how is your week going – I really dont know where the time goes to when you are having fun (stitching that is)!
This week we are going to have a chat to Margaret Vant Erve of Canada. Margaret is an artist who uses a variety of textiles and paints to create the most stunning landscape embroideries. I have always been a bit intimidated by the prospect of introducing landscapes into my needle painting designs and was thrilled to see that not only was it possible but could be done so beautifully. Her work has certainly inspired me to give it a go at some stage in the future and hopefully will further inspire you. It occured to me that we are often looking for something to embroider for the men in our lives and what better than a picture of his house, farm or a favourite scene? Being nosey I was interested to learn more of her techniques and what materials she used, and was glad to see that she also enjoyed using a good quality quilt cotton as we do for needlepainting. Cleverly, Margaret does not limit herself to the use of one thread but uses whatever she needs to achieve the right effect – you can read all about it below.Meantime wherever you are in the world be it winter, spring or summer have a lovely weekend and hope you manage to sneak in a few happy stitching hours. Trish
· Please tell us briefly about yourself and personal life ? Who is Margaret Vant Erve?
I am a textile artist, creating painted and embroidered images, primarily landscapes. I am a certified teacher with the Embroiderers’ Association of Canada. I have also worked many years as a chef and baker. I have two daughters, Emily, 23 and Julia, 21 and a step-son Caleb, 29. I live with my husband, Stephen Hayward in Ottawa, Canada. I am an avid gardener, particularly vegetables and help to run our local community garden. I love creating with food just as much as I love creating with embroidery.
· When did you start embroidery and how?
I started embroidery when I was at art school in Toronto. I was studying textiles at the time but embroidery was not included in the curriculum. My daily walk to the subway station took me past a small shop called ‘One Stitch at a Time’. I thought it was a lovely name and pretty much went along with my motto on life so I popped in one day to check it out. The owner, Ann Adams was delighted that I had come in to visit, especially since I was a textile arts student at the Ontario College of Art. I was mesmerized by all the techniques, many of which I had never seen before. I went home and looked through my stash of stuff and dug up some floss and fabric and proceeded to stitch a flower using all six strands at once (this would be considered quite expressive now). The next day I went to visit Ann and proudly displayed my outcome. She gave me the most wonderful encouraging smile and suggested diplomatically that I should sign up for a class. I did and then I signed up for another, and another and on it went until I had covered goldwork, blackwork, whitework, crewel………you get the picture. Ann was a wonderful teacher and I loved the small groups of 4 to 6 students in each of our classes. Of course she particularly liked me because I actually got the work done. No UFO’s for me. I was able to do two independent studies at the college based on the courses I took with Ann. Slowly , the more I learned, the better able I was to transcend my ideas into embroidery.
· Did you have any formal training or are you self taught?
I have 4 years of art school training. I studied first at Sheridan College in general arts and then did a year at their school of Crafts and Design, specializing in textiles. That was 1979. I quit that program because my instructor felt I was more of a fine arts candidate than textiles. After a couple years off, pursuing instead my love of food, I then attended the Ontario College of Art in their design dept., specifically textiles. It was at that time, that I took courses with Ann Adams at One Stitch at a Time. I worked as a chef then also. Ah, the energy of youth! In 2001 I completed the 2 year teacher certification program through the Embroiderers’ Association of Canada. I am currently a teacher evaluator for this program.
· Your landscape pieces are stunning and very inspired – What motivates your pieces and why do you have a preference for landscapes?
I didn’t actually pursue landscape art until about 15 years ago. My old work was much larger and more abstract. I had a long absence from embroidery while I worked in the food profession and raised my children. But I was desperate to get back and landscape was what really appealed to me. I grew up on a farm so I have a strong attachment to my rural roots. Ironically, I had not done a lot of silk painting in college so I taught myself how to use the water-based Pebeo paints and manipulate them to get the results I wanted. I did a lot of trial and error.
I think of my work as a subjective interpretation of the Canadian landscape, particularly Ontario, where I live. I tend to work in muted colours that evoke a quiet, contemplative mood. My work is not an appeal to the intellect, but rather seeks an emotional response. I attempt to take people to a quiet center and have them feel the beauty of the place I am portraying. Some of my painted embroideries are of real places, others are compilations. Either way, they are not intended to be representational (unless they are a commission). It is the mood and the atmosphere that interest me and hopefully convey a spiritual or calming response in the viewer.
