07 August 2018

Kathy Tidswell Interview: Painter, Quilter, Teacher

Transitions II by Kathy Tidswell (2017) w22” x h34”
Kathy Tidswell is a New Brunswick fibre artist and teacher, well-known for her thread-painted pieces, quilted wall hangings and wearable art. Kathy’s work has been widely published within Canada and beyond. She has taught at five Quilt Canada conferences and is a recipient of the Canadian Quilters’ Association Teacher of the Year Award.

Kathy’s wearable art has earned an Award of Excellence and an Honourable Mention at CQA National Juried Shows. Her wall quilts have made it into The Grand National Juried Quilt Exhibitions, CQA National Juried Shows, SAQA regional juried shows and the Contemporary Canadian Art Quilts Exhibition. Her thread paintings have hung in solo and group exhibitions including Threadworks 2010 and 2013.

Kathy Tidswell sells her work from her home studio and gallery in Burtts Corner NB. 

How would you describe your work?

My work is usually realistic. Whether it’s a small thread painting or a larger wall quilt, you can generally see the influence of nature. 

Much of my work begins with my own painting on fabric which I then enhance with thread painting. Sometimes I work with commercial fabric to create wall quilts but even those often include some of my own painted fabric as well. 

Winter by Kathy Tidswell (2008) w 20.5” x h 24.5”

Describe your journey towards becoming an artist who works with textiles. 

My mother and both grandmothers were embroiders, quilters, rug hookers and crocheters, and taught me all these skills as a child. As a young adult, I had a career in forest genetics with the Canadian Forestry Service. That experience and my scientific background may account for some of my attention to detail and my interest in depicting trees. 

Later, as a stay-at-home mom, I made two quilts for my daughter’s bunkbeds. Soon after, I joined the Fredericton Quilters’ Guild and attended a workshop taught by Anne Boyce, who taught me to use the sewing machine for appliqué and quilting. Around the same time I saw a booklet entitled Thread Painting, by Liz Hubbard. It had beautiful British gardens and cottages done with free-motion embroidery over a painted background. I was hooked!

I took drawing, watercolour and oil painting lessons to better my skills for painting the backgrounds. I worked on my free-motion embroidery skills. And since most of this stitched-over-painted-fabric work came from the UK, I combined a visit to see my daughter with a 4-day course with teacher Allison Holt in Wales. Gradually, I began to develop my own style and approach.

Wearable art by Kathy Tidswell (2017) 

Tell us about your process for creating. Where do you find your inspiration and how do you get from that to a final product?

My inspiration generally comes from nature. I get ideas for the painted backgrounds from photographs. If I’m working on a wall quilt for a competition I often muse over the theme for a long time and draw up several different ideas before I begin. 

Working from my photograph, I make a detailed drawing on paper and then trace it onto white cotton fabric. Next, I paint the background using Pebeo Setacolor. The painting may take two or three sittings to complete. 

When I’m happy with the painting, I add texture and bring it to life with free-motion embroidery. I enhance perspective by leaving a painted area in the distance unstitched. Moving into the foreground, the stitching becomes progressively brighter, larger and more detailed. I sometimes create a 3-D effect by attaching appliqués of birds or flowers that I make entirely from thread, using free-motion zigzag stitching.

Great Blue Heron by Kathy Tidswell (2016) w15” x h17”

Do you have a studio, or do you work wherever you can find a spot?  

My studio is a second-storey porch addition built by my husband. It’s lovely and bright with windows on three sides, but it’s small, so my work has spread throughout the house. My threads and smaller pieces of fabric are stored in a chest in the hallway just outside the studio. I’ve taken over a bedroom for cutting; the kitchen table is where I tend to do the painting. I also have a teaching studio and gallery on the ground floor. The only thing missing is a permanent design wall.

What are you currently working on and why?

Just now, I’m working on a black and white portrait of my grandmother. I’ve been wanting to make it ever since I found a photo of her a couple of years ago. I’m hoping to use the portrait as my entry for the upcoming Grand National exhibition, themed Still.

Do you teach or have a business of your artwork?

I split my time between teaching, creating wall quilts for competitions and producing thread paintings, which I sell at craft shows. Teaching has been a big part of my life for over 20 years. I have a small teaching studio in my home and offer classes in a variety of techniques, including thread painting, machine appliqué, using paints on fabric, creating 3-D thread appliques and using Inktense pencils to create appliqués.

One of the most exciting moments in my career was when I first got word that I’d been accepted to teach at the Quilt Canada conference, which was in Toronto in 2000. That was outdone only when I received the Canadian Quilters’ Association Teacher of the Year award five years later.

I’ve taught and delivered slide/trunk presentations at five Quilt Canada conferences and for guilds and shops in almost every province. I’ve taught twice in Luxembourg and have three presentations scheduled for this fall in the UK. 

My teaching experiences in Luxembourg began with enquiries I made at a quilting and craft shop I came across while visiting that country. Lynne Edwards, a teacher and friend from the UK, once told me that whenever she travels she notifies groups in the vicinity that she will be available for teaching. I’ve since adopted her philosophy. 

When planning an upcoming visit with my daughter, I obtained a list of quilting and embroidery groups from British organizers and contacted several around Portsmouth (England), telling them when I expected to be in the area. This resulted in the three slide/trunk shows I have scheduled there this fall.

Splendour of the Caribbean by Kathy Tidswell (2013) w18.5” x  h14.5”

How do you show and sell your work? Where can it be seen?

Currently, (August 3- October 9, 2018) my work can be seen in a solo exhibition entitled Nature’s Thread 2018 at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in Fredericton NB.

A selection of my work will be for sale at a Christmas market with the Fibre Arts Network group (FAN) on November 10, 2018 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fredericton.

And my thread paintings can be seen by chance or appointment at my home studio and gallery in Burtts Corner NB.

Recently, while serving a one-week artist residency in Fredericton’s historic Garrison District, I was interviewed by Mark Kilfoil of CHSR radio. The interview can be heard as a podcast until early September at CHSR-FM 97.9 | The Lunchbox Interview/ Kathy Tidswell (Fibre Artist).

What are your goals for the coming year?

My goal is to enjoy the process more, without worrying so much about perfection. I often get too intense over a piece, especially if it’s for a competition. I hope to develop a more relaxed way of working and to just wait and see how the piece turns out.  


You can read more about Kathy Tidswell and her artwork on her website Kathy Tidswell Fibre Artist.

As Day Ebbs by Kathy Tidswell (2014) w20” x h31”

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