Thursday, March 30, 2006

MAKER PROFILE: arsenic and old lace - a chat with Shary Boyle

The basements and garages of old ladies are perhaps the last place you might expect a contemporary illustrator, painter, sculptor, and performer like Shary Boyle to find inspiration for her work. But it is in these spaces that the Toronto-based artist developed a fascination with the technique of porcelain lace draping, resulting in a series of dainty yet often disturbing sculptures reminiscent of childhood hallucinations about the figurines on Grammie’s mantle. I spoke with Shary about this old school craft and the relationships she developed with her crafty elders while learning the technique.

xxxTuning in to the lace draping scenexxx

Shary was first exposed to lace draping several years ago, when she heard about a local legend of the suburbs of Seattle who taught classes in this technique. Vivian Hausel turned out to be the master of the form in the States, boasting a CV that includes instructional videos, cross-country workshop tours, and a business run out of her basement called “World of Porcelain”. Intrigued, Shary joined Hausel for a weekend workshop and was blown away by the deft hands and dynamicism of this 86-year old powerhouse in a purple pants suit.

It was in this first workshop that Shary saw the potential for working with figurines on a larger scale, and has subsequently attended basement and garage workshops in Winnipeg and Burlington. As lace draping is not such a hot craft in Canada, she had to resort to stalking craft stores and following up shaky leads to locate Canadian instructors and groups. Connecting with porcelain hobbyists has been essential to her progress, as she needs access to kilns as well as the rare vintage moulds that many of the women have been collecting since before the 50s and 60s.

xxxGhosts of laces pastxxx

Lace draping first registered on the radar of North American hobbyists in the 1940s as a result of an American couple’s post-war trip to Germany (a hotbed for porcelain figurines). The craft’s continued popularity among female hobbyists is an irony not lost on Shary, who explains that, “in the 18th century economics of Europe, porcelain was an exclusively white, masculine domain of artisans and monarchies, with a product produced for the privileged upper class”.

The process of draping porcelain lace is a fussy one. One begins by saturating lace in liquid porcelain, ensuring that all of the fibres of the material are permeated. The Green ware [1] is then carefully assembled and the saturated lace draped atop the figure, shaping and gathering it in intricate folds. The figurine is placed in a kiln and the lace is flash-fired, leaving only a skeleton of porcelain in the shape of whatever material it has saturated. In Shary’s words, “what you end up looking at is the history or the ghost of the fabric that used to be there but doesn’t exist anymore”.

Shary’s sculptures are a departure from the traditional figurines in that she alters the Green ware itself, breaking the arms, reconfiguring them and adding extra ones, removing fingers, and so on. Faces are painted with porcelain slip [2] to build up certain areas in order to alter their expressions. Her approach is distinct from that of most porcelain hobbyists, who tend to be quite concerned with making historically accurate reproductions of the German figurines.

xxxSubversion in porcelainxxx

Beyond relying on their materials and expertise, Shary has found her social engagement with communities of older female hobbyists to be a vital aspect of her project. Many regular attendees of classes and workshops are grandmothers or retirees whose husbands are not around much. They gather together for workshops (many practically free) to build skills, but also because it “fills a social and emotional need for them. They need a community and a space to be creative”.

Internal conflicts have arisen for Shary when working on particularly suggestive figures within this social context. Pointing to a piece where a series of female heads arc from a prone figurine’s neck to her nether regions, she explains: "This one has this really erotic implication and it's awkward for me because I really want to make the work exactly I want to make and I don't want to have to compromise for their sensibilities. I just keep it always steered away from the explicit. I keep the very personal reasons why I'm making it private.”

This is not to say that the political nature of her figurines completely escapes her classmates. Shary has been quite moved by the ways in which some of the women are affected by her work: "It's a very indirect manner of getting them to open up and think about the maybe feminist themes, without criticizing the ways of being of their generation, or their ways of coping. If you don't force them, they just start to come to it naturally. They are always trying to analyze [my work]. They want to know – 'What does that mean !?'.”

