Friday, 30 November 2012

Week 44: Adobe Illustrator

Shibori Stripes © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Shibori Stripes is a detour. I attempted to replicate the stripe pattern of the Japanese bowl in Adobe Illustrator but it looked stiff and boring. In order to get the correct spacing of the stripes in the boring pattern I needed to create several iterations, so I wasn't about to toss all that work away. The "rough" effect saved the day and now I have a dynamic pattern that reminds me of a gorgeous scarf that I Shibori dyed many moons ago.
Japanese Bowl; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2010

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Dave Hind Caribou

Dave Hind Caribou Artasia; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
Dave Hind's Caribou were installed at Supercrawl 2012. Through Culture for Kids in the Arts (CKA) he collaborated with Hamilton children to create a Charter of Rights for the Parks that became the Caribou Charter.
Dave Hind Caribou Artasia; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
Each of the Caribou is constructed of recycled aluminum and engraved with pictures and messages about care and respect for Hamilton parks generated by the children. The message above reads: "Every park has the right to... allow pets." The Caribou stand about 5' high and wide and represent each of the fifteen neighbourhood groups where CKA worked with Artasia students.
Dave Hind Caribou Artasia; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
The orange and white Caribou is particularly touching. It reads: "Every park has the right to... be treated like mum with love and respect." I haven't heard if the Caribou will migrate back to the parks where they were conceived. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Titanica @ Mary Black Gallery

The Iceberg by Wilma Butts & Crying Fish by Laura Kenney; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
Titanica at the Mary E. Black Gallery in Halifax is long gone. The show commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland ran from August 3 to September 9, 2012. Susan Charles, the Director of the gallery and the Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design, reluctantly gave me permission to only photograph large views of the show. Since I (mostly) complied, the photos aren't great. Three textile pieces stood out: two by Wilma Butts and a hooked rug by Laura Kenney. In the above photo Wilma Butts' The Iceberg hangs to the left and Laura Kenney's Crying Fish hangs to the right. For a better image go to Kenney's blog and Butts' Artwork section of her website. The Iceberg is made with sericin scoured silk and Crying Fish is made with second hand wool clothing and recycled sari ribbon on burlap.
Fractured by Wilma Butts; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
The piece that stole the show for me was Wilma Butts' Fractured. All that I know is that it is constructed of shibori-dyed paper, silk fibre, and wire. Normally I photograph the didactic panels so that I can provide you with more information, but I complied with Susan Charles' request of overall shots, *except* for the bottom image, a detail of Fractured. I couldn't resist. Shibori dyers will recognize my pun.
Fractured detail by Wilma Butts; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Swedish Weaving: To-Ni-Lih Navajo pattern

To-Ni-Lih Swedish weaving pattern
My mom finished this afghan early this year. She was working on it during our Arizona visit in February and she made it specifically for herself. To-Ni-Lih is a Navajo style Swedish weaving pattern by Linda Allen.
To-Ni-Lih Swedish weaving pattern detail
It's interesting how our experiences shape us. While I was growing up, my parents' decor was "early Sally Ann" thanks to a combination of tight finances and their quirky creativity. Mom's term "early Sally Ann" was derived from Salvation Army, and stood for second-hand furniture and furnishings. I grew up with cast-off antiques that mom and I would refinish.  We collected vintage furnishings long before they became the hot trend that they are today. 
To-Ni-Lih Swedish weaving pattern detail
In the years since my brother and I moved out to establish our own households, mom and dad's collective decorating style has evolved to be "early Sally Ann meets Native American and Mexican." The evolution reflects their travels and new influences. It's an interesting mix and naturally they make it work with their usual √©lan. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Week 43: Adobe Illustrator & 2nd blogiversary!

Two (Wonky Hexagons) © Karen Thiessen, 2012
As of tomorrow, two years will have passed since I started this blog on November 24, 2010. Little did I know that it would introduce me to so many fabulous people. Thank you to all who visit, follow, and comment!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Unlimited wonder

Big dead bug; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
One of the jobs of an artist is to pay attention. Any mundane activity can be enlivened simply by looking deeply. Have you ever washed dishes and noticed the shapes, sizes and colours of bubbles? Chores take longer when you pay close attention, but they are more fun.
Big dead beetle; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
This summer I took my camera on a walk around the house and found two large dearly departed insects. Beautiful.
Moth (alive); Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
Notice the velvety texture of the moth and the scalloped edges of the wings. Every day we have an opportunity to look closely, deeply, slowly at the unlimited wonder that surrounds each of us. Go ahead, take a look. What do you see?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Studio Series: Seven Houses quilt

Seven Houses quilt © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Three words come to mind when I look at this quilt: hot, sleep deprived, and homesick. Moments after I graduated from Sheridan College's Textiles program, I packed up our house and moved to the other side of the world. Singapore was a grand, scary adventure where I was forced to learn how to cross the street without getting hit, how to buy groceries in the Wet Markets, and how to sweat. That's right: prior to living in Singapore I was unable to sweat, a trait that I inherited from my mom. My naturopath gave me a supplement that remedied that situation permanently. Prior to this, my face would turn pink or red in lieu of perspiring and on occasion I would pass out from too much heat. 

