For this edition of Pop Quiz, we’ve put Toronto-based textile artist Amanda McCavour to the test!
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I am an artist who lives and works in the Junction in Toronto. I like thrift shops and looking at old books.
How long have you been sewing and how did you learn to sew?
I learned how to sew garments with my Grandmother. We had lots of projects that we did together when I was younger and we worked with lots of different materials. She did a lot of flower arranging and had a great room that was full of random things to make things with. She taught me how to knit and sew. I think the first thing that we made with the sewing machine was a pair of boxer shorts with material that had sunflowers on it. They were pretty cute!
My Grandma got me interested in drawing, sewing and lots of other things but it wasn’t until much later, when I was in university, when I started doing more machine embroidery. While at university I thought it might be an interesting idea to create drawings out of thread. I thought that it would be even more interesting to make a drawing that was just thread and wasn’t backed by any fabric. I found a fabric called Solvy which is a fabric that dissolves in water. From there I was able to work with a sewing machine to create stitched drawings.
At that point I was learning a lot from craft books and sewing ‘how to’ guides. I was looking at lots of pictures of hands making things which really influenced my work. I have always liked diagrams and these things found their way into my work. I still really like looking at the images in instruction books.
After university, I continued to learn more about textiles and sewing at the Harbourfront Centre. I was awarded a residency in their Textile Studio and worked alongside some amazing textile artists and designers for the three years that I was there.
What kind of sewing machine(s) do you use?
I use a Singer machine but I have some back up sewing machines when I have used that one too much. I break a lot of sewing machines.
What is the last thing you sewed?
The last thing that I sewed was a life-sized recreation of my previous living room which was made entirely out of thread. I displayed that piece at the Gladstone Hotel as a part of Come Up To My Room which is the Gladstone Hotel’s annual design event.
For this piece, I recreated many of the objects that existed in that space, chairs, side tables and other knick knacks out of thread and hung them from the ceiling so that they were layered on top of one another, mimicking the space in my old home. Each of the objects were created on a 1:1 scale. The objects act as a trace or record of a space that used to exist. Part shrine or monument, the thread drawings acted as a tribute to a room that once was.
I have come to think of my rental apartments as places of temporary stay, which is why I thought the Gladstone was an appropriate place to display the work. 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.
You use such a unique method for making your art — could you tell us about your process?
In my work, I use a fabric that dissolves in water called Solvy to create thread drawings. The fabric functions as a base for my work, something to sew into. I sew into the fabric so that the threads start to criss cross and start to hold themselves together. The stitches create a structure and a strength so that when the fabric base is later dissolved, the thread drawing remains. I think of my work as drawings that are made out of thread.
How much do you plan your pieces before you start stitching?
For the most part, there is usually an idea that I base the work around and method for making the work grows from there. Some of the pieces that I make are quite planned out. For instance, the Living Room piece at the Gladstone was a piece where I took old photos of the different pieces of furniture. Some of the pieces were at my old roommate’s house so I had to go hunt for them. I then used those photos to draw the images of those items onto the fabric.
Other pieces, like “Folded Fortune” came out of more experimenting. For that piece I was thinking about kids crafts and things that I made when I was younger. I wanted to take the same approach with my current work. Folding the thread pieces was a new challenge for me so it took lots of testing.
What is your sewing soundtrack?
I like to listen to lots of different things when I’m sewing. Headphones are handy because the sewing machine can get pretty loud! In the mornings I like to listen to Q on CBC. I also like to listen to books on tape and I really like a radio program called This American Life which you can listen to off of their website.
At Sewing School, we’re all about learning new things. What’s one technique or project you’d like to try out?
Separate from my artwork, I would really like to sew a dress this month. I want to sew a really simple dress and then do some experiments with applique around the neck. I have also been looking at leather tooling and stamping recently. I think it would be really neat to take a class on how to do that as well!
Who are a few of your favourite textile artists?
I really like Dorrie Millerson‘s small lace sculptural pieces. I did a workshop with her at Harbourfront where she showed use the needle lace technique that she uses to make her work. She is a great teacher! I don’t know if I could choose just one favourite piece of her work but I really like the piece titled “Tie” that she displayed at Harbourfront and I also love her streetcar that she had on display at Queen Specific which is a window gallery space on Queen Street West in Toronto.
I have also been recently looking at Jeannie Thib‘s work, specifically some of her pieces that are stacked. I really like the way that she uses pattern within her work as well.
Heather Goodchild is another artist that I have been looking a lot at recently. I like the way that she moves from small dioramas to large installations. I like the way that she incorporates different materials and methods in her work too.
Andrea Vander Kooij makes beautiful fibre works and incorporates performance into her practice. I love her embroideries onto patterned fabric. Her stitching is incredible!
Janet Morton is another artist who I like. Her domestic interiors are amazing and have (obviously) influenced me a lot! I have been looking a lot at her “Early Frost” piece recently as I have been doing research for an upcoming project based around frost and ice crystals.
Kate Jackson and Shuyu Lu were two of the artists that I worked with at Harbourfront Centre while doing my residency in the textile studio there. They both do amazing work in textiles. Specifically, Kate’s embroidery on tissue is one of my favourites and Shuyu’s embroideries of Toronto are great, too. I especially love the overflowing City of Toronto trash can.
Where can we see Amanda McCavour next?
In May I’m going to be doing a project at a store called MADE on Dundas Street West in Toronto. MADE is a really interesting store that showcases Canadian design. They also have an exhibition space at the back of their showroom which used to be an old cooler. In that space, I’m going to be displaying a new project based on snow crystals and frost patterns, sort of like a tribute to the freezer’s past life.
Thanks so much to Amanda McCavour for sharing her insights and art with us! Visit Amanda’s website to see more of her brilliant work, and be sure to check out her installation at MADE this spring.