I’ve been making embroidered fabric pictures since grade 7. I’ve since developed my own unique style of folk art, exhibited internationally and won several awards. Most recently, my traveling solo show “Calgary Days” has been getting recognition.
Yet until now I’ve always worked at the kitchen table. What a delight to have a studio of my own!
We recently built a home overlooking the Highlands of Cape Breton. It’s deep in the woods and off-grid, so it‘s peaceful and absolutely quiet. My studio takes up most of the second floor. Because of the huge amount of snow here, the roof has a steep pitch and the studio’s “walls” are the slanted ceiling. Although the floor space is 22’ x 28’, the actual standing space is about 12’ x 28’ and the ceiling is 11’ high at its peak. A wide gable on the south side gives me a bit more room.
|The west wall|
My studio is a beautiful space with elegant angles and lines everywhere. Two enormous mahogany windows, cobbled from various smaller windows, let in plenty of light. The views are spectacular from every angle. There is no shortage of inspiration.
Being off-grid doesn't impact my work. Solar panels provide most of our electricity and a backup generator recharges the batteries when needed.
|The view to the south|
I’m a very early morning person – often up at 4am, my mind all abuzz and raring to go.
In those very early mornings the studio is lit up by three big antique ceiling lamps. I also have spotlights over each work station. For fine detail work, I go to my fabulous tri-spectrum Stella lamp. It’s an LED light that uses very little power to provide sharp clear lighting any time of day. The three spectrums allow me to switch to whatever suits me best – usually daytime lighting. Its elegant curved body lets me position it exactly as I want and it stays there, always.
Two small, built-in bookcases hold my library. Other shelving is made from bits of old furniture that I’ve salvaged and painted up. The shorter shelving units are on wheels so I can move them around as I need to and use the back sides as design walls.
I have baskets for embroidery floss and quilting threads, other specialty threads, my scissor collection etc. I don’t need a lot of fabric, but I have a lot of small bits, stored in small foldable drawers and plastic bins stacked on bookshelves.
I use a lot of beads, gemstones and miniature toys in my work. When it’s time to do beadwork, I just roll my bead cabinet to where I’m working. When I’m not beading I use the cabinet back as a design wall.
|Design wall on back of bead cabinet|
My favourite tools are my Japanese thimble and my Janome Artistic E-Z thread snips.
I am totally lost without my Japanese thimble. This is a simple metal ring that sits between the knuckles on the top part of my finger. It allows me to feel exactly where I want to place my needle and push it through easily - without getting in my way.
And I love my new Artistic E-Z thread snips by Janome. They’re ultra sharp, always open with a curved tip to prevent accidental jabs. Just grab and snip. Perfect.
My studio means the world to me! Having a place of my own has given me impetus and my creativity is blasting off in all directions. Perhaps the biggest advantage is being able to work whenever I want, for however long I want, without interruption or fear of disturbing anyone.
I’ve been trying my hand at abstraction for a couple of years, and having this quiet space is allowing me to pursue that. I’ve recently started a collaboration with two other textile artists, and my contribution will be in abstracted forms. I’m not sure where all this will lead me, but I am enjoying the ride. Here’s a sneak preview.
The Pond Nos 1-4, Work in progress
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Read more about Hélène on our own 2016 feature interview Folk art in big nature.
Read a review of Hélène Blanchet's current show at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, on view until the end of March 2019.