cramps and worse.  I try to get up and move periodically and try not to work more than 5-6 hours a day at the same task.

The final stage involves cutting and pinning the surface area, which is now fairly warped, to a background which is exactly rectangular to the narrowest measurement horizontally and vertically.  The extra surface area is pinned down to create more dimension.  Areas such as the feature sumac are back padded to add the amount of height/dimension that looks right.  There is a lot of perspective correction and decision involved here until all comes together in a way that looks natural and pleases the eye.  The completed surface is now sewn down by hand in just enough places to hold firmly.  The perimeter is sewn down exactly along a drawn line.  I must admit that I am quite fussy about the exactness of measurements and angles of the corners.  I expect the viewer to appreciate the work itself and not be distracted by skewed borders.

At this point I am leaving the work for a while to start my next project, but have purchased a lovely heritage blue that works with the sky to create a fairly narrow border that extends the sky background of the quilt.  I will post when that is completed.


The same call for entry allowed up to 3 submissions.  I had much earlier begun to make a conch shell as part of my Cuban exploration.  More and more I felt this piece way sympathetic to Costa Verde and should also be submitted.  I had a little more to complete and had photographed the process from its start.  My submission statement  read:


Along the north-eastern coast of Cuba “fossilized” conches litter the fine white, crushed shell beaches.  Bleached, battered and pitted by both natural forces and acid rain, conch remains can be found in all sizes.  I have cradled, admired and studied these forms, but at the same time must ponder the question of rising sea temperatures, their changing chemical composition and the premature death of these fascinating mollusks.  Medium:  Tussah and noil silk fibre fused using wallpaper paste, wire support framework, cotton quilt batting, seed beads, and fibre fill.  Technique: Sculpted clay maquette, hand formed silk sections stitched together and “repaired” with silk fibre, quilted and beaded.

I was inspired by one of my shell collection examples and began by sculpting a clay version of the piece.  I have found that the self-hardening clay available a our Dollarama stores is excellent for this purpose.  The clay holds its form well, is not overly messy and dries within a day or two if needed.  This series also shows that the sculpture is about 4 times the size of the shell itself.  Some of the conches that we have seen are actually this large, or even larger.

Once completed and allowed to dry overnight, I took a small piece of rough coral and hammered the surface to texturize the clay, emulating the acid pitting of the shell itself.

To prevent the clay from discolouring the silk fibre used to create the fused sculptural form, I have found thin plastic wrap a useful material for covering the wet or dry clay.  Applying the film to this form was very difficult, and in some tighter areas I gave up trying to get the plastic to stay in place.  I ended up removing the plastic layers and applied the silk fibres directly to the clay in the tighter areas of the inner spiral.  This resulted in clay adhering to the silk back which had to be wiped off, as best as possible.  A coating of shellac over the dried surface might be a better and easier option – for next time.

When I first envisioned this project during the summer, I had pictured a series of conches, arranged in a large spiral installation.  Because of the work involved in just this one sculpture, I have not yet repeated the process.

Once the outer layer of tussah and noil were formed, they were allowed to dry – only a matter of a few days.  This “skin” was spliced to allow for removal.  Before all sections were joined, I decided that the larger areas required reinforcing.  I had some fine florists wire which worked.  The wire was stitched to the quilt backing. Silk fibres were used to cover the seams and to add more texture.

I should have marked the sections and their joining points before removing, as putting the puzzle back together was a lot more of a mind teaser than I had expected.

Still, the silk form was eventually stitched back to its original shape.  The shell itself had fine particles of sand embedded in the etched surface.  I felt that some beaded enhancement might add to the sculpture.  Talking this idea over with my artist friend Barbara, confirmed my feelings.  Beading with a selection of clear, white and copper seed beads provided the illusion of fine grains of sand. I continued beyond the inner spiral to the outer surface as well, following the inspiration of the conch itself.

While beading, I attended to finer details of the form itself, enhancing the tight curl of the spiral point and shaping the bottom of the shell, as well at the outer flap.  I also added quilting stitches to further enhance the acidic pitting of the conch.  However, despite the wire support, the shell did not hold its form as well as I would have liked.  I decided to open a small section and to fill the inside with fibre fill.  Once this was completed and the seam repaired, the sculpture’s form was much improved.

