May 2023 Studio Hours Recap: Lorraine Roy on Her Work and Process

6 June 2023

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In the May Studio Hours session, we enjoyed a conversation with textile artist Lorraine Roy led by Michelle Woodvine. Lorraine works at the intersection of two of Michelle’s passions: plants and fibre. Michelle has always been keenly aware of the interconnection between plants and their ecosystems and was completely amazed by the way that Lorraine has captured these relationships in textiles. Michelle reached out to Lorraine after seeing her Woven Woods pieces on Instagram and the resulting interview was published last fall.

Lorraine began her presentation by giving us a brief description of her path to becoming a textile artist. She grew up on a farm with parents who encouraged her interests in both nature and textiles. Her first love was bugs and insects, though she is now more interested in trees, and she quipped that they don’t move as fast! She obtained a degree in ornamental horticulture and worked at the University of Guelph Arboretum and various garden centres. She recalled that while studying she continued the fabric part of her life, working on embroidery kits in her dorm room. While living in London, Ontario, she joined the Canadian Embroiders Guild, which she credits as an important influence. Not only did the guild bring in good teachers to aid in learning, but they showed Lorraine that it is possible to have a career in textiles. Another benefit of the guild was that it taught her public speaking and gave her confidence to speak about her work. Within ten years of completing university, she was able to work in textiles full time. She sold her first “art piece” in 1985 and over the last thirty-five years has completed approximately 2,000 pieces.  

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Lorraine then shared the story of her Woven Woods series. About nine years ago, she conceived the idea of working with both trees and textiles. She was interested in learning more about trees—not just the science, though she stressed that it is very important, but also the cultural, religious, and mythological stories of trees. 

Living | Language | Land: Word Portraits from the Earth is on exhibit at the Carnegie Gallery at the Elora Centre for the Arts until September 10, 2023.

Woven Woods: A Journey Through the Forest Floor is at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum through July 22, 2023

After seeing a video by Dr. Suzanne Simard, which examined how trees communicate with each other through their roots, Lorraine was inspired to reach out to Dr. Simard and proposed an exhibition based on that topic. Within a couple of days, she had received a response. Lorraine received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council which supported her for a four-day visit with the Simard Lab at the University of British Columbia, where she spent time in the mountains around Kelowna and in the research lab, getting a close look at the interactions of fungi and tree roots, both with the eye and through a microscope.(Since this visit, Dr. Simard has published the book, Finding the Mother Tree.) After this inspiring visit came the challenge of translating this new knowledge into her pieces. She worked with machine collage to create twelve circular pieces, approximately 122 cm (48 inches) in diameter, with twelve trees in each piece. Each circle represents the cross-section of a tree and contains a different story, a different aspect of how trees communicate. The works are part of a touring exhibition called Woven Woods: A Journey Through the Forest Floor, which is currently in Ontario at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum before travelling to New Brunswick later this summer.

Lorraine then moved on to share images and talk about her Living | Language | Land series and the inspiration behind the work. Leading up to the COP26 conference in November 2021, as part of a Creative Commissions project, twenty-six Indigenous communities were asked to submit one word that connects them to the world. A website was created to showcase the words and their pronunciations. Lorraine was inspired to create images to go with the words and reached out to the contributors for permission. The body of work came together rapidly as the words encouraged her creativity. She spoke briefly about the Quechua word Kallpa Warmi, that means “women’s strength,” and Wíyukčaŋ, a Lakota word meaning “consciousness.”

Living | Language | Land: Word Portraits from the Earth is on exhibit at the Carnegie Gallery at the Elora Centre for the Arts until September 10, 2023.

In addition to these two larger series, Lorraine shared photos of some works she has recently completed that depict bugs, including damselflies, nymphs, and spittle bugs. She also does some fantasy pieces, encouraging the viewer to find themselves in another, kinder place. In another series, she is working with a poet where she makes a piece inspired by a poem, then the poet writes a poem inspired by a textile she has made.

Lorraine works mainly with cotton fabrics, especially hand-dyed cottons, and uses threads and yarns of all sorts. She uses a forty-five-year-old Bernina 740 sewing machine and says she “can only do what this machine will do—we both have our limits.” All her works start with a sketch where she works out proportions and design ideas. Her machine allows for free-motion embroidery, which she likens to writing, but in reverse, since you move the fabric (paper)!

After Lorraine’s presentation, we had a few minutes for questions and comments.

Kim expressed admiration for the Woven Woods pieces and encouraged us all to reach out to people we are inspired by, saying that in her experience, any expert loves to talk about their expertise. She also admired the way that Lorraine has helped educate people about important concepts in a “palatable” way, providing a doorway for people who may not be as comfortable with the scientific language.

One member commented that the background fabrics that Lorraine uses correspond well with the focus of each piece without taking away from it and asked how Lorraine chooses her background fabrics. Lorraine replied that sometimes she’ll have a concept in her head—that she should choose black, for example, because of a meaning in the piece—and then it doesn’t work out. She encouraged us to recognise that the aesthetic choice is always the right one. This statement resonated with members, with chat responses recognizing the challenges in making decisions, and moving away from the image in your head to where the piece wants to go; the creative process is messy and non-linear!

Each month, we begin our Studio Hours session by taking a moment to recognize the lands we live on.

For Michelle, reconciliation means educating herself about Indigenous Canadian history, culture, ways of being, and worldview. She strives to amplify Indigenous voices in real conversations, in books and films, and in music. She’s given us this collection of links to add to our own explorations.

Indigenous Canada, a free course provided through The University of Alberta and Coursera

The Royal Ontario Museum’s presentation “How Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Western Science Intersect in Kent Monkman’s Being Legendary.” (YouTube)

Indigenous writing:

Indigenous music:

Indigenous film and television:

Show and Tell

We didn’t have time for show and tell this evening; instead, we all held our projects up to our web cameras. Kim saw and listed quite a large range of techniques, from knitting and crochet to rug hooking, and projects from socks to mittens. She encouraged us to share specifics in the D&T Online Forum.

Photo courtesy Lorraine Roy.

Copyright © Sarah Thornton except as indicated.
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About Sarah Thornton

Sarah Thornton is a connector - she loves bringing people and ideas together, especially over local fibres and foods. When not teaching college Biology labs, she knits, spins, designs, teaches, and occasionally weaves in her new studio space on Vancouver Island. She's also a cyclist, skier, hiker, and gardener! Find her patterns and classes at sarahthornton.ca and @sarsbarknits on Instagram.

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