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 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.

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.  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

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.



The crow’s body I felt, had to be as accurate in biological structure as I could make it.  I began forming flight feathers and tried a 1/6 vertical section of a plastic straw to form the spine/quill of the feather.  Originally, I had thought this would need to remain, but when the dried “feather” was pulled up from the support it came away, leaving a distinct quill-like ridge down the centre.  I had used white glue to adhere the straw to the silk which left a glossy, raised spine – a fortuitous accident that worked!


At the same time Barbara and I were out in the Region of Niagara photographing various historic cemeteries to find graves that gave us a broad cross-section of people who had lived in Niagara from early settlement and through Confederation – 1867.  From the early United Empire Loyalists of the late 18th century who left the US to escape persecution and to remain loyal to the British crown – no doubt also to seek prosperity in a new land that offered opportunity on through the 19th century.  Later Loyalists were especially among the late Loyalists of the early part of the 1800’s.  We found British (English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh), European (German, Italian, Dutch, Slavic and others), African slaves who followed the “Underground Railroad” into Canada from the US and Chinese who came as labourers to build railways and other infrastructure.

Below are the completed compositions ready for printing. Background merging would be completed once the images were printed.  We used 100% cotton sheeting with no treatment before or after printing.  Our company was Custom Signs & Graphics located in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  They were very accommodating, professional and prices within our budget.

As well, we determined that a great part of this vision must pay tribute to the First Nations.  Our early research took us to Centennial Park in Grimsby where 373 Neutral bodies had been uncovered in the 1970’s.  A mass grave, along with various artefacts, was formed in the park and a plaque erected by the Federal Government to acknowledge their burial grounds.  This photography would form a section beneath the left wing of the crow. Under the right wing we would place a tribute to the Anishnabeg and 5 Nations Iroquois whose bodies were uncovered during the excavations for the Fort Erie Peace Bridge in the late 20th century.  The Mewinzha (long time ago) Archeological Museum was erected to house artefacts; however there was no mention of the people in the museum.  We travelled to the nearby Fort Erie Native Centre where we were given information and were able to locate the burial site at Fort Erie.  The clan symbols that we photographed at the Museum were composed to form a “banner” beneath the burial mound.

This was not the only evidence of First Nations burials in Niagara.  As well we looked at the St. David’s site (outskirts of NOTL); however there was only a Cairn to acknowledge over 300 burials that had been uncovered in the early part of the 20th Century.  There was also undocumented evidence of burials in the now St. Marks church cemetery in NOTL.  Anecdotal stories tell of this site having originally been First Nations.  Elizabeth Kerr, niece of Joseph Brant (War of 1812 Mohawk ally to the British) was the first gravestone to have been erected in the cemetery.  It was in an older section where the ground was very uneven and mounded.  Our travels also took us to Fort Chippewa where there is a plaque to commemorate the Mohawk warriors who fought with the British in the War of 1812.  The re-enactment employee who helped us with research informed us that a plaque is to be unveiled at Queenston Heights in early October of 2016/this year acknowledging Chief John Norton’s Mohawk warriors who fought with Sir Isaac Brock and General Roger Hale Sheaffe after Brock’s his death.

As we worked on our research, I laid out the feathers of the crow, made more and began the centrepiece of the crow which was to represent the centre of the Region and the heart of the crow. These images document the quilting process and transformation from the printed composition to the completed insert.

As we have now begun the “hands on” section, I will add a new page to the blog to allow you to follow this stage of the project.



[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]I have been sitting on a call for entry from the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre since early summer.  Their challenge to this exhibition titled “As the Crow Flies” focuses on interpretations of Canada in celebration of its 150th anniversary.  Artists are required to work collaboratively or in mixed media – but why not both!

My friend and artist colleague Barbara Westergaard asked if I would be interested in her participation as a photographer.  After some thought as to how I would incorporate a photographic element with my own mixed media, the idea evolved.

Although my first thoughts were to not interpret the “crow” literally, Barbara spotted a bird costume hanging in my studio and took to the idea of feathers being a part of the concept.  Much of my graduate research in the field of Canadian Studies and education involved First Nations.  If a crow were to be part of this piece, it would represent a guardian of the ancestors much as Emily Carr painted “Big Raven” as an icon standing guard over the West coast First Nations burial grounds.


As Barbara and I both live in the Niagara Peninsula, my thoughts were to keep this work relevant to our local area.  Niagara itself is steeped in early settlement history which encompasses Loyalist, British, European, US slaves and Chinese cultures.  Most importantly however; were the original Neutral and Chippewa nations, then Mohawks who fought with the British in the War of 1812.  The concept was evolving as a layered history encompassing the Region’s diversity represented through the original burial grounds and early cemeteries.

We have spent the last couple of weeks photographing, researching and thinking through this project.  Barbara is currently composing her gravestones in clusters representing the 4 corners of the region.


I am working on the centre section which will encompass Pelham, where I live and first nations burial sites which will lie beneath the outstretched wings of the crow as it makes its fight across the region between the two lakes.  What you see below is a larger sample to test the idea.  We had the images printed using a “Direct to Garment” technique.  I sought out a printing company – Custom Signs and Graphics in Niagara Falls – to assist; however, this method can also be achieved using your own inkjet printer with a product available from Fabricland.  I have also begun the construction of the crow itself, a bird measuring 24 inches from beak to tail with a wingspan of 36 inches.  The bird will be constructed as a kite would be, to enable lightness and flight.  I am excited to be working with a new order of black, green and blue silk from my US supplier, Paradise Fibers.

Stay posted as this work takes shape over the next 3 weeks.



Overnight my research has focused on wing/flight feathers.  I am learning about their construction and thinking about the materials I will use.


I came across this interesting symbolism that gives universality to the work.

The initial weeks of research were completed mid-September which has left us only two weeks to work on formatting the photographs, having them printed and working on the quilted sections.  All has been temporarily assembled and photographed for submission.  I will digress in the next posting to describe the process of this artwork.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Some weeks have passed without an update so will be blogging to fill the gap.

The work was completed and submitted to the Fibre Content, 2016 juried exhibition.  Results are still pending.

When I last blogged I had just completed the silk “skin”.  From that point the details of shadow and highlights, as well as colour have been added.

The process involves working in cycles adding shadow with natural charcoal and for finer detail, willow charcoal sticks.  Layers of carded (using wool carders) and attenuated silk fibre are glued down using wallpaper paste.

Working up the depth of the relief involves continual layers of dark and light pigment.  Water is used to assist with the spreading of charcoal dust.  The result is a grey tone in keeping with areas that the original photograph depicts.  Soft white oil pastel is used to accentuate the highlights and bring up the texture. The pastel is rubbed out to soften the piece more in keeping with the eroded stone surface.

The work is now removed from the support form and finished as a three-dimensional “cushion” form.

Quilt batting is used for the back: first the recesses are filled, then the whole covered over.  Sides are formed to create a box-like edge.  Silk fibre is used to repair and join the corners.  The completed piece is photographed for submission to Fibre Content.  (Backing and hanging devices are still to be installed).

Photograph and artwork compared.

When next I blog I will show progress on the second piece, now in the final completion stage.


For several years now I have been captivated by the rocks around the Northern Coast of Cuba.  Our trip this year presented more inspiration, and further, new opportunities for fibre artwork have come my way.  Fibre Content, a juried exhibition of contemporary fibre art at the Burlington Art Gallery is the motivation for this series.  I have until the end of May to complete for this submission.

The two images above are the first of what I hope will become a series and perhaps an opportunity for a full exhibition.  Limestone rock formation is going to be constructed as 2 vertical panels.  The sea algae piece is a single work and likely multi-media.  Silk fibre is the main construction material.  Again, this is a process that demands the employment of various techniques to convey the forms, shapes, lines, textures, colours and light that I am trying to convey.  I am working on the 2 pieces simultaneously as each will require time to dry between various layers.

I had thought about the base material for the relief form:  possibly sand but in my reluctance to run out and buy more supplies, I thought about the sandy loam that we have in Fenwick.  It’s very easy to dig and to shape, as it turned out.  Some hand preparation to remove stones, a few plant roots and twigs, and even a few worms – I don’t know how they survive in this medium, but they do.

My hunt for suitable containers turned up various wooden and cardboard boxes.  I found the perfect size for my twin-paneled piece but am a bit frustrated that I will have to construct the matching panel separately.  I would have preferred to work on them simultaneously for consistency of layering and matching, but am taking notes.

Once the soil was ready to sculpt – I didn’t think it necessary to get to a perfect crumbled consistency as texture would be an important element of the surface – I played with the medium as one would on a beach or a child constructing make-believe roads, mountains and tunnels.  This brought back memories of such play that was lots of fun.

I used a soapy water spray that I had for my plants, to keep the surface moist and easier to work; however, this proved troublesome if it became too wet and sticky.  For my second piece, I took soil from a different spot under my balcony that was cleaner but just a little moist.  It was perfect to work up without adding any more moisture.  I completed this stage with a spray of starch which bubbled on the surface of the soil. I don’t think it was beneficial to this piece but all the same, interesting.

The entire surface was covered with plastic wrap to prevent the soil from touching the silk fibres and to make later removal of the outer layer easier. In hindsight I think back to some of my very early pieces where I laid a stable layer of cloth over the surface.  This may actually be beneficial to preserving the silk form; I might do this once the silk layer has dried and can be removed.  The 2 layers can be fused in some way.

The first layer of silk fibre is always a delicate procedure as the plastic is very unstable.  Fixing it to the sides of the box with tape helps a bit.  As more layers of silk fibre are added the process gets easier and quite mesmerizing.  This is now entering the realm of “play” and into the more absorbing stages of “flow” where it is possible to become lost in a world of concentration and enjoyment. I love it!

I began the second image of the sea algae to allow my first panel to dry.  I should clarify that I was using tussah silk roving.  This is a cultivated silk that has been combed and prepared for hand spinners.  It’s a lovely golden colour and I thought it would bring out the beautiful yellow tones in the limestone rock.

An overnight period of drying did not allow it to fully dry, but stable enough to begin the second layer.  I have decided to keep the layers consistently in the same direction for these pieces; however to bring out and define the structure of the rocks I decided that I must use some of my silk noil.  This is a low quality silk that would not usually be used in the garment industry.  It’s used by hand spinners for it’s lovely texture and is usually blended into another fibre such as wool. In the last image above I am layering the silk noil, which also contains some plant debris.

This is where I left off yesterday.  I will likely go back to build the height of the texturing before I remove the entire silk layer.  As I mentioned previously, I may go back and form a fabric layer using white glue, to provide an underlying support.

Meantime, I have dyed some of the silk noil in yellow to add to the colours that I have, and will be off on a hunt for butternuts to boil up for a batch of natural brown dye.  I will combine colour with charcoal for the rawness of the black area.  Exciting stages to look forward to.

Stay posted!

April 17 was celebrated with my good friends and supporters of my work.  The opening at the Wellington County Museum and Archives was both inspiring and wonderful to be part of.  Thank you to the organizers of this fabulous exhibition.  It was well worth taking time to visit. The show is now travelling to various venues through Ontario.

My work was not selected for the travelling show; however, is now available for other venues as opportunity presents itself.

I am updating the above as the sculpture will be included in Fibre Content opening at the Art Gallery of Burlington on September 8 and runs to Sept. 18, 2016



Opening Invitation

I am pleased to announce that Beausoleil Saracen has been accepted for the Threadworks 2016 exhibition and has won the award for “most innovative use of materials”.  Please see details of the exhibition at the Wellington County Museum and Archives in Fergus.

I am just back from Cuba with many ideas for the next artwork.  Keep watching for the start of something new!  Contact me with any comments or ideas.