"Lair's studio is a hive of creative activity, filled with finished quilts, sketches, patterns and pieces of fabrics which adorn all her surfaces -- her work table, side tables and ironing board."
—Patricia Bovey, Project Lead, Buhler Gallery
The most touching gift I received this Christmas was a satchel crafted from the fabric of one of my Dad's suits, a grey and blue herringbone. The artist, Heather Lair, cleverly incorporated the sleeve buttons and a pocket into the design and embroidered geometrical patterns, evergreen trees and floral designs to give it a feminine touch.
Dad passed away this past August, which is what makes this purse so meaningful. My sister arranged for all the members of our family to have a similar memento.
Heather Lair is a fabric artist based in Gimli, Manitoba. She is the winner of the 2011 Quilt Canada Juried exhibit. And her work is currently on display at the Buhler Gallery at the St. Boniface Hospital. It's part of a collection called Quilts: Past & Present.
SCENE wanted to find out what keeps her in stitches:
What inspires you as an artist?
What does the art of quilting say about community, history, memory and family?
Colour, process and landscape inspire me. How colours interact with each other - the
spectrum of hues and intensities - is fascinating, and I like to study and incorporate into my own work how other artists from different periods of history used colour. That's reflected in my art quilts, and so is my background in traditional quilting. I use techniques developed over centuries in my creations; designing, cutting, and sewing the fabric, including machine and hand quilting and finally, attaching the binding. I live by Lake Winnipeg, which is a daily inspiration; the changing colours of the rocks, water and sky inspire me as the seasons progress. My attachment to my world can be quite literal. I have a series of landscape wall hangings with small sticks and stones sewn right into them.
Quilting creates community. Throughout history, women have gathered to quilt in quilting bees and now in clubs and classes, to work on projects, learn new techniques and to form friendships. Long ago, quilting was a creative outlet and a chance to meet other women. Working on a quilt might be a woman's only chance to play with colour and design. Quilting still does that, and I often hear from students about lasting friendships they've formed and how quilting has become an important part of their lives.
The internet has had a huge effect on the size and scope of the quilting community. Now quilters' circles are global. Online, I'm in touch with quilters from Ireland, New Zealand, The Netherlands, and all over North America, and I can share my work and enter shows and competitions that I would never have heard of otherwise.
A beautiful (and useful) quilt becomes a family treasure and totem. The art of quilting creates a piece of history to be cherished and slept under and handed down along with the stories that go with it.
Quilting is such a time-honoured tradition. How do you personally keep it relevant?
Quilting, like everything else, has gone high tech and, as I mentioned, global. That means I can use fabrics from anywhere in the world, or use recycled ones from right here in Manitoba. It's useful to use technology, from the latest sewing machine to my iPad to create my work, but I still look inside my own head and back in history to keep the art of quilting meaningful to me. I paint and dye my own fabrics, scavenge for beautiful old materials, and put some of myself into every piece I make. The possibilities are endless and limited only by my imagination. Quilting is my passion.And how to you take the art form into the future?
Lately I have been experimenting with my new quilting technique using torn strips of cloth appliquéd to a stiff interfacing. The results appear from a distance to be painted. Also, I've been doing some traveling as have my quilts. Recently, I created an art quilt called Silk Road Treasures that used antique Asian silk in a very contemporary design and I was fortunate to win a prize with that piece in Quilt Canada's Juried Quilt Show. A torn strip appliqué landscape was accepted into an international Art Quilt Show, Fantastic Fibers 2011, in Kentucky. I think quilts and quilting used to be quite regional or even parochial, and now, because of the international communication between quilters because of the internet, the art of quilting has become more inclusive and interactive. I'm excited about that reach, and what I can do with those ideas in my own designs, and teaching, particularly at Quilt Canada 2012 in Halifax this May.
Heather Lair (Emily Lair)