This work is very much a matter of composition, just as much as any sculpture or artwork for that matter.  Balance of form, colour, line and texture, as well as light and shadow, are all integral and important.  It takes time from start to finish, to find that point of satisfaction.  Still, next time could always be better!








The prospectus for SAQA’s call for entry read

Show Concept:
Water – it’s everywhere! The majority of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and more than half of the human body consists of water. But water also plays an essential role in our survival.
Cultures have thrived based on their proximity to water, and crops survive or fail, based on rain or the lack thereof. Every living thing depends on water to survive, and life hangs in the balance when shortages persist.
An overabundance of water in its varied states of rain, snow, and hail may bring death and destruction in the form of tsunamis, hurricanes, or blizzards.
Religious ceremonies, such as baptism, ceremonial baths, and cleansings, have elevated water as a key component in many of mankind’s most sacred rituals.
We are also drawn to sources of water for recreation and relaxation. Vacations at the beach compete with the thrill of watching glaciers calving. As one of our most precious commodities, water also serves as a source of power.
This exhibition encourages the artist to interpret one of the most vital, desired, powerful, sacred, and enjoyed resources on earth in their own unique, individual style, whether abstract, graphic, or 2
representational.  Closing date November 30 – I made the deadline!

I had read the prospectus for this exhibition and had that in the back of my mind when I read an article in SAQA’s fall journal.  Six printing companies were compared for the quality of their “direct to garment” printing. I wrote to Dee Dee Davis of Decor Print www.decor-print.com and had a very professional and friendly reply.  The result of my correspondence was this reproduction on cotton broadcloth, which I intended to turn into an art quilt.  I have included here the finished work but will take you on a journey to reveal my process.

I pondered the amazing reproduction for several weeks before starting.  I knew that first I would work on the background.  The Caribbean waters have been a fascination to me in terms of colour (warmth is another that played into this exploration).  The rock itself was deserving of a different treatment, but at this time it was still in the formative stage of my imagination.

I had some shimmering tulle that lent itself to this application so decided to cover the background water and to sculpt around it to show various areas of shadow and the highlights of the wave.

I used my sewing machine to follow the waves lines and to hold the tulle in place. This was a relatively quick section to work up. I began to cut away several areas of the layered tulle, allowing the shadows to take on their depth and bringing forward the water droplets of the “splash.”  This was a more intricate area that was deserving of handwork and took several days to complete.

Although I didn’t actually work all the water at one time, I have grouped the photos to show various aspects of this portion of the process.

The rocks I decided would be all hand quilted.  The various life-forms (dead or alive) and the crevices were extremely exciting discoveries and deserving of a sculpted application.  I was truly amazed that our camera had captured such detail from this distance.

The back of the work, shows a rock form being back stuffed in the trapunto method.  The opening is stitched closed to hold the stuffing in place.  From time to time I will also compact the stuffing by stitching through the bulk to reduce the profile on the front of the work – as needed.

The actual quilting process involved working back and forth between the rocks and the sea, constantly monitoring and controlling the amount of surface area being pulled in.  The end result would have to be perfectly rectangular, although I couldn’t say exactly what the dimensions would be.  I have in the past worked on a project where the end size was critical.  I allowed about 1/3 more cloth and ended up devising a way to take up anything extra (which I have discussed previously, and will again in this blog).  If an area is pulled in too much, it is a simple matter of cutting some non-essential stitches and spreading the compacted surface.

I had an idea that I haven’t used before in my work.  If you can shrink cotton, why not use this method to reduce surface area.  The machined area of the water was less pulled in than the sculpted rock surfaces.  Using a wet sponge I dampened the water surface and pressed the surface that met with the rock edges to “sculpt” the piece more than it already was.  I also use the shrinking technique to minimize the crevices of the rocks which I intentionally left without much quilting to create a darker and deeper illusion.

I also used stitches to pull in the perimeter of the quilt where this was needed – especially in the darker areas and where the sea surface met the edge of the piece.