One woman was particularly fascinated by a figurine with multiple arms forming a string figure through her many fingers (pictured at left). In her mind this represented the fact that a woman has to have many arms in order to juggle all of her responsibilities, like having a job, raising her children, cleaning her house, and so on. Shary sees this type of reaction as “this whole feminist – I don't know if it's an awakening, but she's getting it, she has her own relationship to it, she's going through the vehicle of this craft and this image to try to open her ideas on it and it's really cool. I just let her go, because it's not exactly what I'm thinking, but it's as valid and awesome and for her to see her own life and have it expressed.”

xxxFor the love of the craftxxx

Though Shary has developed relationships of mutual affection and support with these women, because her work addresses challenging themes through a medium that the hobbyists hold dear, building these relationships has required some sensitivity on her part. She explains: "It has been a social juggling act [for me] because I'm really interested in these people but I'm also taking the form that they've been working with… and in a way appropriating or altering it into a direction that is often pretty confrontational…What it comes down to is that there is violence, there are things that are very sexual, there is stuff that is disturbing content for that very conventional arena.”

Shary has found that focusing on building a relationship first - on being warm and courteous rather than aggressive in expressing her demands or ideas - is key to forming trust. “I let them know that I'm very respectful of their practice and their skill, and the community that they've set up, and I come in and start to watch and learn from them – because really – they're the technical geniuses in the field… Very few younger people are interested in carrying their stuff on, so immediately their curiosity is piqued… And they trust me enough - in a way they treat me like their adolescent kid who's dyed their hair purple…and I just nurture that because it's an easy way for us to exchange and for it to be non-threatening."

Humour plays a huge role in introducing her stylistic subversions to a group. She’ll teasingly ask them, “Isn't this a little crazy?” while putting on a head backwards in order to warm them up to her ideas. At first her stuff is so outrageous to them that it becomes the topic of gossip within these communities. Upon returning to the workshop she may hear about how ‘so and so had this to say’ about a certain sculpture. She has found that despite any initial reservations, her colleagues inevitably come around to being really excited about work. In fact her Burlington-based lace-draping mentor has assisted her on a labour intensive piece and will be in attendance at her opening reception.

For the most part, she and the porcelain hobbyists bond over the material things such as their vast collections of antique lace (swoon), or an expertly executed draping. They care about the form above all. “So we're just hanging out together doing this thing that we're stoked about.”

Catch Shary Boyle’s Lace Figures at The Power Plant (231 Queens Quay West) From March 25-May 28, 2006). Opening reception Friday March 31st from 7-10pm.

Green ware: unfired, moulded porcelain such as the arms or head of a figurine
[2] Slip: a liquid clay formulation that fires to a fine translucent finish

sew be it spring swap

Back in the throes of winter Sew Be It Studio alerted us to an upcoming Summer/Spring clothing swap. I've received an update re: two swaps, distinguished by size (great innovation on their part, I say). Here are the deets:

It's that time again! Sew Be It Studio's second annual Summer/Spring Clothing Swap Parties. Let's welcome the heat by cleaning out that closet to make room for a new wardrobe. It’s shopping without the guilt and without the price tag, and most of all, it’s for a good cause.

Here's how it works: Bring in the clothes, accessories, shoes, and handbags that you no longer want (make sure they are clean and in good condition) then swap them with others at the party. Whatever you like, you can take it home with you. There are no limits or restrictions on the number of garments to take home. We will donate all the remaining items along with 50% of the proceeds to The Red Door Family Shelter. Come party, swap and enjoy refreshments and snacks.

The style gurus advise you to swap:
1. Anything that you have not worn in a year or more.
2. Anything that does not fit you. Too big? Too small? Why are you holding on to it? Love your body and dress it in clothes that fit properly.
3. Anything that you do not love. Swap the things you do not love for things that you do love. Your unloved items may be someone else's treasure.

Benefit: You get to meet new people, go home with new additions to your wardrobe for very little cost, increase your karma because it is for a very good cause and get fashion consultation from the other participants and our resident style experts.

We have two swap parties dedicated to celebrating the different sizes.

For sizes 0 - 12...

Date: April 22, Saturday
Time: 6:30pm - 8pm or till we drop

For sizes 14 and up...

