Monday, January 18, 2010

Voyage of Discovery

One question that I am frequently asked is how I started doing fabric art. Well, here goes! Ever since I can remember I've always been interested in doing things with my hands. My maternal grandmother taught me to knit. I enjoyed playing with dolls and would stitch up wardrobes for them from scraps of fabric. As I got older, I made my own clothes. I have tried most fabric crafts and finally became interested in quilting, and hand embroidery.

In 1995, the school where I was teaching, St. George's Elementary School, Conception Bay South, was contacted by St. George's Church of England School in Bristol, England. They wanted to correspond with a school in Newfoundland with the same name. Since 1997 would be the 500th. anniversary of John Cabot's discovery of Newfoundland, they wanted to get a head start on the celebrations. As the library resource teacher, I decided to take on the task. For two years, we sent letters and pictures back and forth. The school was quite close to the shipyard where The Matthew, a replica of John Cabot's ship, was been built. We even received shavings from the ship as well as photos showing the various stages of its construction. In fact, CBC radio set it up so that we could speak to the students and teachers in Bristol, England.

Both schools decided to exchange gifts when the ship was to set sail. Since this was to be quite a momentous occasion, I decided that I wanted to do something special too, but what?

I finally decided to design and create a wall hanging to commemorate the sailing of The Matthew across the ocean. This was really my first attempt at design other than clothes making. Little did I know where this would eventually lead. I decided to make a 3-D sailing ship and trace its path from England to Newfoundland. The piece was a combination of hand and machine stitching, and computer technology. I called the piece 'Voyage of Discovery' and this label was printed on cotton from my computer. The ship was a challenge as most pictures I found didn't work. Frustration was starting to set in until I discovered the perfect picture on a case of Newfoundland made beer. It gave me just the right amount of detail for the quilted piece. The sails were made from white silk and slightly stuffed. The masts were toothpicks. At the time, I made two identical pieces, one to send and one to keep. I made a smaller version for my school as wall space was limited.

On the day The Matthew set sail, the wall hanging was presented to the school by friends who traveled to England for the celebrations. A colour photo of the children from the school holding the piece was on the front page of the newspaper in England! When the ship finally docked in St. John's harbour, a presentation of gifts from Bristol, was made by the captain to myself and several students who had participated in the twinning of the two schools.

I retired from teaching that same year, 1997 and the rest of what I do is history!

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