· I see that you first paint the background – can you tell us how you do this and what paints and background fabric you use?
I use 10 mm habotai silk most of the time but occasionally I use 100% quilt cotton or a silk/wool blend. I require a nice smooth surface and a natural fabric for the silk paints. Once I have a sketch, I stretch my silk on a frame using tacks. The silk must be stretched taut for good results. Silk paints can be quite translucent and they are fully penetrated into the fabric making them wonderful for painting sky and water and as a base for the land. Because they are so fluid, they must be used with a resist medium called gutta. The gutta is applied as an outline around areas and acts as a barrier such as the division between sky and horizon line. With the gutta in place, I can then paint in those individual areas. The paints are used much like watercolour paints. They can be layered or applied and then lifted. I also use the translucent and opaque paints by Pebeo. These paints are more like acrylics in their consistency and hence, do not have the fluidity that the silk paints have. They are great for painting additional texture on the ground or as a base under some of the landscape features. I use these paints with care as they sit on the surface of the fabric and can affect the enjoyment of the embroidery application if they are applied too thickly. I also use pencil crayons for added detail in areas.
· Can you describe the stitching process, is it mainly hand embroidery or does it include some machine embroidery? What hand embroidery stitches do you use?
I use both hand and machine embroidery. Most works contain both but sometimes the landscapes can be entirely hand embroidered and other works are entirely machine embroidered. It depends largely on what the subject matter is and what technique I feel will suit it best. The machine embroidery is all free motion work. I use mostly rayon threads, but will use just about any thread that will give me the right colour. I use a variety of hand embroidery stitches, straight stitch and thread painting being the most common ones. For my flowers in the landscapes, I use many different stitches, which ever best portrays my subject. I am not a purest when it comes to thread painting. I don’t follow specific rules for long and short stitch, rather I work in a more painterly way and move around my subject into the areas that I feel need to be worked on. Sometimes I split the threads from below and sometimes from above. This is how I teach my students also. I think it’s good to learn the traditional methods and then play around to find what works for you.
· Which threads do you mainly use and why?
I use Madeira rayon threads mostly for my machine embroidery but also poly-cotton. For my hand embroidery, I use mostly DMC floss but I also use Pipers Silks for the fine branches of my trees and in combination with DMC floss in my barn buildings. For my botanical studies, I often use Pipers silks or Eterna silks though sometimes I use soie d’alger. If I want a more matt appearance, I use DMC floss. I also create larger works that are quilted. For these pieces I paint all the fabrics, then fuse them, and apply a lot of machine embroidery before I quilt them. Sometimes a client wants a larger work and it simply is not feasible as a hand embroidered work. Then I design using this method.
· I see that you have published a book Window Gardens in Bloom. Can you tell us more about this book and any ideas for future books that include landscape designs?
Window Gardens in Bloom was published in 2005, C&T Publishers. It was a great experience. I had really wanted to do a landscape book at the time but they felt that my work was too complex for the average reader so we compromised and created this book of window garden projects. It really is a fun project book. It’s a great introduction to silk paints as the reader learns how to paint different exterior walls and an indoor window scene. It gives instruction on how to stitch 25 common container flowers. The reader can either design their own window garden or choose from several designs offered in the book. The book is very accessible. Even if a person didn’t want to do the painting, the flowers alone would make a lovely sampler.
Regarding future books, I have nothing planned. It’s a lot of work to create a book. It would be great to do a landscape one someday. It’s something to think about.
· Do you run embroidery workshops for those who want to learn the technique?
Yes, I do have workshops. They are listed on my web-site. I have taught frequently at the Embroidery Seminars in Canada and to individual guilds. I have also taught at several community colleges. If guilds or groups are interested, they can contact me through my web-site at www.vanterve.ca.
Last year I also created an on-line course through craftartedu. This is an excellent mode of learning as the student has unlimited lifetime access to the course. The class offered is meadow landscape.
· What is your advice for people who would like to learn your technique?
Sign up for the on-line course at craftartedu. This is a great introduction. Or hire me to come and teach a class. I love teaching and I really like creative classes where student create their own images. It is so rewarding for a student to create an image of a place that is familiar to them.