As with all my previous quilting projects, backing is the essence of finishing the work for presentation.  The stabilizing interface is essential for not only maintaining the intended dimensions, but allows for more 3-dimensional sculpting.  The above images show the process from pinning to stitching down.

I had decided that a plain white border might suit this work, extending the white of the splash around the quilt.  I also decided to do a mitred edge, not that difficult but measuring is very important.  I used the selvage waste from the cotton broadcloth reproduction itself to keep the conformity of the work.  The entire frame/border is sewn together then laid out for stitching to the quilt.  I meticulously measured, pinned and hand sewed the frame to the quilt following my drawn on guidelines.  Still, I had to resew a couple of sections that were not “perfect” enough. A sectioned piece of polyester quilt batting was used to provide a slight dimension to the edge.

I used cotton sheeting to add the final finished backing that would also contain a horizontal pocket for the hanging rod – my usual skirting board substitute.

Each seam was hand stitched and layers of batting and seam allowance stitched down to ensure everything stayed in place.  I finally stitched through all layers around the inner border to hold everything together.  This is the essential last step for vertical hanging/display.  The rod will be inserted and eye screws put in place with a hanging seine twine alternative to wire.

The quilt itself was completed and measured 33” wide x 25” high; however, I was not convinced that it said what I intended as I began the numerous drafts for my statement:

Costa Verde, Cuba (photographed in 2015)

Over time I have photographed the pitted limestone rocks of north-eastern, coastal Cuba.  Eroded by natural coastal factors and acidic rain, their crevices provide habitats for a myriad of sea life-forms, while others are pockets entrapping but skeletal remains.  Together, they cling tenaciously enduring wind, wave and tidal forces. We may gaze and admire; but, overshadowed by the rising temperatures and changing elements of these luring, blue green waters, life hangs precariously in the balance.

There was one element that I felt was needed.  There was one dark crevice in the rock that begged to have something inserted.  I also felt that my work deserved at least one “interpretive” change from the photograph itself.  I decided to make a piece of brain coral using a technique that I have explored in recent works, that of fused silk fibre.  Previous blog postings explain the technique.

I used a previously made brain coral that had been left in it’s unfinished state. The form was opened and flattened and then dampened to enable the ridges to be roughly manipulated by hand.  Once dry, I was able to back with cotton batting and begin the stitching.  Short lengths of cotton yarn were used to hold the ridges while I stitched through the layers – the same technique that is used for piping a corded edge.

I was not satisfied with the look of the brain coral pattern and kept coming back to a small piece that I had which nicely pulled forward a small section in the reproduction just above the crevice that I intended to use as a housing. Once the patterns were completed the edges were pulled back and stitched in place.  A backing was added to finish the piece as a small sculpture.  I needed to secure the silk fibre that had been added along the ridges, and give the coral some detailed definition.  Small stitches with quilt cotton seemed to work nicely.

The piece was placed in the intended crevice.  I had extra surface area here and was able to pull up the cloth around the perimeter and further enhance the surrounding rock formation.  The coral was placed inside where it will be permanently fixed.

Costa Verde, Cuba Quilt
Costa Verde, Cuba Quilt






Since the last post, some finishing details have needed to be done to prepare the work for jury presentation next April – just as well to have this done well ahead so that I can move on to new projects.

Backing the work is a delicate and time-consuming process that either “makes or breaks” the finished result.  Every piece and type of edging, requires its own process.

The work was photographed in a “pinned down” state.  This had to be secured and completed.  Small stitches secured the selvage edge then a light steaming creased and set the selvage in place.

A stabilizer was added to give the work “body” and to provide an interface backing that would capture the work’s exact, intended measurement and to rotate trapunto stones to their correct position.  I have worked through this process before; it does two things:  first it provides a means to draw in extra areas that have not been pulled together during the quilting process.  At the same time, it allows you to sculpt the quilted fabric.  However, this then leads to the next dilemma.

The centre of the work, which captured the First Nations burial grounds, lay flat but “puffy.”  Not at all the intention; however, to align this section to its quilted surrounds, it had to be pulled in during stabilization.

