Monday, October 26, 2009

Manitoulin Community Circles
Starts Thursday October 29
noon - 8 pm
Little Current United Church

Article by Jim Moodie in the Manitoulin Expositor - October 14 2009

There's a time to rend, and a time to sew. This is one of the latter: On October 29, local fabric artist Judy Martin will be holding the first of many weekly stitching bees for an ambitious new undertaking that will involve the creation of four large tapestries to enhance the contemplative timbre of religious services at Little Current United Church. To realize the liturgical wall hangings - each will measure 90" square - Ms. Martin is counting on the help of many hands.

"It's a little daunting, because it is a very large project," she said. "This is partly why, if the community is willing to help, it will be good for me. And I love the idea of making something for the community, by the community."

The idea grew out of an assignment Ms. Martin had to fulfill for a fine art degree in embroidered textiles that she's taking through the Julia Caprara School, accredited by Middlesex University in England. "Liturgical embroidery is one of my courses, and I asked Reverend Faye Stevens to help me out," she said. "I did a presentation for the congregation and they were excited, so it got me excited, and it's grown much larger than it actually needed to be."

The artist has already completed the designs for each of the four pieces - there will actually be five, as she's also creating a smaller work, known as a 'fall' to decorate the pulpit - by rendering the images in acrylic, ink and watercolour on 24" square pieces of paper.

Each of the bigger wall fabrics will be distinct in appearance, yet follow the same design motif of a circle within a square. Ms Martin explained that the symbol goes back many centuries, reaching further back even than Christianity," yet lends itself to a holy purpose as well as reflect the local landscape.

With the circle representing the sky or firmament, and the square a building, the two together suggest a church - a place in which heaven is brought down to earth and embraced. In two of her designs, the circle is bisected by a lateral line, which suggests a horizon with sky above and water below. "That seemed like a really good thing to have for an island setting,: she said. Three of the pieces will contain a cross symbol.

Along with the minimalist designs, the colours will be relatively simple - white and cream, connoting purity and celebration, will dominate, with some splashes of blue and gold.

The fabrics include recycled damask tablecloths, linen handkerchiefs, wool blankets, and silk, and all of this material will need to be hand-stitched. "We'll be re purposing all these beautiful, domestic textiles into lustrous, meditative, mainly white wall hangings," Ms Martin enthused.

Anyone is welcome to don a thimble and lend a few fingers. "It will involve a lot of embroidery stitching as well as foundation piecing and reverse applique," said the artist. Later, once the tops are done, I want them hand quilted, and some people might like to come for the quilting part." she added.

While the focus will be on completing this time-consuming installation, Ms Martin said the experience should also allow for an exchange of ideas and techniques. "I'll teach some skills as needed, and I hope that during lunch breaks I can also look at other people's work and give feedback," she noted. "I'm sure everyone will have a lot of ideas, and there are a lot of women in Little Current and the surrounding area who are technically better than me, so they will teach me something too."

Helpers need not be sewing pros or even United Church parishioners, although many of the latter will likely be the most inspired to take part. "It can be experts or beginners, and it's open to anyone in the congregation as well as the wider community," said Ms Martin.

Stitching sessions will be held each Thursday, beginning October 29, from noon until 8 pm at the United Church hall, although it isn't essential that volunteers ply a needle and thread for that whole eight hour period. "I'm committed to be there for that time, but I'm just asking people to spend an hour or an hour and a half, whatever they can" said Ms Martin.

The artist feels the collaborative process will be a new adventure for her. "I work alone, so this will be different for me," she said. "It actually may be a break through for me personally. As much as creating a product, this will be a process of being together and the labour we all put into it."

The realization of these spiritual art pieces will not occur overnight. Hand stitching is a painstaking process, as is hand-quilting, and the works are anything but small. Accordingly, Ms Martin expects that it will be June of 2011 before the hangings are complete.

Her thought, subject to input from the church, would be to install the finished work at Little Current United for the summer and early fall of 2011, then exhibit them at a gallery in Thunder Bay and possibly at other galleries through 2012. Ultimately, she expects they would find a permanent place on the walls of the local church that inspired their creation and for which they have been conceived.

Those interested in contributing to this project are encouraged to contact Faye Stevens at 704 368 0835, Julia McCutcheon at 705 368 3101, or Ms Martin herself at 368 3819.


  1. If i was in the neighbourhood!!!!!!!!!

  2. I wish you were here, Arlee.

  3. This sounds like such a wonderful project. I would love to lend a hand! If only... I love the idea of women stitching together, I can imagine the richness of the experience, and the energy which will be imbued in these pieces!

    I look forward to following the progress of this project!