My husband and I lived in a serviced apartment on the sixteenth floor where I set up a make-shift studio in the spare bedroom. My wobbly cutting table consisted of two twin mattresses and their box springs stacked on top of each other. Not great, but it did the job. Three months into our stay, the empty restaurant at the base of the building was converted into a disco called Body Shock. Base machines pounded in sync to the music. For the remaining nine months our bed vibrated to whatever music was playing from 11 pm to 3 am. My husband could sleep through it, I could not. To preserve my sanity I shifted my work hours and went to bed when the disco turned off its torture device. In the wee hours of many a Singapore morning I pieced parts of Seven Houses with fabrics that I dyed and printed while at Sheridan and fabrics that I bought in Singapore, Bali, and Malaysia. Later in Halifax, I dyed the golden panels with Ted Hutten's onion skins and then pieced the whole thing when we moved back to Ontario. Seven Houses really is an around-the-world quilt.

Seven Houses is part of the Tangents series of quilts and measures 65” W X 87” H or 
165 cm X 221 cm.
Materials: cotton fabrics, cotton/poly binding, cotton quilt batting; cotton & polyester threads
Techniques: most cotton fabrics dyed, discharged, screen-printed, and/or hand-painted with Procion dyes, natural dyes (onion skins) and/or screen-printing textile inks; machine pieced, hand & machine stitched
• Machine quilted by Jacqueline Harris as designed by Karen Thiessen (wonky random grid)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Preparations for studio work

Light © Karen Thiessen, 2011
"The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel." – Piet Mondrian, Dutch painter 1872-1944

This week the studio beckons me to dig deep and be a channel. The porch is swept, my office and mirrors are spotless, the mending and the ironing are complete: it's now time to get on with the real work.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Quotes: Matthew B. Crawford

"... creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice. It seems to be built up through submission (think a musician practicing scales, or Einstein learning tensor algebra)."– Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft, p. 51

Friday, 16 November 2012

Week 42: Adobe Illustrator

Yip! © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Yesterday I involuntarily uttered the word "Yip!" as I filled my mug to overflowing at the kitchen sink. I have said "Yip!" in fun to mimic my late Grandma, but never instead of my usual "shit!" Yip! was my Grandma's word, a word sputtered high-pitch in surprise. Grandma was so well-known for her word that one family of five cousins nicknamed her "Grandma Yip-Yip." At her funeral we cousins gathered at the front of the church hall and yipped in unison after the meal and time of sharing; it was our light offering on a day of heavy grief.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


Steeples © Karen Thiessen, 2012
I live in a place where city officials allow developers to tear down beautiful old buildings and then replace them with cheap stuccoed monstrosities. These golden beauties in the image above reign the sky for now. It might be interesting to construct these shapes in Adobe Illustrator and play with putting them into repeat patterns. The negative spaces would be divine.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Swedish Weaving: Pine Stand on rust monk cloth

Pine Stand pattern on rust monk cloth, 2012
Today's post is brought to you by my mom. In July mom and dad came for a visit during which mom and I took over the yarn section of a craft store. We both have a quirky colour sense but very different tastes. Mom had three colours of monk cloth with her: ecru, potato skin brown, and rust. I found a jewel-tone variegated yarn that worked well with all three colours but looked radically different on each colour. Mom was skeptical but bought my suggested colour. Mom worked up a sample in the car. Dad didn't like it at all. 
Pine Stand pattern on rust monk cloth, 2012
Mom, being the triple Type-A personality that she is, finished the afghan within two months using the Pine Stand pattern. It's gorgeous and has received such positive feedback that several people are hoping that she'll gift it to them. She gave the leftover yarn and the potato skin brown monk cloth to my niece to make a table runner. Darn. I had hoped that mom would use the same yarn with the two remaining colours of monk cloth. I'm curious to see the difference. Naturally after two months of stitching she wants to use new colours and weights of yarn for a while.
Pine Stand pattern on rust monk cloth, 2012
Note the nice details like the Italian hem stitch along the side and bottom edges of the afghan. Mom invented the ducks-in-a-row stitch just above the hem stitch row parallel to the fringe. 
Pine Stand pattern on rust monk cloth, 2012
Early in my textile training I witnessed a teacher spazzing out on a student for using variegated yarn in an embroidery project. That moment stuck with me and since then I've cultivated a snobbery against the multi-hued stuff, but I do concede that it works well in her afghans. Mom uses only variegated yarns in her swedish weaving and I'm curious to see how some of her projects would look if she were to use a palette of solid-colours. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

