I came to Canadian artist, Amanda McCavour’s work through her submission to PLAY and immediately loved her series of embroidered hands playing the string game of Cat’s Cradle. When I actually received the work for installation I was pleasantly surprise to realize that the work was just thread, through the magic of Solvy, the piece was without a backing. When I researched Amanda’s work further I was blown away as she takes this technique far by creating room size installations that float in space and reference memory and place in a powerful way.
I am so delighted to share Amanda’s work with you and learn a little more about her process too. Let’s meet her.
How does where you live inform your work?
I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I have been renting different apartments in Toronto for the past 7 or so years. Because of changing circumstances, I have found that I move almost every year, from one apartment to another. This constant movement from one space to another has influenced my work and the way that I think about the idea of home. I have recently started re-creating my apartments in embroidered installations on a 1 to 1 scale.
Can you discuss what brought you to working in thread and fiber?
When I was in school I drew images of cloth. In an assignment where we were asked to make a drawing machine, my machine incorporated thread as a way of making line.
It seemed to me that it might be an interesting step to move from drawing fibres and cloth, to actually using them to make work… to approach embroidery as drawing, as I saw it as an opportunity to talk about stitches as mark-making. I thought that it would be even more interesting to make a drawing out of thread that might exist in air…drawing that would be made only out of line. This is what brought me to the water soluable fabric which turned out to be the perfect tool to help me do this.
When I first started working with thread, I did a lot of experimenting and my work was quite abstract, my work then moved to more figurative depictions of the body, specifically hands.
I thought that thread was a fitting material when speaking about the body and its temporality. There’s a delicacy to the body… connecting with thread as a material. I was drawn to thread and its relationship to the body as well, how we know textiles through touch, how connected cloth is to the skin. I was also interested in how these thread pieces appeared so fragile and just about to unravel, I thought that this connected with the body as well, how temporary and fragile we are.
My work has since moved beyond the body, to temporary spaces that bodies occupy, and toward more playful exercises and experiments.
your background as an artist?
I am formally trained in drawing but I didn’t study fibre. Although I didn’t go to school for fibre, I did do a residency at the Harbourfront Centre’s textile studio which broadened my knowledge of fibre techniques and practices.
While in school I experimented a lot and looked at manuals and how to books constantly. I think that looking at these images of hands making things on such a regular basis affected my work. I found myself making pieces about making things, about untying and tying and was using this diagrammatic style that was present in a lot of the books that I was looking at for research. So, in a way, the images from how I was learning became the subject matter of my work.
I think that being self-taught influences the way that I work and with the amount of experimentation that I do. Testing things out to see how they work has been a big part of my work relating to textiles and specifically embroidery.
Being self-taught also has its disadvantages. Sometimes I feel as though I go about things the hard way and waste a lot of time. During my residency at the Harbourfront Centre’s craft studios, my studio mates helped me a lot and gave me many time saving tips. It was amazing the tricks that had.
Your technique and therefore your aesthetic is quite unique can you please explain the process of making your work?
I make work by sewing with a sewing machine into water soluable fabric. I sew into the fabric so much that the thread image begins to hold itself together. I can then dissolve the base, leaving just the thread image behind.
I draw out my images on the fabric before I start sewing. I draw the outline and then block in areas that will be different colours of thread. I usually treat the embroidery like a drawing, moving from lighter colours to darker ones, like shading with thread. With my more abstract work, I am working with this same process of sewing and then dissolving the base but looking at embroideries that stack and fold, creating intersecting embroidered pieces based more in ideas surrounding accumulation of thread and geometric forms.
What are the challenges or difficulties in working with this technique?
One of the big challenges for me is how hard it is to see the entire image while I am working when I am sewing at the sewing machine. I find I have to work on small areas at a time and then hang the work up and step away from it to see if it is right. Sometimes, because of how difficult it is to see the entire image, it is hard to get the perspectives right for work that is representational because of this and I find that I sometimes have to take out large areas and re-do them to get things right.
At times I find it frustrating that everything is so flexible, how the fabric is constantly moving and not staying in place like a more rigid material. Sometimes I want to be able to work on the piece flat, but it is often hard to maneuver around the work. I have invested in an embroidery frame that is much like a table where you stretch the piece that is to be embroidered onto the frame. Because the frame is like a table, you can use both hands to sew. I would really like to incorporate some more hand embroidery in my work in the future. This type of frame seems exciting to me as the material would be able to hold in place.