Date: April 29, Saturday
Time: 6:30pm - 8pm or till we drop

Admission: $15.00, 50% of this will be donated to the Red Door Family Shelter.

Sew Be It Studio is located at 2156 Yonge Street just south of Eglington. We are a 2 minute walk from Eglington Station. RSVP at 416-481-7784 or by email to For your convenience, swap items may be dropped off before the actual swap.

Boga Moda call for designers

This from a boutique seeking designers:

Boga Moda has an exciting opportunity for up-and-coming fashion designers to create and sell their own lines of clothing and accessories in a Toronto retail environment.

Our innovative concept makes it affordable for independent designers to enter the world of retail. As a designer at Boga Moda, you spend your time designing and creating new pieces for your fashion line while we take care of the advertising and store maintenance. Designers get an opportunity to see how popular their designs are with the public while keeping the profits from the sale of their creations.

For more info, contact

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Introducing a new feature of Toronto Craft Alert: ask crafty.

Here's how it works: Email me a question somehow related to Toronto and craft/DIY, I post it here (and send it out on the mailout), and if all goes well, the readers will answer it for you through the comments or by emailing me. Questions could be something like:

x where do I get buttons/labels made for my crafty company?
x where do I find quality wool felt/hand-dyed yarn/embroidery floss/non-toxic screenprinting ink?
x can you help find me someone with x aesthetic to make me a custom party dress?
x is there a stitch n bitch going down in north york?
x i'd like to by a bike made from recycled parts - where can i find one?

Here's a real live ask crafty question for you to cut your teeth on:

Mishka's pal, a maker of Japanese paper-covered books, is visiting from Nova Scotia and they have plans to visit shops in Toronto for supplies of paper and ribbon. She would love some tips regarding some good suppliers, as well as shops that might be interested in carrying some of her works (pictured here).

I know of The Paper Place (formerly Japanese Paper Place) at 887 Queen West, and the oft-pricey Essence du Papier. Any other advice we can offer Mishka?

daycare craft fair

Received this call for craft vendors:

The Clinton School age daycare is having a spring craft bazaar. We are looking for some fabulously talented crafty folk to come out and sell there wares. We are expecting a great turnout from the public and will be doing lots of promotion for this event.

It is being held @ Clinton street public school - 460 Manning ave. (college & bathurst area) Saturday May 6, 10:00 - 3:00pm.
Table costs are $30 each - tables are 6 feet x 2.5 feet

If intrested or have any questions please email
include: Your name, business name, what you'll be selling with a price range, contact info, web address, ect.

Deadline will be April 21.
This will be a first come - first served basis for vendors.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

not that kind of mail art

A call for submissions from the very cute Lower Mailbox Gallery:

Submit your wee projects to Toronto's newest gallery space devoted entirely to ultra-small-scale work!


Situated in a frugal space 27 cm wide x 12 cm high x 7 cm deep, The Lower Mailbox Gallery at 12 Beatrice may very well be the only 24-hour gallery in town.

Exhibits may feature new or previously shown work. Due to unavoidable security issues, irreplaceable or highly valuable pieces are discouraged -- artists must leave work at their own risk. Group projects welcome, but must be willing to share rather confined exhibition space. Difficult individuals need not apply.

Proposals for the 2005-2006 season are being accepted on an ongoing basis.
Please leave concise proposals in upper mailbox at 12 Beatrice Street.

Beatrice will gladly respond to queries at


Drop by 12 Beatrice now to check out the current exhibit:

SUCK - a delicious little installation by artist Jennifer Matotek. Jennifer is perhaps best known for her videos (several of them exactly one minute long) but also curates, builds robots and makes things out of partially sucked candies.

Friday, March 24, 2006

friday night peanut brittle party

Come watch Peanut Brittle aka Lex Vaughn ham (radio - har har) it up tonight at the opening broadcast of WEZY - a performance piece-plus that simulates an amateur broadcast from the golden age of radio. In Lex's words, PB is, "a geriatric dandy who time has passed by, but who still manages to keep his shirts pressed, and ascot fluffed. He likes the way of the world that doesnt really exist anymore, and is always up for a little company....". A simulated live radio show will feature musical guests (you can expect some gooders as Lex plays with the Hidden Cameras and other local finery) as well as old timey records, mystery shows, jingles and advertisements. This will all take place in a space that recreates the atmosphere of a ham radio station through authentic props and crafts galore.

