Tag Archives | modern canvaswork

Experimenting with paint on canvas

Where do the weeks go? I have been busy teaching, kids and adults alike, and my blog is sadly neglected….again 🙂 But I have been having so much fun, so just had to share it with you!

This week I taught the first of three sessions on modern canvaswork to my local branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild of Western Australia. The goal is to produce a piece like the modern book cover I mentioned in my February post on creativity.

My journal

A5 journal cover in modern canvaswork.

So, our first session was all about painting the canvas and playing with Tyvek. I’ll be honest – I felt like an impostor. I am not an expert on painting on canvas – I just know what works for me. And as for Tyvek, I am only passing on my limited experience after learning it from someone else several years ago.

To help overcome my lack of confidence, I made doubly sure that I was well prepared. I had boxes of paint which I had tested in a number of different ways; I had samples of a variety of painted canvases; and I had a lovely pile of experimental Tyvek pieces.

Prepared for anything!

Prepared for anything!

Of course, we didn’t use anything like half of the materials I had brought with me….BUT from a teaching point of view I was prepared for any eventuality and thus I felt more confident. And the really great thing was that it reminded me about another great role as a teacher. You don’t always have to be the expert – sometimes it is just as good (better perhaps?) to be a facilitator. My students had everything they needed to just play with all the techniques and materials that I provided. And all of them, without exception, produced something completely different from everyone else. You could just about touch the creativity sparkling in the air! I loved it…

Many of these students have been embroiderering for many years and their stitching skills are simply exquisite. It was so much fun to share an afternoon of something completely different with them. I can’t wait for the next lesson in two weeks time when we will start designing and stitching.



Do you consider yourself to be creative? I used not to, but over the last few years I have become much more comfortable with believing myself to be creative. And I am really interested in the ever increasing research into what makes us creative.

I have been sewing for as long as I can remember. But I always worked off someone else’s pattern, so in my mind I wasn’t being creative – I was just copying the outcome of someone else’s artistic talent. This didn’t require me to be creative – I just needed to be good at following instructions. Also, my professional training is in maths and science. This professional training only added to my own assessment that I wasn’t creative – I was a scientist. (Of course, with wisdom and experience I would now argue that a good scientist needs to be creative too :))

Then in 2007 I enrolled in the Canvaswork Masterclass at the Victorian Embroiderer’s Guild. Every month we would meet for a few hours at Guild House and learn something new about canvaswork, as well as being given a design brief for the sample we needed to work on over the next four weeks. Every sample piece had to be our design – an original piece of work. Initially this was an incredibly daunting prospect. For someone who had worked off patterns for over thirty years, I was suddenly faced with producing a whole body of work which was all to be “created” by me. To make it worse, I felt like I was surrounded by people who already had a flair for embroidery design. They seemed to produce wonderful pieces effortlessly – my work felt clunky and awkward by comparison.

And then in one session, we learned to use Tyvek. If you haven’t heard of it, Tyvek is a synthetic, non-woven material that is very strong – almost impossible to tear but easy to cut with scissors or a knife. It has a wide range of industrial uses, but from an artistic point of view it has one fascinating property – when you apply heat it melts in predictable but irregular ways, creating fabulously interesting shapes. A small amount of heat, from an iron for example, causes the material to shrink and “bobble” – more heat and it starts to melt through the material completely. Tyvek can be coloured in just about any way you can think of – paints, coloured pencils, dyes, inkjet printers etc. So it is a creative material with almost limitless possibilities. Click here for a good introductory video.

During our class we produced a range of Tyvek samples. Here are some of mine mounted in my portfolio. The orange sample at top left has been ironed until it starts to deform heavily, whereas the red, blue and white samples have only been lightly heated.

Assorted Tyvek samples treated with paint, colouring pencils and inkjet printer designs.

Assorted Tyvek samples treated with paint, colouring pencils and inkjet printer designs.

Our challenge then was to include a piece of Tyvek in a “modern” interpretation of canvaswork. I created this journal cover, using Jill Carter’s book, “New Canvaswork”, as inspiration.

My journal

A5 journal cover worked in modern canvaswork with Tyvek embellishment.

I think this was the first piece where I really started to feel like I was creative. It wasn’t easy, and at the time I remember ranting about how I “didn’t do modern” – I was a “traditionalist”. But this piece worked its way into my heart and became one of my favourites. And from then on I was hooked on creativity – the fun of coming up with an idea; the hours of work that going into realising the idea; and the satisfaction of finishing and knowing “I created that”.

Creativity like that is addictive – and it gets easier with practice. Somehow your mind and body become more and more comfortable with the creative process and so you don’t fear it anymore. And coming from a scientist who spent decades believing she wasn’t creative, that is a pretty cool thing!