Farm Life: Stitching Prairie landscapes

Woman creates art by ‘thread painting’

Having lived all her life on the Prairies, fibre artist Donna Cutler has developed a deep appreciation for the natural beauty of the country. She and her husband Adrian currently live on an acreage across from the Beaver Creek Conservation area about 13 kilometres south of Saskatoon. The area is a constant source of inspiration for Cutler as she goes for walks, camera in hand. “I have literally thousands of photographs. There is a lot more to the Prairies than most of us realize,” she says.

These photos are the first step in Cutler’s process of creating beautiful art pieces known as thread painting — using coloured thread to “paint” images on fabric. It is primarily stitching using free-motion machine embroidery (moving the fabric freely under the needle); like drawing with a sewing machine.

Donna Cutler working 
on one or her pieces.

Donna Cutler working 
on one or her pieces.
photo: Donna Cutler

“I do photo realism — pieces that are as close to the photo as possible. At times I use photo transfer, but mostly I do a fabric collage and stitch overtop of that. Or I simply freehand on the machine,” she says.

Cutler has been creating art since she was a child, but didn’t take any formal training until 2006. “I belonged to the Fiber Art Network (FAN), a group of western Canadian women who create fibre art. I got into quilting, but it didn’t feel right. I liked creating the pictures on the quilt, but didn’t enjoy the actual quilting,” she says.

Cutler then took a two-year creative arts course in Washington and then took a year and a half to “just play around and figure out what I wanted to do.” She studied books that taught thread-painting techniques. “I sat down at my sewing machine a couple of hours every day for two months and worked my way through them. That’s when I started producing my own work; basically evolving my own style.”

Most of Cutler’s work originates from photos of landscapes or wildflowers she or her husband have taken at Beaver Creek or nearby Cranberry Flats. “The wildflowers there are amazing. The last few springs we’ve had so much rain and there are flowers everywhere; some that I’ve never seen before.”

Cutler’s fibre art is often so true to the photograph that viewers mistake it for such until they get close. She prefers to have her pieces mounted under glass because they want to feel the texture, which is not good for the artwork.

Dyeing fabric is a part of the process Cutler loves. “Usually I dye in the summer because I can take my vats outside and make a colossal mess.”

Sometimes she does snow dyeing. Fabric is spread flat on the bottom of a large pan, snow is piled on top and powdered dye sprinkled on the snow. As the snow melts, the dye seeps through the snow and dyes the fabric underneath, creating unique patterns.

Cutler became a juried member of the Saskatchewan Craft Council (SCC) in 2013, which validates and provides recognition to her work. Shortly after that she had her first show which was a huge success. After three more shows that year she had only eight pieces left of the 40 she had finished. “I would never have expected this. There seems to be an explosion of interest in fibre art here on the Prairies,” she said.

“I love the process and I’d do it even if I wasn’t showing and selling,” Cutler says, adding that her husband’s support is greatly appreciated. “He’d rather I did art than clean. If I could clone and sell him, I’d be a billionaire!”

For more information on Donna Cutler’s fibre art check out donnacutler.blogspot.ca.

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