Yes, there are crafts: A quilt embroidered by Tara Azzopardi with PB's portrait, buttons, red vinyl 78s from the 40s hand-screened by various artists, membership kits for PBs record club (also hand-screened), and on it goes. Many are multiples and for sale.

See you there -
Opening: Friday, March 24th, 7-10pm
Show on until April 8, 2006 (regular hours Wed-Sat, 12-5pm or by appointment)
Katherine Mulherin Gallery (1086 Queen West)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

next big thing

Check out Fred Flare's Next Big Thing, another opportunity for Toronto makers to bust on to the international craft/design stage. Applicants are invited to enter their creations for possible sale on the Fred Flare website, and favourite products are featured in an exclusive online boutique that also features bios (see last year's here). For those not already in the know, Fred Flare is a NYC based online boutique that carries accessories, clothing, homewear, and kitchy ephemera galore. It is very popular among DIY-junkies and hipsters at large. So if selected as one of the Next Big Things that would mean some pretty incredible exposure.

Go here for all the info you need. Deadline is March 31st so act fast!

Thanks to indiecraft foremother Karissa Cove for this tip.

p.s. FF has marshmallow peep making machines!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

wanna be a tv star?

I received the following from Knight Enterprises, an Ottawa TV production company:

Do your crafting skills deserve a bigger audience? Do you love transforming retro finds into fun, funky projects at home? Are you artistic, creative, outgoing, friendly, and pumped about your favorite form of artistic expression? Then you might be just what we are looking for!

Television production company Knight Enterprises is in development for a new-school crafting TV series, and we are looking for talent. If you think your craft designs & creations are a cut above send us an e-mail telling us about yourself & your favorite projects (please include a recent photo of yourself). We are on the hunt for well-rounded artisans with original ideas, so be sure to mention all of your skills!

E-mails can be sent to: with Subject: Crafting Series

I visited their website to check them out and learned that they produce another crafty show called Junk Brothers - also based in Ottawa - which will premiere next month. These two brothers steal trash off of people's curbsides and instead of keeping it for themselves like the rest of us, they convert it in to a completely different piece of functional furniture and return it to the curb by the next morning. I am liking the trash-to-treasure/waste-reduction/DIY bent to to this show. Let me know if it's any good as I am cableless....

Saturday, March 18, 2006

oops re: crafternoon tea

Somehow an older post about Crafternoon Tea, an upcoming craft fair in the Beaches became unposted. I'm really not sure how long this has been the case, and since this event is an awesome opportunity for local crafties to hawk their wares and gain exposure I want to call attention to this errant post. Please visit it here. Deadline is this upcoming Tuesday, March 21st.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

call for easter bunnies

This from newmindspace, who are all about turning our city into a playground for grown-ups:

Dear easter bunnies,

This Easter, we invite you to join us in the hiding and the hunt for 5,000 easter eggs in the street! Bring colour and wonder to the streets of Toronto this Easter.

Easter is quickly hopping upon us (April 16th) and we need to be ready! We especially need three things: messages, eggs and easter bunnies!

* Write Messages! *
We have a mission for you should you chose to accept it: carry around a small pad of paper and a marker and write down any and all cute, nice, beautiful, wonderful, silly, and inspiring quotes you think of and bring them to the egg party.

* Get Easter Eggs! *
For eggs, look in dollar stores, easter displays, It's My Party on the Danforth, your relatives with small childrens' closet, you know. We especially need some bulk orders - think eBay!

* The Egg Party! *
We will have an egg-stuffing, message-writing, merrymaking pre-Easter party in the early days of April. If you have a good idea for a space, let us know. Bring your imagination and your ears!