We had discussed various means by which the crow could be raised and supported, to allow air to flow under the wings.  It dawned on me that by creating a “pillow” for the crow to rest on, I would fill the flat but puffy centre and create a raised section for the crow.  Voila! I was so excited that I immediately emailed Barbara with the idea.  She had no qualms.

The pillow was further stabilized to the backing.  With the quilted background pulled in severely and the added dimension of the raised gravestones, the edge was overly wavy.  As with tailoring/dressmaking, a firm ribbon can be used to pull in this extra surface area.  The ribbon was hand stitched to ensure that nothing showed.

The final backing required a cover that would also house the hanging device. I have used a section of skirting board that I have in plentiful supply, which provides just the right height and top lip to take the eye screws and hanging twine (there is no need for picture wire on a quilt project of this light weight).

The fabric for the backing would ideally have been felt, but the next best thing was to shrink a piece of cotton quilt batting.  For the size of this piece it was perfectly suitable; however, for anything much larger, I would prefer to use a stronger and more resilient fabric.

The final step was to secure the crow in a way that was both secure but able to be detached.  I used eye hooks and fashioned my own loops.  The top was secured tight to the quilt but the centre of the wings had to have about an inch and a half of slack to allow for movement.

Barbara came over at this point to help me test fly the piece.  I will add her photos to this blog shortly.  One or two minor adjustments have yet to be made before our piece is submitted in the spring of 2017.



Juried art submissions work in various ways.  This one was unusual in that it required an early submission of work, even if not completed.  Our goal was to have at least an overall vision completed.  We had worked from the initial research and photography, through the composition of our images to printing and a large portion of the quilting and construction.  The crow would act to unify the composition.

I collected all quilted sections to piece together.  I found that because of the precision needed to follow the exact edge of the image, hand stitching with quilting cotton was my best option.  The stitches could easily be pulled apart for Barbara to complete her front sections.

We both took photographs to allow for the best results to be used as required.  The quilted section was photographed first, with the crow laid out and again with the back section of the crow propped slightly as it would look in flight.

We submitted 6 photographs showing the work as completed to date.  A title was decided along with the following information:  Mewinzha (a long time ago):  Winds of Change

Size: Width    36 inches     Height:  24 inches

Medium: cotton, direct to garment digital print, aquarelle, charcoal, balsa wood, silk fabric, sari and combed silk fibre, beads

Technique:  hand painted photographic enhancement, hand quilted, silk fibre fusion

Participants: Greta Hildebrand and Barbara Westergaard

Insurance Value: 1,500


Mewinzha (a long time ago):  Winds of Change

Our collaborative journey started by photographing historic burial grounds throughout Niagara; of people who lived prior to or through confederation.  Our documentation includes the First Nations of Niagara (protected beneath crow’s wings):  Neutral, Aneshnaabeg, 5 Nations Iroquois and Mohawk allies of the British. Crow, guardian of the land and ancestors, is on reconnaissance. He sees the United Empire Loyalists who fled the US followed by African slaves, British, European and Chinese who sought peace and prosperity.  Although at times turbulent, the winds of change have also seen their moments of tranquility and 150 years since the “birth” of a nation.

Work In Progress:

The lower panels have yet to be completed with textural quilting.  The work will then be stabilized (sewn down to an interfacing that will retain the desired shape and size) and then backed.  Before it is attached to the quilt, a horizontal pocket will be sewn down to the backing (2 inches from the top of the work) which will hold a flat wooden rod as a hanging devise.  Eye screws with hanging wire will be fixed to the top edge of the rod, through the sleeve.  The crow will be raised slightly and tethered to allow air movement beneath the body, to lift the crow and create the illusion of flight.

We will update as this exhibition comes together.  It does not have to be submitted until April of 2017 in celebration of Canda’s 150th anniversary.


Our quilt incorporates 2 First Nations sections.  My earlier blog discusses the nations that we found within Niagara:  Neutral, Aneshnabeg, 5 Nations Iroquois and the Mowhawk who fought with the British during the War of 1812.  Our focus was on the people who lived in Niagara and who were buried here.

