Laurie Swim – On the Cutting Edge of Quilted Art

Laurie Swim – On the Cutting Edge of Quilted Art

One would think that the best time to travel across Canada is when the sun is high in the northern hemisphere and winter is well behind and in front of you. A challenge we never anticipated was finding artists who had idle time on their hands. Summertime brings with it tourists and tourists bring cash. We arrived in Nova Scotia during the peak of tourist season and hadn’t been able to nail an artist to the wall until we were two thirds the way around the province!

Thankfully, Laurie Swim, a textile artist, in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia answered our e-mail. Now, this is not to say that Laurie wasn’t busy. When we arrived she was getting ready to travel the next day to a show along with a million other things she had on her list. Perhaps it was the ocean breeze or the glorious crystal clear day, and it may have been the case, but I never felt like we were just another item on her list to complete and check off.

Regaining Paradise
Laurie Swim
2012

When we walked into The Art Quilt Gallery of the Atlantic it was a jaw dropping experience for me. As with most people who think of quilts, I too thought of lovely symmetrical patterns and geometric shapes beautifully sewn together in straight and even stitches, handcrafted to wrap around yourself or your bed. I’ve even made one myself. Laurie uses fabric and quilted material but the similarities end there. She “paints” her quilted art. The fabric acts as the canvas and the paint, and the thread and the sewing machine act as the brush. You would be hard pressed to find any straight and even stitches in her work, and that is part of the magic of it all!

As with most artists, Laurie spends a great deal of time with her camera, shooting photos and collecting ideas to patch together a story of her own experiences, the culture of the people, and the landscape in Nova Scotia. Prior to their life together in Lunenberg, Laurie and her husband Larry lived in a small community just down the road, called Blue Rocks. Gary and I wanted to get a feel and appreciation for the place that had a major influence on Laurie’s work, so we traveled to the end of the road and there it was, Laurie’s quilted art just as we had saw it hanging in her gallery. I could see right away how inspiring this place can be; the smell of the salty air, the tiny boats bobbing in the bay, and only the sound of sea birds and waves nudging the blue rocks along the shore. It was peaceful beyond my imagination and hard not to fall in love with this place on a day such as this.

Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia

Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia

Laurie has been a textile artist going on forty years and has poured her love into her work over this time. She has contributed her experience and expertise to community projects as well. She recalled while we were there the York Mill Subway Station Project in Toronto, Ontario, which consisted of about twenty-five volunteer quilters working together on Laurie’s design and under her tutelage creating a twenty foot long quilt titled “Breaking Ground” which hangs in the subway station as a memorial for the five Italian men who lost their lives in the Hogg’s Hollow Mine Disaster. The tragedy that occurred 50 years ago changed the labour laws in Ontario. Laurie finds great satisfaction in creating art that people will cherish for years to come, but it is projects such as these that hold a deep sense of fulfillment for her. She is able to contribute a powerful message and reminder in an art form that has held her passion for a long time.

Click on the thumbnails below for a large image aspect.

Laurie is also the author of three books on quilt art; The Joy of Quilting (1984), Quilting (1991) and Rags to Riches: The Quilt as Art (2007). Rags to Riches can be ordered through Laurie’s website or online through Amazon.ca. It will be out in October 2012 in paperback.

Learn more about Laurie Swim and her textile art in her interview below. We always welcome comments.

Purls Are This Girls Best Friend

Purls Are This Girls Best Friend

Typically when I think of knitting my mind conjures up an image of a sweet grandmother knitting a baby sweater for their newest grandchild. Of course there is nothing wrong with thinking this way, but then Gary and I met Mylene Lacroix (pronounced mee-len), gracious CouchSurfing host and knitter aficionado, who catapults all knitting sterotypes right out the window. She is a 35 year old single mom of 17 year old Jacob and is a police dispatcher by day or night (depending on her shift) and a knitter any other chance she gets.

Mylene has been knitting for 31 years. When she was 4 years old she took an interest in her mom’s knitting, and so her mom let Mylene give it a try. As the saying goes, she took to it like a fish takes to water and like a fish to water Mylene can’t live with out it. The name of her blog says it all, MiMi Must Knit. When she was 6 years old she started knitting her own Barbie Doll clothes and in grade 6 she knit her first sweater. Except for the “it’s not cool to knit when you are a teenager phase”, she’s been knitting ever since.

