16 January 2019

Laureen van Lierop interview: Embracing her inner fool

Yellow Bowl (detail) by Laureen van Lierop (2017) w8" x h9" 

Laureen van Lierop is a multi-talented textile artist from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her work reflects her sense of humour as well as her love of embroidery, nature and gardening. Laureen has a BA in dance from the University of Waterloo and is also an award-winning writer. 

Laureen’s first solo show was titled Nature and Nurture. She has contributed to the Nova Scotia textile art scene by curating or co-curating several exhibits, for example: Healing Gardens (2005), Talking Threads (2001) and Layered Intentions (2000). More recently, she played a lead role in organizing the latest SAQA retreat and has volunteered to organize next year’s event.

For over ten years Laureen has volunteered at Halifax’s Out of the Cold homeless shelter, one of her many non-textile volunteer activities.

How would you describe your textile work?

I create stitched pieces with embroidery, applique, beads and bits of lace, paper and found objects. My work tends to be small. Often it’s meant to drape against a wall. Other times, it’s three dimensional. Dolls, vessels and books are my favourite forms of this expression. As I work, I include some hints of a story, but I rarely work with explicit narrative subjects. 

My work hasn’t any political or social message. Instead, I search for the comical or whimsical. I believe that humour softens life’s blows, allowing difficult experiences to become a journey to better relationships.

Vine Girls by Laureen van Lierop (2015) w10" x h12" 

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

I learned embroidery as a four-year-old from my paternal Oma, who was a Master Embroiderer in Holland. Stitching later took a back seat as I expressed my creativity through dance and floral arranging. Eventually, seeking a creative outlet as a young mother, I moved back into textiles.

It began with a small cabinet of outgrown children’s clothing. I sat on the nearby stairs to stitch while my two young children were in the bathtub. That worked out well, the light was good and I was close enough to hear what was going on in the tub.

I joined quilt guilds but never felt quite at home there. My work evolved differently. Even my vocabulary of techniques became different. So nearly 20 years ago I was involved in starting a group originally called the Fibre Arts Collective (now unofficially known as the Quilt Mafia). I also began curating, as a means of creating opportunities for diverse textile artwork to be shown. 

Since 2014, I’ve been following contemporary embroiderer Karen Ruane’s online courses. Karen has opened a huge door for me and has had a major influence on my stitch vocabulary, composition, texture and titivation.

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 work is inspired by my love of flowers, nature and gardening. I have 10 years of my own sketches for inspiration.

But each piece really begins with colour. Whether I’m working on a piece for the wall, a doll or a book, I choose a group of colours that appeal and create a huge pile of various materials that might work. I walk around it for days or weeks until I get an urge to edit to a smaller pile (and repeat). When the collection feels more manageable, I put the materials into a nice basket or container and let it simmer, often looking through my sketchbooks for ideas. Sooner or later I pick up a needle and get stitching, often starting with a curved line or two, and then working as the spirit moves me. I enjoy the controlled chaos of the creative process and welcome an unexpected left turn. If I get too intellectual or intentional the work begins to tighten and feel wrong.

Path One by Laureen van Lierop (2017) w11" x h"

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

I’ve always worked wherever I could find a spot: the stairway, the space in front of the washing machine, our bedroom. One day I realized the family room was no longer being used by anyone and I seized it. At last I have a studio! My worktable sits by a beautiful north-facing window overlooking the garden. I adore it.

What are you currently working on and why?

Lately I’ve been embroidering little narrative sketches onto hankies. I’ve always avoided explicit narrative, but as my writing skills improve, my urge to do little stories is increasing.

I also have two other things going right now. One is a stitch response to rose-hips and mountain ash berries squished onto a piece of old cotton; the other, blue hydrangeas pounded into paper.

How has your life path influenced your work?

My BA in dance is a major influence. Good choreography and theatre staging, and the history of theatre and costume design are all in the back of my mind as I fool around.

And my husband, Steve Mannell, keeps my work clear and real. He’s a constant source of inspiration, education and clarification. His brain is crisp and engaged. He helps me clarify my intention, work out my composition, clear out the detritus and know when my idea is done. 

String of spring by Laureen van Lierop (2018) h4" x 4' long

Where can your work be seen?

I try to post every completed work on my blog and on Instagram. I show whenever I can wiggle into an exhibition. I recently joined the Textile Artist Collective and rejoined SAQA to participate in group exhibits. One goal for this winter is to create a gallery page with prices attached. 

Who have been your major influences and how?

Georg Balanchine, a Russian ballet choreographer looms large. In 1967, he created Jewels, a suite of four highly technical dance solos, each a very pure interpretation of the music. His goal was beauty for beauty’s sake, without emotion or narrative. That has permitted me to create work that has no political, social or environmental commentary. The world needs resting spots and I attempt to provide a quiet place to do more than survive in.

Path Two by Laureen van Lierop (2018) w13" x h23" 

What fibre artists are you currently interested in, and why?

I really like Michelle Kingdom and Tilleke Schwarz. Both are masters of narrative stitching, but with very different themes, using different techniques. 

Closer to home, I’m also inspired by visual artist Alex Schofield, a good friend and neighbour. Her work, process and intellectual rationale are refreshing and energizing for me. 

Do you engage in other artistic or creative endeavors?

Writing is a big part of my life. I write poetry and children’s stories. I also produce a comic book, Hot Flash Woman, about the zany adventures of Hot Flash Woman and her side kick, Steamy, as they encounter oppression and struggle with menopausal hot flashes.  

My most memorable experience as an artist was winning the Joyce Barkhouse Award for unpublished children’s writing. Reading the first chapter of my book, Beach Meadow Friends, to a large audience at the awards ceremony was a fabulous experience!

Vessel One by Laureen van Lierop (2015) w4.5" x h11" 

You can read more about SAQA artist Laureen van Lierop on her blog, Laureen van Lierop. Follow Laureen on Instagram.


  1. Such a multi talented woman! Thanks for sharing your artistic journey with us Laureen.

  2. I enjoyed "meeting" Laureen very much -- and was delighted to read that she won the prize named for a woman I knew when I was a little girl: Joyce Barkhouse. She and her husband were friends of my parents, cottagers every summer at Point Dupuis, St. Anicet, Quebec. It was only later in life that I learned she was an author, shared her books with my own children, and -- after she moved back to the Maritimes -- occasionally corresponded with her. I have fond memories of that time in my life, and hearing that a prize has been endowed in her name, has brought those memories back for me. Thank you.