P.E.I. artist examines how the fabrics we love can shape us

Charlottetown artist Donnalee Downe is hosting a series of free interactive workshops in March telling stories behind old fabrics that we remember and how they influence our choices at present.

'The fabrics that we loved or love, those can impact choices that we make now'

Donnalee Downe's pillowcase collection with kittens having a snowball fight, which she will present in her workshop Fabric Stories. (Submitted by Donnalee Downe)

Donnalee Downe remembers coming across a photo of herself aged five in a corduroy jacket.

The Charlottetown artist thought the photo looked familiar. She started to look for another photo of her son when he was small and also wearing a corduroy coat with a faux fur lining.

That's where she got the idea for Fabric Stories — a series of workshops that examine how fabrics shape us and our decisions. 

"There are connections between the fabrics, particularly with the fabrics that we loved, or love. Those can impact choices that we make now," Downe said.

Charlottetown artist Donnalee Downe is hosting the Fabric Stories workshops to tell stories behind old fabrics that we remember and how they influence our choices. (Submitted by Donnalee Downe)

The free series is part of Radiant Rural Halls, a program that showcases works by 12 Maritime artists and filmmakers with free events at rural community halls across the Island. This town is small, an artist-run centre in Charlottetown, is organizing.

Among the pieces Downe will be sharing with the audience is a pillowcase collection featuring kittens having a snowball fight.

When COVID hit, she made a reading nook at home where she used these pillowcases. Since then, she has used them for many other purposes. 

The artist began to see why these pillowcases are her favourite.

"When I started looking at family photographs, that there may have been influences that I was unaware of that were impacting how I feel about that," she said.

To the left is Downe in 1969 in her favourite corduroy coat, and to the right is her son at approximately the same age in a similar corduroy coat she purchased for him. (Submitted by Donnalee Downe)

There are other tales she'll be sharing, like stories behind an apron from when she did her master's, or her son's baby clothes, or her tea towel collections.

"I have a few little stories that I'll share. Some are funny, some are heartbreaking," Downe said.

"That's the beautiful thing about art, I guess is that you can virtually pick any lens, and personal histories and narratives can emerge through that."

Downe isn't the only one talking at these events.

It's a series of interactive workshops where those who join are encouraged to share their own stories behind fabrics they remember from their childhood or more recent memory.

"They might leave these very informal meetings and maybe see things a little bit differently. Like, 'Do I have a tea towel I prefer over all the other tea towels? Do I see a photograph that makes me think, wow, that's a lot like the pants that I bought four months ago,'" said Downe.

"I'm interested in that little shift in our everyday experience that art can afford."

The workshops will take place on March 20 at Breadalbane Community Hall, March 26 at Milton Community Hall, and March 27 at the Farmer's Bank of Rustico.

You can sign up by looking up the events on Facebook or visit Radiant Rural Halls online.

With files from Island Morning


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