During one of our many conversations Mylene shared with us that knitting can be accomplished just about anywhere and it is an excellent use of idle time. She has knit at the doctor’s office, while sitting in traffic, at the movie theatre before the movie, or during depending on the movie, and visiting, as was the case while we were there. When Mylene packs her lunch for the day she always packs a knitting project to take along as there is always an opportunity to add a few extra stitches here and there. She has crafted countless wool toques, socks and mittens including the now famous “Bella mittens” from the series Twilight. She has outfitted herself in an extensive wardrobe of sweaters of all styles but she says socks are her favorite item to knit. Her other passion is travel and so when most people bring home souvenir trinkets from their journey, Mylene brings home souvenir wool and knits herself some fabulous socks. I think this is the coolest idea! The wool for her socks have come from all around the globe including a zingy coloured pair from Japan.

Mylene’s craftsmanship is of the highest quality. She uses the best raw material she can find and creates gorgeous apparel including some other functional items like a purse or a felted wool cover for a French Press. Her work is exquisite. I fell in love with the knitted lace shawls, the intricate patterned socks and the double thickness, brightly coloured wool mittens.

It is so nice to see someone so young helping to bring knitting back to life as it encourages other young people including children to take an interest in a skilled craft that could easily disappear one day. At first I thought Mylene was an old soul (and she probably is) when it comes to her intense passion for knitting, but she relayed to us that she is not alone. She pointed out a website called Ravelry that has over 1 million knit hungry members. This site is a bonanza for all things knit related. You name it and you can find it here, and if not then there are about 1 million people you could ask.

Sadly, Mylene typically only does projects she can give away to family or friends or if people ask her to knit something specific, like her hardest project to date, a christening gown. I think, like many fine artists and fine crafts people, Mylene knits for the love of it. As we have discovered talking to artists along our journey, it can be challenging to sell their work sometimes because the potential buyers don’t understand the extent of the labour and materials cost. Her socks are out of this world but trying to sell them at $30 per pair is ludicrous to many people. What they don’t know is that this works out to be about $2/hour in labour for Mylene. My way of thinking is that if we go back to the day when quality and longevity were king, buying socks at $30/pair and having them last for years is a great investment. Think of how much money we could all save over the long run. Although Mylene doesn’t create to sell, I’m sure she would love to talk about and teach knitting until the sheep come home for shearing.

Textile Artist Dorothy Clark

Textile Artist Dorothy Clark

Gary and I arranged to meet Dorothy Clark at her home in Shutty Bench, B.C. After maneuvering Arty around the sharply meandering hills and flats, we arrived and were greeted by Dorothy’s two golden retrievers who promptly showed us the back door. If they weren’t so friendly and weren’t dogs, I would have thought the welcome mat wasn’t rolled out for us. This of course was not the case at all. When we finally found the front door (didn’t take that long), we were invited in by the textile artist herself. She is a charming lady of Scottish decent with a warm smile and a peaceful demeanor. Both her and her husband are from a sub community of our old back yard, Bragg Creek, Alberta. Like many couples of retirement age (this could be any age, really, as Gary and I feel retired), they desired to move to a more hospitable climate and retreat from the foot print of a big city, in this case, Calgary, Alberta.

Dorothy Clark in her studio

Dorothy has a wonderful space in her home in which to work on her quilts and what she calls her critters. The critters are on display and for sale at The Live Art Shop in Kaslo, B.C. When we talked to one of the co-founders of The Live Art Shop, Eliza Fry, she told us that even though the little critters are mostly intended for children, it seems they are popular with adults. I understood what she meant as soon as I picked one up. They feel wonderful and reminded me of my coveted blanket when I was a child. Likely, they resonate with other “big kids” in the same way.

Little Critters

Dorothy’s quilts represent years of “craftswomanship” and it is obvious that she loves what she does. They are colourful and her designs are nature inspired. I have spent time in the past trying my own hand at quilting and I can tell you there’s a lot of work involved. So the next time you are thinking of purchasing a quilt for your bed or as a wall hanging consider investing in one that is handmade. It will likely be something you will want to wrap yourself or your walls in for years to come.

Woodland wall hanging