Tag Archives: arts

Missed Call

detail of Missed Call, paper coming though silver mesh fencing; a bar "Call the Office" in the background

We whisper a message and it gets passed along. It’s never the same in the end.

This piece started in a paper stitching class, with picture hanging wire coiled to run through a press to emboss a square of paper. It looks like an old-fashioned telephone cord. Later, I treat green cotton rag paper with konjac paste, and fold and crumple the paper. It is quite sculptural. The feel is of old paper, like matchbooks, kept and folded until they become more than paper. Like memories. once fragile, but oddly more permanent through repeatedly turning them over. I take the coiled wire from the embossing and pierce this paper. A telephone connection is made. I list telephone ideas and choose 2 for a conversation that didn’t quite happen. As I stitch, I ask why not? Why didn’t they connect?

Embroidering on cotton paper treated with konjac
Laura Wythe

I remember this colour of green: Call the Office. The paint trim around the tired old windows of this London establishment matches the paper perfectly. Like the paper, it is crumpled but stands up well despite much abuse. It’s where you might meet someone and promise to call.

The fencing is a chance encounter in a craft store, looking for something else. Shiny aluminium mesh to go with the picture wire. Jagged edges.

Missed Call is phone tag, is the whispers game, but on a visual level. Thanks for starting this round of the game — Jan Taylor and Canadian Embroiderers Guild, London

Missed call, complete photo of multimedia relief, fabric, aluminium mesh, wire and paper on linen
Missed Call by Laura Wythe
12″ x 12″
fabric, wire, aluminium mesh, paper and threads on linen
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Stitched Illustration

I’ve always sewn clothes, made pictures, sculptures–tactile, physical objects that I could share with others pretty easily.


The lakeshore, formerly at 76.5 metres above sea level had risen by 15 metres and was lapping at Queen Street West. From The Bones, Chapter 2, by Laura Wythe

For a number of reasons, writing has become a great creative and personal outlet for me.  But how to show and share words? Contests, blogging, writing plays and joining writing groups have worked for short fiction.

Recently I finished a novel, inspired in part by a street in Wortley Village. Tecumseh Avenue is the only native name among so many traditional English names. It took a lot of research to find out the story behind the name, and I used the presence of this First Nation man in The Bones.

The main character is Catherine Blackwood, the textile curator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. She grew up on a farm next to the battlefield north of Chatham where Tecumseh died in the War of 1812. She heads back to the farm, now in Flood Zone 4, obsessed with making one last search for Tecumseh’s bones. (I’ll blog more about the Tecumseh story.)

I’m used to showing and telling what I’ve been up to. The logical thing — for me — was to make a series of illustrations and launch a book with pictures! Catherine, the textile curator, came to mind as having the perfect point of view for the illustrations.


gathering materials for The Bones Laura Wythe

For more than 2 years, I have collected textiles–table linens, threads, and other bits and embellishments. I have pored over maps and charted the travels of the characters through a flood ravaged land. I have joined London branch of the Canadian Embroiderer’s Guild to bone up on my stitching techniques.

I have 4 months left to finish the illustrations, and literally thousands of stitches to go.


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Colours of the Garden: colour wrapping

basket and needle.close upJPG

thread wrapped basket/Laura Wythe

Many of the fibre artists I meet dye their threads to make their own pallet. I haven’t tried it, except the once when I sank a skein of pearl cotton into a brew of black walnut juice.

In the cold of winter, I went to a workshop led by Nancy Latchford. She’s a fibre artist who specializes in baskets, and her baskets are amazing in size and range. We met in a workroom in the Jonathon Snell-Bancroft Gallery where we had a view of Nancy’s fibre-based work, as well as many, many amazing ceramic pieces.

basket bottom_hole

Base of basket by Laura Wythe

We started making our little baskets, first wrapping a washer for the base, then wrapping more threads over a cotton and wire core to make our coils. I’ve made slippery coils for clay for pots before, but this was new, and quite a challenge to juggle the pieces.

A huge part of the project was to choose the colours, or in my case, let the colours choose me. There was a boardroom-size table before us filled with hand-dyed cotton thread of all colours and tints. Impossible to include them all, but I tried. Red is always my favourite, but then violet, purple, orange, yellow, greens and blues took up the bulk of the project. In the dead of winter, I was thinking about June gardens.

The wrapping technique was new to me. You choose 2 or 3 colours and wrap them together around the core materials. It’s blending colours, and then as Nancy pointed out, they become further blended when the coils are bound together with yet more blends.

