Monday, June 23, 2008


The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition is coming up in mid-July (as you may have read here) and over the next few weeks TCA will be featuring interviews with a few great craft artists participating in the show. This first one is with embroidery artist Katie Dutton, who spoke with Amy Borkwood about process and meaning in her work.

Katie at a show

Can you tell me a little about the process of your work?

I work primarily from photographs, so a big part of my work is collecting images. I have an ever growing collection of old snapshots, reference books and other random visual materials that I select from when I decide to start a new piece or series. Once I've picked my image and played with it in Photoshop I sew a thin outline drawing based on the sketch. Then I set to building up the colours and textures with layers and layers of thread, going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with a standard sewing machine. Colour selection is a major aspect of my work, because - unlike painting, where you can mix whatever colour you need - my selection is limited to whatever thread I can find at my local fabric store.

Catwoman. Thread on denim, 12.5" x 16", 2007

How did you become interested in embroidery? What compels you to use embroidery within your work?

I learned to sew at a young age from my mother, who always had a sewing machine around. Later, while in University, I attempted to tackle sewing a picture of a moose, with texture and three-dimensionality on my machine. I wanted the moose to have the consistency of a patch, so I spent nine hours fussing over my first attempt, and I have been experimenting with the technique ever since. I really liked the stark quality and interesting texture of the image, which lends itself especially well to animal fur. I get inspired by my old girl-guide patches that have a single image like a campfire, or a fireman’s hat that represents an accomplishment and tells a story through a simple picture. My work tends to adopt this strategy - a basic portrait on a blank background - so that the viewer is free to create a story for the subject.

Rotary Club Tournament - Third Place. Thread on denim, 12" x 12", 2007

Some of your series are related in theme - Trophies, Top Prize, and Sports Heroes, among others. Can you explain your interest in the idea of the trophy, the top prize, the hero?

As I mentioned above, many of my images come from old snapshots that I find at flea markets and in junk stores. The people featured in these pictures are utterly anonymous - no one knows anything about them except that one day they had a picnic, or shot a deer, or went to a Christening. I think, then, that a lot of my work involves bringing these people out of obscurity, in a way, by making them champions of small things. If I met any of these people I would hope that they would say "thanks, you made my moustache look really huge". Of course, the conversation would more likely go like this: "oohhhh, I'm dead".

Along with traditional gallery exhibitions, you have also participated in art/craft shows alongside artists, artisans, and craftspeople. Do you find that your work blurs these categories - fine art and craft?

I think that the line between those two worlds is awfully blurry and I don't worry too much about which category my work falls into. I enjoy the fact that, because I work in a variety of media (painting, silk-screen, and embroidery), I get to straddle both sides of the fence. Craft shows allow me to experiment with smaller, more affordable pieces and connect with an arts community that can be hard to find after you leave school. I think it's becoming more and more common for people to do both arts and crafts, and that's gone a long way toward eroding the line between the two.

The Flash. Thread on denim, 12.5" x 16", 2007

View more of Katies’ work on her website. Her pieces will be available for oogling & purchase at the upcoming Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition from July 11-13 at Nathan Phillips Square.


Amy Borkwood is a bookbinder and freelance arts-writer living in Toronto. Her bookworks can be found at her online shop, Nightjar Books.


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