My work as a textile pattern designer in Montreal influenced the imagery in these steel dresses, which I created to express the strength and diversity of women. Using a plasma-arc cutter, I created patterns based on forms historically associated with women. In this work I interweave correlations between material, image, and content to present alternative visions of gender. Feminism supports domestic activities as a valid approach to contemporary art practice, so I consider making these steel dresses as “sewing with fire.”
After the death of my father, I found myself involved in repetitive textile work, and knew it was my way of mourning. This labour-intensive work seems to be a common way of coping with grief and loss, as cloth has strong associations with protection and healing. Mourning is not easily manifested in contemporary society where there is little place for ritual during times of sorrow. But the slow process of textile work can provide a space for continuing conversation with the dead, creating bonds between the past and the present.
During a Canada Council residency in Paris, I visited the Pyramid of Shoes, an annual protest against land mines, which inspired me to knit replicas of antipersonnel land mines. Knitting is closely associated with caring for the body – it was originally used to make undergarments (the origin of the sweater). Bandages for soldiers were once hand-knitted, and women still knit for soldiers, prisoners, and the homeless. Knitting represents recuperation, protection, and healing. In this work I use these associations to contradict the abuse of power through violence.
Using fabric from worn camouflage uniforms, I create installations about the devastation of war. Camouflage fabric was created by artists to hide the soldier by allowing the soldier’s body to merge with nature. In this body of work, one of my goals is to metaphorically return the camouflage patterns back to nature. I often use intentionally rough craftsmanship to depict the insanity and absurdity of war. In other work, careful obsessive sewing speaks to the fragility and beauty of the human body. At a time when war is becoming highly technological, hand-sewing can re-focus attention on the personal. For me, putting pieces of fabric back together in forms that reflect nature is a symbolic recuperation.
I embroider feminist and activist quotations on vintage hostess aprons, the only item I can think of that is both domestic and sexy. This seductive aspect is much like the purpose of prehistoric women’s aprons, the first human clothing. They were not practical either, being made of string with a knotted fringe. The weight of the knots would make the fringe move and sway, adding to the allure. In this series, I play with the contrast between the attractive appearance of the apron and the power of telling one’s truth.
I sew vintage buttons on velvet in abstract shapes that are based on natural forms. The word button has its origins in nature, coming from the word ‘bud.’ Although buttons are humble objects, I appreciate their incredible diversity and history (thanks to the Prairie Button Keepers). I am particularly inspired by the Pearlies, groups of working-class families in London, England who sew mother-of-pearl buttons on their clothing. Wearing their pearly “flash” they raise money for charity, a custom they have followed for over a hundred years.