As a child, Amanda McCavour remembers spending her time drawing or making things out of whatever materials were on hand, especially paper, glitter, glue, plastic beads, and string. So it’s not a surprise that the Canadian native has become an artist who builds ethereal installations out of thread.
“This is my foundation for an interest in materials and making,” McCavour said. “It continues to interest me that folding and cutting paper can transform a blank sheet into a snowflake or that knotting embroidery floss can create a patterned bracelet. It’s these slight shifts in materials that still drives me to make work.”
McCavour uses a sewing machine to create what she calls thread drawings. She sews images on water soluble fabric, crossing the thread multiple times so the image will remain once the temporary surface is dissolved in water. “With only the thread remaining, these images appear as though they would be easily unraveled and seemingly on the verge of falling apart, despite the works’ raveled strength,” she said.
Her installations include many multiples of her designs, whether they be flowers, clouds, or something else. She hangs them from the ceiling, creating for example a field of flowers that people can lay under or walk through to become enveloped in the piece.
“Through an exploration of line and its 2D and 3D implications, stitch is used in my artwork to explore various concepts, such as connections to home, the fibers of the body, and more formal considerations of thread's accumulative presence,” McCavour said. “I explore embroidery’s duality: Its subtle quality versus its cumulative presence, and its structural possibilities versus its fragility.”
McCavour became interested in thread as her medium in 2006, when she was taking a drawing class at York University in Toronto. Associate Professor and sculptor Michael Davey defined drawing simply as line, and she thought it would be interesting to use threaded line because it has more presence than a line drawn on paper.
“This shift in materials, from lines made on paper to embroidery, marked a turning point in my practice,” she said.
All of her pieces begin with McCavour drawing and conducting research. “I’m often sketching on paper before I start stitching,” she said. “I like to look at books and take photos as part of my research, often collecting these images and keeping them on my studio wall. I draw things small and large to explore scale and I use different colors.”
Once she has a firm plan, she moves onto the testing phase, where she starts making pieces on her sewing machine. She sometimes has to alter her initial plan because of the challenges of working with water soluble fabric.
“I like the testing phase a lot,” she said. “You can make changes and try different things. I think it is the phase where I can embrace my curiosity and ask the question, ‘What if ...??’ Sometimes it can be hard to move on from this phase of the process because it is a lot of fun once you get into the rhythm of it.”
In recent years, McCavour has been challenging herself to make 3D sculptures out of thread. She made three projects, one featuring frost and ice crystals, another displaying various grocery store boxes, and the third a field of poppies. Currently, she is working on increasing the scale of her pieces and plans to create a 6-foot-tall piece, but she hasn’t begun the testing phase yet.
After testing, McCavour moves into the production and finishing stages, which can take months or even years for some pieces because she is often making many multiples of one unit or creating a piece on a larger scale. Installing the piece is one of the most challenging parts of her artistic process, she said.
“Each space is different, and each gallery and museum has its own challenges,” she said. “Installing often takes over a week, and it’s really physical work: standing for hours with hands above my head tying small knots. In the past few years I’ve learned to ask for lots of help.”
McCavour is teaching two classes at Quilting by the Lake 2019, a two-day class called “Embroidered Images” and a three-day workshop, “Landscape Scarf/Wall Hanging.”
“I love how (the Embroidered Images) workshop embraces the idea of memory,” she said. “My favorite part of this workshop is hearing about why students bring in the images they do. I’m sure there will be interesting stories.”
McCavour finds the Landscape Scarf/Wall Hanging project interesting because of the end product combines different colors and textures by combining materials like roving, threads, and yarn. “I love how color and texture can tell the story of a place,” she said. “And I love the dual quality of this project, that landscape can be something you look at or something that wraps around you.”
She encourages quilters to take her QBL workshops because they will learn to make unique appliqués they can use to embellish their quilts. “This technique is also great for using up small scraps of fabric to create new surfaces,” she added. “I know quilters have lots of scraps!”
McCavour cites several artists as inspirations for her work:
• Meredith Woolnough: This Australian artist uses the same technique as McCavour but in different ways. Her pieces are bold and organic. www.meredithwoolnough.com.au
• Anna Torma: A Canadian artist, Torma creates intricate embroideries that are playful and intense, often mixing different styles to create dense areas of stitch. www.annatorma.com
• Kate Jackson: This Canadian artist, who once shared a studio with McCavour, embroiders ephemeral materials, including tissues, leaves, and Cheerios. “Her work speaks to me about memory and meditation,” McCavour said. Katejacksonart.blogspot.com
• Anouk Desloges: Desloges, another Canadian artist, creates embroideries into Plexiglass and creates pieces that look like tangles or knots. “I like the combination of hard and soft materials she uses to create her pieces,” McCavour said. www.anoukdesloges.com
• Nava Lubelski: This New York City native, who now lives in Asheville, NC, creates artwork that looks like splatters of paint, and then embroiders around the edges, leaving empty spaces in the middle. www.navalubelski.com
What: Quilting by the Lake, a two-week fiber arts conference run by the Schweinfurth Art Center
When: July 14-26, 2019
Where: Onondaga Community College campus in Syracuse, NY
Details: Fifteen different in-depth workshops taught by 10 renowned instructors from around the world. Also available is an option for an independent studio space to work on your own projects without an instructor.
Cost: Varies depending on number of days attending, classes enrolled in, and whether room and board are needed
More information and registration: quiltingbythelake.com
TOP: Amanda McCavour enjoys working with thread because it allows her to “create ephemeral and transparent pieces (such as “Floating Garden,” shown) that are both in a space but also seemingly on the verge of not being there,” she said. Because they are light, the pieces move with air currents in the room and, because they are flat, pack easily in a small space.
PROFILE: This is the first time Amanda McCavour will be teaching at Quilting by the Lake, but she taught a Studio Schweinfurth workshop on her thread drawing method at the Schweinfurth Art Center in late 2017. “It was a fantastic experience,” she said. “I’m looking forward to coming back to New York State!”
BOXES: McCavour made this installation, “Moving Boxes,” by flattening cardboard boxes, tracing their designs on water soluble fabric, stitching the patterns, then dissolving the base. These boxes are made flat, then assembled into three-dimensional box shapes with the use of heat and starch.
SCARF: Amanda McCavour’s example project for her Landscape Scarf/Wall Hanging workshop is a leaf, but students can bring in their own ideas. “You could choose an environment like the beach and use browns for the sand and blue for the water, or a winter landscape that might include white for the show and dark blue for the bare trees,” she said.