* Get your Ears and Volunteer! *
If you want to be part of the supersecret EasterEggstravaganza e-mail list, let us know by replying to this e-mail. If you helped out with Queen of Hearts, you're already there. All participants are strongly encouraged to sport some bunny ears for the night of the event :)

* Easter info! *
APRIL 16TH 2006

<3 Lori & Kevin


Have you kids ever checked out
Alley Jaunt? It's this super cute community arts event that takes place in August in the north-east alleyway right off Trinity-Bellwoods park. Residents offer up their garages as gallery spaces for a wide range of artsy/craftsy/performanced-based projects. As an extra cute bonus, visitors are given "passports" which they can have stamped when they visit each garage.

I helped a friend out with her Alley Jaunt project a couple of years ago and it was a great time - it was a genuinely successful effort to engage the everyday public (many who would never make their way into a conventional gallery space) in art loving. The event was also a community-building experience as the homeowners and visitors became acquainted with local makers and performers in a non-threatening setting.

Anyhoo, Alley Jaunt has put out a call for submissions, via
Akimbo - a Toronto-based and amazing resource for visual art, visual art, video, new media and film in Canada. See Alley Jaunt's Akimbo listing for the whole deal. Deadline May 1st.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

we gots buttons!

Thanks to the lovely Angelune, Toronto Craft Alert has a crispier banner image and most importantly, a cute button (of the html variety) that those of you with websites can use to link to this blog. Email me and I'll send you the html code for this guy below:

toronto craft alert

Thanks to any and all of you who are spreading the good word!

team canada monthly knitting meetup

This from Amy of the fabulous (and local) Knitty magazine:

"We just finished the crazed Knitting Olympics, and Team Canada had so much fun, we've decided to meet monthly for knitting, beverage consumption and taunting of Beerman Dave at the Duke.

Full details are here.

Those not formerly in Team Canada are welcome to join us -- thereby becoming teammates -- as long as they can tolerate public displays of knitting and potentially unknitterly behaviour. We're nice, but we do hoot. Loud."

First post-olympic meeting: Friday, March 10, 5:30-onwards

craft attack!

Found out about Art Attack! "an evening of music, art-making and public space beautification" through the Toronto Public Space Committee mailing list.

"We will transform a local venue into an Art Factory complete with paper, art supplies, live music. Later in the evening we will move outdoors and place our fresh artwork over commercial advertising space."

The public (that's you!) are invited to the planning meeting on Tuesday March 21st, 6:30-8:30 Metro Hall, rm. 302 (King & John). Contact for more info.

I would encourage a strong crafty presence at this event - i am picturing knitted garbagecan ad cozies, embroidered subvertisements, and screenprinted wallcoverings a-plenty.

(photo: Marlena Zuber at 2002 Art Attack!)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Out of the box!

Fans of Joseph Cornell, collage, assemblage, art-in-a-box, etc. should check out OUT OF THE BOX! an art auction fundraiser hosted by the Pea Green Theatre Group for the upcoming production of "Medici Slot Machine - The Life and Times of Joseph Cornell".

The live and silent auction is taking place tomorrow, Thursday March 9th in the ballroom of the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W. at Dufferin Street), starting at 7:00 p.m. Admission is $10 and this fee will be applied towards all purchases acquired during the fundraiser.

"Nineteen of Toronto's most exciting and provocative artists, such as Kirsten Johnson, Allyson Mitchell, and John Scully, have created original works inspired by the collage box art of Joseph Cornell to be auctioned off during the live auction portion of the evening."

[visit here for photos of some of the pieces - I can't seem to upload...]

If you can't hit the fundraiser you still catch the production of Medici Slot Machine, which takes place May 5 - May 21, 2006 at the Tarragon Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Avenue. A few words about the play: "Cornell is famous for his collage boxes of dime-store objects. He excelled at turning the ordinary into the sacred. In real life, Joseph Cornell was a recluse who used his art to escape his family, his sterile suburban life, and his own psychological demons. Bringing precise order to his art was a way of triumphing over the chaos of his private life. This play chronicles that triumph."