How does this technique inform your work conceptually?
I think that the concepts related to embroidery, thread and dissolving are definitely a part of my work.
The idea of traces or things that are left over is something that I am interested in. Because I start with a drawn image in ink that I draw directly onto the water soluable fabric and then build up the form from there, the original is never present, it is washed away. The idea of removing what was originally there relates to a lot of the ideas that I explore, of looking at spaces and the memories and impressions that these spaces leave behind. I think of these pieces as though they are a trace of an experience, like what you are left with when the real thing is gone.
How does the practice of embroidery affect the conceptual aspect of your work?
I am interested in the properties of thread, its delicacy, how it can be used as a line. I’m interested in how embroidery can relate to touch, how my work is an accumulation of time and material to create a final product. I think that all of these concepts and ideas find their way into my work.
I like thread’s vulnerability, the way that it seems so delicate and fine despite its actual strength when it is sewn together. Creating images and installations out of embroidered parts allows me to create ephemeral pieces that are both in a space but also seemingly on the verge of not being there.
I like how thread can remind you of your sense of touch. We feel fibres and often, they are right next to our skin when we are wearing clothes or when we are under covers. I like how when I use an embroidered image that this might be in the back of people’s mind, that looking at an embroidered piece also becomes about this memory of touch, of touching something soft, of what the piece might feel like if you were to touch it.
I like the history of use related to fibre, how, although my pieces are not functional, they still carry with them a reference to functional things like napkins, blankets, pillows, hankies, gloves. Some of these things relate to covering the body with clothing while others relate to, the comfort of home (doilies, cushions, curtains).
A number of your works reference the domestic place, often in large scale installation, can you talk about what attracts you to this space?
I think I am attracted to the idea of home and comfort. Of places or experiences that are familiar and private. I like the quietness of these spaces and also the sentiment that can go along with them. I find that looking at even pictures of my old apartments, or friends apartments can bring back feelings of what that particular place felt like. I think that this can also happen in public spaces but there is an intimacy to these interior or private spaces that I am really attracted to.
Since the spaces you tend to be “drawing” are personal spaces it seems that your work is somewhat autobiographical. Can you discuss the role of the personal and auobiography in your work?
A lot of my work stems from personal experience.
I have been working on projects surrounding my interests when I was young and into kids crafts; Friendship bracelets, cut paper snowflakes, folded pieces of paper, Spirographs…even these things from my childhood have influenced me and are influencing the work that I am doing now.
Most directly, my self portraits and images of hands reflect my experience of making things. More recently I have been documenting personal spaces.
Although my work is a document of a personal space with personal items, I do think that it more widely relates to others as well. My home could be anyone’s home. This past January I participated in a show called “Come Up to My Room” which is the Gladstone Hotel’s annual alternative design show. Installations by different designers were shown in hotel rooms on one floor of the hotel. I thought that the Gladstone Hotel was the perfect place for this piece because I have come to think of my rental apartments as places of temporary stay, just as hotel rooms are places of temporary stay. Hotel rooms are places that are home for a brief period of time; they have a bed and a night table, things that sort of reference a sense of home but really aren’t the real thing. I think that this piece acts the same way as a hotel room does, it references or reminds you of a place like home.
The other side of your work has a series of works that reference childhood games, can you talk about this inspiration?
I am attracted to sequence and diagrams in instruction manuals. From this interest, and the fact that I was looking at lots of instruction books trying to teach myself different techniques, I started to use hands in my work, usually hands that were in the process of making things or unmaking things or unraveling themselves.
I was working with images of hands and making these images out of thread using embroidery and water soluable fabric. I was trying to link that potential that thread has to unravel to the body when looking at these images of hands I thought of childhood games that you would play with string such as Cat’s cradle and also the ritual of tying thread around fingers to remember something. I thought that the materials I was working with would fit well with those images and I liked the idea that I could create a sequence of Cat’s Cradle drawings.
In the future I would like to create a series of drawings of hands making shadow puppets. I think that this would be a nice continuation of the Cat’s Cradle pieces and would incorporate the shadows that the embroidered pieces cast.