The basket is still a work in progress, palm-sized. The gardens, however, are in full bloom.

basket and needle_1

Thread-wrapped basket in progress, Laura Wythe

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Joy of colour

It’s been a grey monotone winter, and I’ve been working on a large project with a theme of rain. More greys and damp and sombreness. Every now and again, there’s a tiny break in the grey blanket of sky, shadows, even a bit of blue. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning or night, it’s all a progression of grey.


Detail of Sari Splendor square by Laura Wythe

Into the grey came a workshop called Indian Splendor led by Donna Funnel, hosted by the London branch of the Canadian Embroiders Guild. Step by step we were led to a guarantee of colour harmony and wonder. It really is important to trust the instructor, especially when they say, choose your colours, any colours will work.

Sari ribbon is a new material for me, and of course, the ribbons came in brilliant colours and textures. Donna also had some sari silk yarn that matched the silks but brought another layer of texture when all was done. We created a base with the ribbons, then cut and embellished. Of course, I bling-ed my project up with shiny yarns, sequins and beads–and some variegated silk thread.

So, here’s the finished project.


Full size Sari Splendor square by Laura Wythe

Donna has used the squares in an entirely different way to create a stunningly detailed wall hanging. Simple structure, amazing results.

What a riot of colour for a dull winter’s day.

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Take Away Art

On the way out of the Central Branch of the London Public Library, I noticed a table with a sign: Take Away Art. An man of many years with a walker noticed the same table, and instead of avoiding it, as in avoiding contact between strangers, we both stopped and checked out the artwork in a basket: screen-printed canvas, black on natural canvas, likely cotton.

The man told me he had made artwork many years ago, up in Kincardine where he lived until 25 years ago. He had a favourite piece, one he’d painted on glass. He’d lived at home until he was 22 because there was a dance hall across the street from him, no need to leave for some excitement. In his “old” age (he confessed to feeling quite young at times) he was studying Greek and Hebrew, and “all the universe,” which, if I understood him well enough, boiled down to the number 5. Then he had to go, but as with many long-lifers, he gave me his opinion that young people weren’t active enough, and how it was a shame. There had been too many teens drowned in the lake up his way in recent years. He didn’t remember anyone drowning when he was a youth. Young folk, pay attention and get a life outside your media devices. Such was our encounter, a rambling circling chat between generations.

But, he wouldn’t take a piece of art. He wanted to make something himself.

I took a piece of art–it seemed too much good fortune just to pass by. The back of the canvas is signed, and there’s details about the print run. Only, I would ask Charles Harris (working on his MFA at Western University), if he’d  be really upset if I embellished his Take Away Art. Not sure how to reach him. I have been putting away the devices for more and more of my days, and I’m embroidering. Not like my mom or gran, but like me. And if ever there was a piece of cloth needing embellished, it’s this Take Away print. Like fries needing ketchup. Sorry Charles.

Or maybe I shouldn’t. Should I let it stand as a statement, now a statement of private art in my eclectic collection. I’d like to find ways to make it public again, like the case of the “Traveling Pants.” Perhaps send it on a journey among friends who embroider and embellish and quilt and bind books, and …

In any case, without this Take Away Art in the branch of the Central Lbrary, I wouldn’t have had such a charming chat. Cheers to the Take Away Artist!



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ROM Space: Made for Us

ROM from the east on Bloor Street

The Royal Ontario Museum is about collections.  It’s about old stuff.  And if you ignore the second floor (with its taxidermy and dinosaurs), then you might be impressed like I am by how “human-centric” the collections are.

It’s all about us.  What we make, what we use, how we look.   It’s like a kind of tagging through the ages.  For instance, the glass cases in the Asian galleries contained Buddha and bodhisativas and demons and men of all kinds.  Even a few women.  And the purpose of the images?  To confirm the goodness in us, or to make a mark, a lasting impression?  He was there and because of this icon, the future will know him.

I’m overwhelmed by this impression in the Greek and Roman galleries.  Figure after human figure.  Marble heads.  We love looking at ourselves.  I’m just realizing it.  Our purpose seems to be us.  We worship the human form (okay, Islamists might not). There’s something about the human image and our drive to capture it.  Does a piece of the soul stay with the creation, as some cultures claim?  Perhaps it’s time to burn my self-portraits.

ROM, Egyptian Pre-dynastic. Two figures found in the mud and reconstructed. they are thought to represent grief.

In fact, I found two figures of women, very expressive, in the Egyptian gallery whose souls seemed to still be present.  They are dated as pre-dynasty, and were found in the mud of the Nile.  I love them for their gestures, so unfathomable after what, 4000 years?

It’s all about us.  What we collect, the stories we tell, the clothes we make, the tools we use, the we adorn our bodies.  We stand as individuals, as votives representing something, something that we in turn, love to look at.  I’m wondering what that might be.