Traditionally, First Nations of this area used mass graves for their burials.  Both the Neutral (known to their Huron neighbours as the Attiwandaronk, were called “la nation neutre” by the French because of their refusal to become involved in the hostilities between the Huron and Iroquois http://www.tbhs.ca/hughes/treasure.html) and Aneshnabeg (including Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Oji-Cree, and Algonquin peoples) 5 Nations Iroquois also know by their indigenous name Haudenosaunee (comprise Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora peoples) The Mohawk joined the confederacy in 1722.

It is believed that outlying bands would gather every 7-10 years, bringing with them their deceased’ carefully wrapped remains, along with treasured artefacts. These would be ceremonially buried in mass graves.  Hence, the distinctive mounds that can still be observed today.  http://niagarafallsmuseums.ca/discover-our-history/history-notes/ossuary.aspx

As the Neutral primarily inhabited the areas of Grimsby through Lincoln and further to the South/Thorold, the left wing of the crow would shelter these sites.

The composition comprises the Federal Government’s plaque with information pertaining to the reburial of human remains and artefacts.  Behind are the 6 concrete slabs used to cover the reburials.  In the background are 4 trees photographed behind the plaque – one of which is partly showing behind the sign.

The right wing would cover the Fort Erie section which represented  peoples who travelled freely across the Niagara river:  Aneshnabeg and 5 Nations Iroquois. By all indications, this mound was created when human remains and artefacts were removed during the expansion work on the Peace Bridge at the turn of the new millenium. http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_113_e_28835.html  The First Nations Interpretive Centre and Gallery also known as Mewinzha: A Journey Back in Time, was built at this time.  The clan animals were photographed in the Gallery as they formed a design in the polished stone floor.  We have rearranged the symbols to form a “banner” in our composition.

During the early part of the millennium I had been completing my undergraduate degree in Canadian Studies and beginning a Masters of Education:  both degrees centred around First Nations peoples of Canada with a focus on the peoples of Southern Ontario.  My research took me into various 6 Nations Iroquois communities where I got to know elders and artists who provided me with invaluable insight into life as it had been historically and during the present.  Concepts that predominated through my journey were Turtle Island (North American continent over which First Nations had the rights and responsibility of protection), Medicine Wheel  which centred around the four directions of the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental, and crow, the protector of the ancestors and vision for present and future.

This textile call for entry “As the Crow Flies” spoke to me on all these levels.

My crow had been partially completed but now all feathers had to be assembled. Stitching seemed the best option for attaching to the silk cloth covering the wood frame.  We were now ready for photography.

Now that we have our 6 quilt sections printed, we have under 2 weeks to quilt enough to show our intended vision and submit our entry.  Barbara is keen to learn the technique which I have been experimenting with for some time.  It’s basically a free form smocking stitch which uses any dot or marker to pull the fabric in opposing directions to form various textures.  She is using closer stitches for the grassy areas compared to the larger stitches for the tree foliage.

Once outlined with stitches, the gravestones were filled.  Barbara has used up to 4 layers of cut and shaped quilt batting to fill the pocket that is created once the backing is carefully spliced.  These will be stitched closed.  The traditional term for this back filling is Trapunto https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trapunto_quilting

Before we complete, we may consider firming up the gravestones with either a starch product or studio fixative, to prevent the more prominent stones from creasing; however this process will be considered judiciously as we don’t want to take away from the quilted appearance/aesthetic of the work.

My background sections were the Grimsby/Vineland compositions and Niagara on the Lake.  Above I am beginning the Stirling headstone which was digitally added to the composition.  Many of the historic headstones cannot be read due to severe weathering of the soft limestone that was traditionally used before the 20th century.  Some families have replaced these historic stones with newer granite stones; however, we decided that these did not aesthetically work in our composition.

Our rationale in choosing what to photograph lay between people whose own or family name was important in the founding of particular areas of the Niagara Region and the “ordinary” person who did his or her part to found the nation. There were many stones that told stories.  We saw rows of family members, many of whom we presumed were young children when they were buried. These very small headstones frequently had no inscriptions at all.  In the Niagara Falls Fairview cemetery we noticed a naturally shaped stone used as a marker – likely one that was found rather than cut as most were.