New Hamburg Mennonite Sale 2012

New Hamburg Mennonite sale; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
The 2012 New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale came and went. Here are a few pictures that capture the quiltiness of the sale, but not the guiltiness (strawberry pie, homemade donuts, rosettes, Mennonite sausage on a bun and more calorie-laden treats).
New Hamburg Mennonite sale; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
Old Order Mennonites and modern General Conference Mennonites sat side by side during the quilt auction.
Marjorie Kaethler Scrappy Stars quilt under plastic; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
Marjorie Kaethler's Scrappy Stars quilt caught my eye. The above image is of the quilt photographed through plastic sheeting (to protect the quilts from sticky fingers––the strawberry pie booth is right across from the quilts). Below is a picture of a picture of the whole quilt. Ottawa author and quiltmaker Marjorie Kaethler's Scrappy Stars quilt, a pieced cotton quilt, measured 93" X 104" and sold for $1650. Marjorie is a star in the Mennonite quilting sphere and the author of Quilts of Waterloo County: A Sampling (published May 1990). There are better images here and here.
Marjorie Kaethler Scrappy Stars quilt; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
unfinished quilt top by unknown maker; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
This black and white beauty was for sale in the tent that sold new and used textiles and notions.
food tents!; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
According to this article in The Record, the sale raised $335,000. To play the Mennonite game (similar to Dutch Bingo), Janice Harder, who is quoted in the article, is my husband's second cousin. Now you know.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Week 41: Adobe Illustrator

Diamonds & Streamers © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Big news: I finally made it through the Adobe Illustrator chapters on text! It took me eight weeks, but I made it. As a pattern girl, it was a hard slog, but I did take time to make a few patterns. Normally I make ten to fifteen patterns a week and only show you one. During my text odyssey, I made only three a week. Diamonds & Streamers is more random and uneven than my usual patterns: it's good to depart from the usual. I'm really excited to dig into more advanced chapters of the manual and finally learn how to integrate Photoshop with Illustrator. Although I've been working with Photoshop for eight years, I'm sure I'll learn to use the program in new ways.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Pickle; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
I saw this stencilled onto a freight elevator door at 270 Sherman Street North.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Studio Series: sketchbook collage

Black & white sketchbook collage © Karen Thiessen, 2012
The studio is a busy place this autumn. September was my month of fear, but thankfully that passed and in October I found my studio mojo. I'm preparing for a May 2013 solo show of my modular work and I'm making two quilts using children's drawings digitally printed onto fabric for a community project. One of the quilts will be auctioned off to raise funds for an inner city after-school program for children. Last night I put the first top on the quilt frame and today I start stitching! It's been a few years since I hand-quilted a quilt, so I'm really looking forward to it.

The above image is a collage from my sketchbook. The white lines on black paper in the lower left corner is a direct photocopy of one of my hand-stitched textiles.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Andrew McPhail @ TH&B

CRYBABY by Andrew McPhail, 2010-ongoing; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
I saw Andrew McPhail's CRYBABY at the TH&B collective's exhibition in an industrial space at 270 Sherman in May 2012. Can you guess what Andrew has hand stitched together to create this immense textile?
CRYBABY by Andrew McPhail, 2010-ongoing; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
If you guessed Kleenex, you are correct. My appreciation for this piece deepened when I learned of what it was made. I felt protective of it, knowing how vulnerable Kleenex is to tearing.
CRYBABY by Andrew McPhail, 2010-ongoing; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
Andrew started making CRYBABY in 2010 and continues to add to it. It is made of thousands of Kleenex hand stitched together, tears, and a toy airplane. Oh Andrew, what were you crying about when you wrapped that toy airplane?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Friday, 2 November 2012

Week 40: Adobe Illustrator

Dots & Circles © Karen Thiessen, 2012
This week's pattern is brought to you by distraction. Learning text from the manual has its interesting moments and I share those on Mondays. Hey, did you see the crude hand that I made for Monday's post? I'm proud of that! I look forward to moving on but I'm committed to not skip through the manual chapters that I think are dull. The section on layers was boring until I realized that the information was useful. The more I learn about text, the more respect I have for graphic designers. In the meanwhile, Dots & Circles is my pattern fix for the week.

Thursday, 1 November 2012


Ant on peony bud; Photo credit Karen Thiessen's hubby, 2012
Ants are remarkable creatures. They are ordered, industrious and work together in communities called colonies. Oddly, they sound a lot like Mennonites. For the past fourteen years I've been working off-and-on a sprawling Russian Mennonite material culture project. Early in the project I interviewed elderly Mennonite women about the textiles that they made and used while still in South Russia (present-day Ukraine). I'm grateful that I gathered these interviews (from 1999-2003) because all of the women are now deceased. They told me stories that I never expected to hear. Naively, I thought textiles were a neutral subject. They weren't. I knew that the Mennonites who came to Canada in the 1920s had survived multiple horrors but would not talk about them. When I asked the elderly women about textiles, they unburdened themselves and told me about bandits, hunger, murder, sickness, and fear. Bandits stole clothing, thread, food, and people. They brought typhus laced lice. They raped, pillaged, murdered, burned houses and barns to the ground. To survive, Mennonites revived dormant silk industry skills and started raising silk worms in their kitchens so that they would have thread to mend clothing and knit socks. One woman cut up the skirt from her wedding dress to make diapers for her infant daughter. They made bread from floor sweepings and boiled plum branches to eat. Some survived, some did not. Those that survived carried on and worked together to rebuild their lives, a lot like ants.