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My Date with the Buddhist Boys at the ROM

While London is a culturally active city, Toronto has the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.

I find it’s worth taking the train to spend an entire day at either place.  The ROM is my target for this visit.  The last time I was there, I didn’t sketch much but wandered the endless collections until I felt the vertigo and had to get off the ride.

My mission this time has focus.  Find the Buddhist boys.

Baran Mong’s sketches from the Royal Ontario Museum, July 2011.

In the World Culture Asian galleries, there are a couple of collections of Buddhist statures.  whether standing tall or seated with a round belly, they are painted, gilded, jeweled.  Then there’s a group of what looks like plain, unembellished limestone monks.

Another artist, Baran Mong, has also found the boys and included one among his really spirited sketches.

My impression of them from my last trip was that they were very hungry souls, and that the artist had rounded out their faces, which to me, didn’t match the thinness of their bodies beneath the robes.  While the statues might have been commissioned as propaganda (I’ll try to find out more), the artist shows an exceptional compassion for his models.   Maybe even love.

What delights me is that they’re real men, young and quite frankly, thin and not so perfectly spiritual as The Buddha.  Imagine your meditation or yoga group carved in stone.  Then imagine sitting before the that group, each a singular expression captured in stone, and meditating on that — 500 to a 1000 years later.



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I am a selfless soul, one among many on the planet.  There must be at least a billion other people like me who quickly get down to brass tacks when it comes to helping someone else out.  On my own, I could die of clutter.

The studio has been a mess all winter and you know about the piles.  I’ve got a corner of the table clear for working on the sweater pattern and I can get to the sewing machine.  Otherwise, the room is occupied.  Files of work-related documents, binders and books cozy up beside the art and textile projects like they are old pals.

So here’s the push.  Last week I bartered expertise with a friend–his in business for mine in watercolour painting.  Only, where will I put him when he comes to the studio?  As you know, there’s fabric piled on the chairs.  At least, I think there are chairs underneath.

For the sake of this person, for this relationship, I’ve literally pushed everything not related to studio practices out.  Just pushed it out the door.  Now I have space–floor, table, shelf and closet space.  Soon, I will have chairs.

Never mind what I’ll do with the boxes in the hallway.   Never mind how great it looks to my friend.  The push from helping someone else has helped me out enormously.  I can work in my studio again.

Love it when I discover what everyone else knows.


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Potentially Stellar

I’m wondering about potential, about energy explosions and implosions, big bangs and black holes.  I’m looking about my studio space and at the number of projects that remain visible, that swirl in space.  There is a sense of organization into two camps — painting and sewing.   The easel and the sewing machine are both accessible.  Horizontal surfaces are covered in piles of stuff.

Shall we start by naming the planets?  I mean, the piles.

There are two stacks on the work table.   Pushed to back are large quilt squares, protected from dust by a square of old flannel.  A block of soapstone sits on top.  This pile is not going anywhere even though it’s planned and the materials are gathered.  The cutting has started.  Why, I ask you, has it sunk into a black hole?

The answer lies under the second pile, a twin-star system.  It is really two piles covered by one piece of linen sheer drapery fabric.  I like the white, semi-transparency of the sheer.  It allows the piles to breathe.  One doesn’t need a telescope to remember the contents. One star is fabric.  More  material for the quilt, two pieces of jersey for dresses, and some lovely green wool that I bought fifteen years ago along with the black wool.  This pile, I believe has the potential for greatness.  It’s waiting for the big bang.  Its twin-star also has potential.  It’s a pile of sketches, files, art-related books, patterns and brown paper pattern blocks.  The raw materials of genesis.

On the seat of a chair that’s pushed under the table is a rogue planet.  More fabric and old clothing (kept, because I like them and wore them to death, for their patterns).  It’s hidden potential.  A possible colony of retro style.

On the floor is a stack of primed canvases that I bought on sale, on speculation.  I like to think, that I’ll get out and paint, that I’ll wander the universe and record the wonders.  They are prepped with fresh gesso and ready to go.  Beneath them is the anti-matter to this painting potential, a box of vintage clothing patterns.

A pile of ephemera lies on the small table beside the easel.  Paints, a box of drawing tools, brushes, envelopes of past monthly financial receipts, lots of rags, researched information, a how-to guide from a portrait painting class, a jar of solvent, some Christmas toys, a pen and ink drawing from 1982.  That’s all I see without moving anything.  A virtual asteroid belt, distracting and unstable.

I’m not a collector, I swear.  I’m an optimist with raw potential piled about the studio. The canvases and fabric, the tools and patterns are ready for the Big Bang.  The question is, which universe?  And how to chose?


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