For tickets and information on Medici Slot Machine call the Tarragon Theatre Box Office at (416) 531-1827 or visit the webpage.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

nouveau kimono

For you Japanophiles out there, get ready for some fun with kimono at Magic Pony (694 Queen St. West). Opening Thursday March 9th (6-10pm) The Art of Kimono constitutes the Canadian premiere of Japanese Kimono designer Mamechiyo.

Some words on the show from Magic Pony:
“Pulling inspiration from all around her, Tokyo-based Mamechiyo sources vintage fabrics, creates her own textiles and styles whimsical Kimono creations that are enthusiastically embraced by a new generation. Her use of modern intertwined with tradition has resulted in a refreshing and unique interpretation of the kimono. The exhibit will combine photography, textiles and Japanese Kimono dress to create a fantastic portrayal of the exquisite world of Mamechiyo's Kimono.”

fun with textiles

Textile recycling is all the rage! Check out these two fun shows:

a. Sweaters in bloom at the r
edhead gallery (401 Richmond St. West, Suite 115)

Bouquet: New Works
March 1-25, 2006

The Red Head Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition by gallery member Yvonne Koo.
In its dormant form, a seed acts as container of potential. Bouquet is a body of work inspired by the fascination with a seeds' potential to grow, bloom and reproduce.
Thrift store clothing and objects are refashioned to create organic forms which suggest dormant desires, yearning and the potential for transformation.
Similar to the lure of a flower in bloom, the works in the exhibition make use of ornamental details to reveal - as well as conceal - the potential of the adolescent, fertile or barren body.

Opening reception: Saturday March 4 2006, 2-5 p.m.

b. Play with fibre at *new* gallery (906 Queen Street West):

March 8 - 25, 2006
Wednesday - Sunday 1 - 6 PM

In her work-in-progress textile/mixed media installation, Peggy Mersereau invites the public to participate in two activities - spool knitting and sweater recycling - that she uses in her work. The artist will be present during the whole run of the exhibition.

Opening reception Saturday, March 18, 4-6pm.

jewellery for the literate

"QUOTATION" is an upcoming fancypants jewellery and metalwork show to check out or submit your work to (if you are a Canadian maker of fancypants jewellery/metalwork).

This is a juried exhibition that will open on March 26th, 2006 at
Zilberschmuck Art-Jewellery (1852 Queen Street East). Here's a quotation (har har) about the show about the show:

"The exhibition challenges metal artists to explore the formal and conceptual manifestations of the words and substance of a famous quotation that has inspired them emotionally and intellectually. What does the quotation convey about the author or the subject? How can these be expressed in a visual and tactile form? "

The judges for "QUOTATION" are Niki Kavakonis, past president of the Metal Arts Guild of Canada, author Russel Smith, and Ken Vickerson, associate professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Entries should be postmarked March 1st (that's today, kids) or hand delivered by March 10, 2006. Submission rules and entry forms available on-line.

The exhibition runs until May 6, 2006 with an opening reception on March 30th from 7-10pm.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

crafternoon tea redux

It's time to sign up for the spring version of Crafternoon Tea - a show that I can attest to doing great business at in the company of some pretty amazing local makers. Before getting into it, I'd like to urge those who apply to pretty please send your complete application in before the deadline (obey the bold!!!).

Without further ado,here is Nathalie-Roze's


What: Crafternoon Tea, an indie craft show, charity tea-room and DIY fest all in one, is looking for fabulously talented emerging T.O. talent for its next show.

When: Saturday May 27th, 2006 (from 11am - 6pm)

Cost: Booths are $75 for a small/3x4ft, $110 for a large/3x8ft - chairs and tables are provided
Large 3x8ft tables for commercial businesses & schools are $125
Returning Vendors/CT Alumni Discount: Small spot $60, Large spot $90

Apply: Send in your contact details (name, company name, e-mail, website, snailmail address), plus a description of your work (materials/process used, price-range), 2-4 quality jpegs (digital photos) of your latest designs, booth size preference and whether or not you're willing to lead a demo or workshop at the show.

Deadline: Send all the above to Crafternoon Tea's founder, Nathalie-Roze Fischer: by Tuesday March 21, 2006. CT's selected vendor list will be sent out by April 7th.

For pix, show details & the vendor's list from the last CT, visit: