A few weeks ago I was in Lac Le Jeune, half an hour out of Kamloops, with 43 other members of the Fibre Art Network, a group of western Canadian fibre artists to which I’ve belonged for several months. This group is similar to the Studio Art Quilt Associates in that the mandate of both groups is to raise the profile of textile arts as fine art, to help members become more professional in their art practice, and to create new exhibition opportunities for artists working in textiles. But whereas SAQA focusses on art quilts, FAN members range far afield in their use of fibre and much of what we create isn’t quilts. In fact, the word “quilt” was referred to as the “Q” word at the retreat, and this organization actively avoids using that word, considering it too limiting.
That said, many of the members of FAN are also members of the western Canadian chapter of SAQA, and many of the people at the retreat I’d already met at the SAQA western Canada conference in West Kelowna in May. How fun for me, to arrive with friendships already begun and four days ahead to consolidate those friendships and start new ones.
The retreat was held at the Lac Le Jeune Wilderness Resort Lodge, and we were put up in cabins fronting a shallow pond near the lake. The pond is small but because the weather for the first couple of days was spectacular, and the autumn larches and aspens at the height of their golden glory, the view from our cabin decks was lovely, both the first evening as the sun set, and the next morning.
And just next door is Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park, a beautiful place I walked to every morning. It was COLD, and the sun was just rising at about 7:15 when I reached the park. But it was a wonderful way to start the day, and I wasn’t the only one to trek in that direction before breakfast.
But most of our time we spent together, watching each other present our work (we were each allotted twelve minutes for an artist presentation), participating in the annual general meeting, listening to an excellent talk by Kathy Kinsella about selling on Etsy, and eating, always eating, it seemed to me. On two afternoons we also headed off, first to Merritt to the south, and then to Kamloops to the east, to receptions at galleries in those two cities where FAN exhibits were installed. As a newcomer to FAN, I didn’t really have much understanding of how the group operates before the retreat, but seeing these galleries made me understand that FAN’s group exhibits are a key part of its activities. None of my photos of the Ekphrastic show in the Courthouse Arts Gallery turned out, so I won’t show you those, but if you go to the FAN website, you can see the art there.
The show in Kamloops was called Botanical Reflections: I use the word “was” because the exhibit has closed at the Kamloops Courthouse Gallery, but I think it will continue to travel. You can see the individual pieces here. I was impressed at how beautifully these small works were displayed in the spaces of this graceful old building.
I love this old building, particularly these staircase windows. We headed up those stairs, most of us, because on the second floor the local chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists had a show in progress. You may recall that my dear husband is a member of the FCA, and last year had a painting accepted by this chapter and exhibited here.
Another fun moment for me at the retreat was to win a door prize, namely this bundle of cheery batiks from Heather’s Fabric Shelf on the north side of the river in Kamloops.
And I also came home with an even cheerier bundle of African fabrics from Pippa Moore, who has, by her own account, a vast collection of fabrics as a result of years of living in and travelling to Africa. I’ve never owned even a single piece of African fabric, so I jumped at the chance to buy this stack of ten fat quarters.
They’re so wild: I can’t wait to start to play with them.
Another part of the retreat that I enjoyed was the sell/swap/give-away tables. I had taken something like sixteen or eighteen books to sell, but decided after I’d laboriously priced them all that I’d rather give them away and hope that happy recipients would donate a little cash to FAN in return. I found fabrics I liked on the give-away table, and was more than happy to stuff some money in the donation can. The first pic is of hand-dyed cottons that someone obviously wasn’t happy with. I know I can use them.
The other is a stack of commercial fabrics, totally unrelated to one another, but sparking all sorts of ideas in my brain.
That middle fabric with the tiny white motifs on red already has a designated home in a quilt in progress.
Finally, here’s the quilt I made for the retreat. It’s apparently become a tradition for retreat attendees to make and exchange small quilts on a given theme. This year, the quilt theme was Into the Wilderness and we were encouraged to create a quilt expressing what wilderness means to us personally.
I read the information about this quilt exchange with less than a week to go before the retreat and decided I’d be crazy to try to create a quilt in the remaining time. Then, with exactly twenty-four hours left before departure time, I changed my mind. Here’s what I did.
I went to the photos I took of our trips to the Granby Wilderness Park over the summer and chose a shot of the river to work from. I printed it out in black and white, sized to 8-1/2 by 11 inches, the stipulated quilt size for the exchange.
I traced the main lines of the composition onto tracing paper.
Then I traced only the most important of these lines from the tracing paper onto Super Solvy, a heavy-weight water-soluble stabilizer. I found a beige silk shirt in my “silk” bin and cut off one of the fronts. I made a sandwich of the traced-on Solvy, the silk, a piece of Timtex, another very heavy-duty interfacing (that I think is no longer made), and a backing fabric. Then, with black thread in my machine and the bobbin, I loosely followed the lines on the Solvy to sketch the scene in thread.
I wanted to add a few words of text to try to explain the quilt’s meaning, so printed out my words using one of the standard fonts in my word-processing software.
Then I traced the words onto more Solvy and free-motion stitched them right over the thread-sketched scene.
In the photo below, I’ve finished all the stitching and have a nice mess of turquoise threads to bury in the quilt sandwich. And I’ve removed the large pieces of Solvy with my fingers.
I got all those threads darned in.
And then I soaked the whole piece in cool water for a while until the Solvy disappeared. I left the piece to dry overnight.
The next morning, in between bouts of packing and organizing the animals and all they needed while I was gone (dh was gone too, up north fishing), I trimmed the quilt to size, made a binding, and attached the binding by machine. I also made a little label for the back. I had no time left for sewing down the binding on the back or for attaching the label. I just jumped in the car and drove hard for Lac Le Jeune. I got there before the end of registration, and got my binding sewn down before dinner. The label finally got attached a few days later.
The first night, after dinner, we each showed and described our little quilts, and drew lots for who got what quilt.
Here’s roughly what I said about my piece. I talked about how dh and I had been in this park, which has the word “wilderness” in its name, a few times over the summer. And about how every time we went, more ribbons had been placed in the forest right next to the park, showing where the next wave of logging will be done. And given that this logging surrounds the park, it’s inevitable that the local wildlife, which includes grizzlies, will be aware of it and can’t help but be affected by it. How “wild” can it be, I asked, if human activity will be visible and audible to the wild community within the park? Even our own presence, and our driving into the park in our truck, calls into question its wildness. I explained that the word “wilderness” has tremendous weight for me, as it does for many people, but I have to wonder: is there really anywhere on earth any longer that has not been affected by human activity? Do we kid ourselves when we speak of “wilderness” as something we can locate out there somewhere? Hence the text on the quilt: I am forced to acknowledge that the lovely idea of wilderness may be only that: a nice idea that we like to entertain.
I wanted the quilt to look a little like a poster or a postcard advertising the idea of wilderness, something reminiscent of the “Supernatural BC” ad campaigns I remember from a couple of decades ago.
So I guess this quilt is a bit political. Maybe a lot political. I’ve never used a quilt to convey a political message before, so this was a new experience for me. I wasn’t at all sure how such a piece, or such a message, might be received at the retreat, but I have to say I had nothing but positive comments from the people who wanted to talk to me about it.
Here’s the finished quilt at the retreat, its top edge a bit distorted from having been severely pinned to a display wall (it’ll be fine).
Not a masterpiece, but not bad for a very last-minute effort. A good reminder that sometimes when I think "I can't," I really can.
It was a great retreat. I’m inspired. I made new friends. I feel part of a group who help me grown and develop as an artist. As many people said at the retreat, I was with my tribe.