u.n.i.t.y.: The Tufting and Punch-Needle Art of Simone Elizabeth Saunders

14 December 2022
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From October 12, 2022 to January 29, 2023, the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto is presenting an exhibition called u.n.i.t.y., featuring the work of Calgary artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders. The show comprises hand-tufted character portraits that are dramatic, vibrant, original in concept, and showcase the artist’s high level of technical expertise.

Simone Elizabeth Saunders is a classically trained actor who spent over a decade working in various aspects of film and theatre before exploring the visual arts in an academic setting. While studying for her BFA at Alberta University of the Arts, the artist had planned to focus on interior design working with wallpapers and fabrics, but that all changed when she discovered the fibre arts.

Simone’s tufting technique is self-taught. She uses both a mechanical tufting gun and a punch needle technique, reserving the hand-held tool for when her body is sore from the rigors of using the mechanical device. Saunders has developed considerable skill in this medium, using it with such dexterity that her pieces, composed of threads of acrylic, wool, and velvet, are finely nuanced, producing a painterly look. Fine details appear to be rendered by a brush stroke rather than created from fibre. This is particularly impressive when you learn that each piece is worked from the back of the warp and is seen only from behind while it is being created.

An afternoon talk given by the artist was illuminating; she was generous in her explanation of the thought processes behind each piece, describing how and why she included not only the images of the Black women but also the additional symbolism contained in each piece.

12 Unity Exhibition

Simone Elizabeth Saunders, Cosmos: Creation, 2021; hand-tufted velvet, acrylic and wool yarn on rug warp; 64 x 64 x 1 inches / 163 x 163 x 3cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Claire Oliver Gallery. Photo by Darren Rigo.

Featured image: Simone Elizabeth Saunders, It Matters, 2020; hand-tufted velvet and acrylic yarn on rug warp; 32 x 23 x 1 inches / 81 x 58 x 1.5cm. Courtesy of Dawn van de Schoot. Photo by Darren Rigo.

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Copyright © Fiona Ellis except as indicated.

About Fiona Ellis

Fiona Ellis learned to knit from her Grandmother at a very early age. She went onto to study Fashion at DeMontfort University (Leicester UK) where she specialized in knitwear design. She has been designing professionally since graduating in 1993. Her original designs have been sold to major fashion houses in New York, London & Paris for mass-market production and have been widely published through premier knitting magazines and in yarn pattern booklets for many yarn companies. She is the author of the books Inspired Cable Knits, Knitspiration Journal and Inspired Fair Isle Knits & is also an instructor at Craftsy. You can find out what she is currently doing at www.fionaellisonline.com.

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