I think that my interest in linking my work to childhood games and diagrams may stem from my interest in crafts when I was young. I can specifically remember being interested in macramÃ© and making friendship bracelets which involved tying embroidery floss into decorative patterns. These sorts of crafts were something that I spent a lot of time doing. I recently completed a collaboration with a fellow artist in residence at Harboufront Centre, Adriana McNeely (www.mylatestcreation.com) where we explored the idea of linking our current craft practice to the way that we explored crafts when we were younger. Today craft means something different to me than it did when I was young but I can still see how these formative activities of folding paper, tying knots, and using glitter are still influencing my work today.
How has your work evolved since you first began working this way?
The scale of my work has changed a lot. When I first graduated from school I was working small, with mostly portraits of hands, that were life sized but still small scale. I remember when I was first awarded a residency at Harbourfront, four years ago, that my big goal was to make a life sized self portrait. I was really interested in scale and thought that doing a portrait of myself would be a big step. Since then I have gone even bigger, making entire rooms.
When I first started I did a panorama view of my bedroom. It was interesting to me that I have returned to this idea of interior spaces but later and in a different way. I think that scale has a lot to do with my development.
What is the next direction or step for your work?
I will be working on new installation work based on play and experimentation with materials and processes typically associated with textile and domestic traditions. Tracing actions and environments through a process of repetition, pattern and geometry, I plan to create embroidered pieces that stack, layer and fold. The installations would be comprised of large and small scale three-dimensional thread work in various stages of completion, exposing the processes involved in my practice which relates back to my interest in diagrams and step-by-step instruction manuals. This new work will reference everyday objects such as lined paper and everyday activities such as doodles and scribbles, I hope to engage in a playful exploration of materials and structure and hope to find some new possibilities.
Describe your studio and studio practice.
My studio space has changed quite a bit. Where as before I was working in a shared studio space at Harbourfront Centre in view of the public, I am now working from my home studio.
Since finishing up the residency at Harbourfront, I have gone to do another residency in Dawson City, Yukon, where I worked in a historical home called McCaulay House. More recently I went to Picton Ontario to a residency at Spark Box Studio. I enjoy going to other studio spaces to work and find it really interesting to work alongside different artists in different environments. In 2012 I will be doing another residency in Quebec City.
I spend a lot of time working at my sewing machine each day. The first step of drawing the images takes very little time compared to the amount of time it actually takes to sew them. My sewing machine is quite loud so I like to wear headphones and listen to music or pod casts or books on tape. I like to work for long stretches of time. I think its nice to be able to dedicate a whole day to working on a project rather than just a few hours (although sometimes you have to get that time in whenever you can!) I have a large wooden table in one room with all of my thread displayed on a big peg board for easy access and viewing. In another room I have a large drafting table which is where I do some of my drawing. Its handy to have multiple horizontal surfaces when I need to lay things out.
Who are some artists or creative folks that inspire you?
Dorrie Millerson (above) makes amazing needle lace pieces. I like her small sculptures but I also like her piece “tie” which is a flat piece, an bow. I love the way that it is shaded and how simple it is but carries ideas with it of attachment.
I also like Jannick Deslauriers (above) textile sculptures, the way that they use space in her installations is really interesting to me. I love her strange mushroom installation and her exteriors of homes.
What else do you spend your time doing?
I like running along the path that is close to my apartment and I like to bike around the city. I like my neighbourhood and going to second hand stores and thrift shops. I like reading and listening to books on tape. I like going on road trips and going to the cottage. I like swimming.
I’m not sure that any of these things directly affect my work, except maybe the thrift store obsession. I like the way that the items at these stores can just get me thinking about different things, I like how they are all in one place, sort of randomly placed but all given away for some reason or another. Most of these stores have lots of household items, which I like looking at. I think that these leftover objects might have a place in my work.
Give us an idea of a day in the life of you.
My days are a bit unpredictable but ideally, my work day in my studio would go something like this:
A little more coffee with some breakfast.
Start sewing while listening to Q on the CBC
Sew while listening to a book.
Go for a run.
Sew some more..
Where can we see your work?
I have a website which is www.amandamccavour.com
I also am represented by Lonsdale Gallery in Toronto www.lonsdalegallery.com
Wow, thanks to Amanda for all the amazing insight into her work. I love how she takes so many risks in the studio and I will never get over how gorgeous the wallpaper in her “Stand-in For Home” is. Takes my breathe away.
Until next time keep stitching.
Joetta Maue is a full time artist primarily using photography and fibers. Her most recent work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the art and craft blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributing to the online journal Hello Craft. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, baby son, two cats, a goldfish.