Artist at Work: Louise Perrin and Scarves Dyed in Snow

by Laureen on October 31, 2012

Louise Perrin, “Prairie Smoke”, snow-dyed silk charmeuse

The artists who exhibit with Grasslands Gallery are some of the most talented and inspiring people I know. This occasional series introduces them and their work.

Many Saskatchewan artists are glad when the Prairie winter leaves in spring and hate to see it come back. But not Grasslands Gallery’s Louise Perrin. Louise uses snow, a true Saskatchewan natural resource, as a medium for her gorgeous dye colours. She layers scarf fabrics with snow and dye, and as the snow melts, the scarves she hand-dyes are transformed into glorious interpretations of the natural environment. Pink Sky, Prairie Clover, Stormcloud, Prairie Smoke – some of the shades in Louise’s Grasslands Collection, inspired by the colours of the Grasslands and designed especially for Grasslands Gallery. Louise Perrin has a passion for adventure and creation, and it shows in all her work.

The snow-dyeing process sounds as though it would be simple. Fabrics – Louise uses only natural fabrics, silks, rayon, hand-woven cotton – are manipulated as they are placed in the dyeing bins. Then they’re covered with snow and several colours of the dyes are applied on top of the snow. But snow-dyeing is a process of constant experimentation and breath-holding, inventiveness and creativity. No two scarves are alike. Even if they’re dyed in the same batch, the way the fabric looks when it appears out of its snow cocoon is entirely unpredictable.

Scarf fabrics in dyeing bin

There are lots of reasons for this. The dyes Louise uses are made for temperatures from about 70F to 95+F, and the snow affects the way the dyes work. The amount of snow placed on top of the fabric; how long the snow sits on the items before the dyes are applied; the rate at which the snow melts;   how long the items are allowed to batch before they are removed from the bins and excess dye rinsed out – each of these makes a difference to which colours reach the items first and how quickly.  Every possible variable adds to the adventure and the uncertainty.

Dyes layered on snow layered on fabric

Louise doesn’t shy away from this, either. She pushes it, and she lets the snow’s cold help her create beautiful and unexpected  results. As she says, “The cold also has a tendency to break apart compound colours (colours made from more than one colour). Letting the fabric “crisp” up in the snow before applying dyes helps create the complex dye patterns seen in the snow dyed items.”

Snow partly melted

It’s such an accepting way of making art: create a structure and then love what comes.

Snow all melted

Louise Perrin has always been good at loving what comes. As she explains, “I grew up in a military family that was mostly posted to Western Canada. I always tried to adapt to my current surroundings and to “bloom” where I was planted. As an adult, I too, was a member of the Canadian Forces for about 5 years posted to Maritime Canada bases. After spending close to 30 years in the Maritimes, mostly in the Annapolis Valley, NS, I returned to my beloved Prairies in late 2004. My work is strongly influenced by the prairies vistas and unending skies surrounding me.”

Louise’s involvement with dyeing is relatively recent. She began as a quilter, and turned to dyeing in 2009. She says, “Before that I didn’t think that I could do dyeing because of the chemicals involved. I have had environmental illness since 1994 and have to be very careful about exposure to chemically-based and scented products. I knew I could use fabric paints by using an organic vapour mask because of an artist retreat I participated in, in 2005 in Montana.”

“I bought a small dyeing kit and had a ‘play day’ with some fibre artist friends in October, 2009. I loved the dyeing and didn’t suffer any ill effects from the process. I’ve been dyeing ever since. My recent work has concentrated on using a variety of surface design materials and techniques, along with fabric manipulation to achieve unique effects on scarves and other forms, as well as fabrics and fibres marketed through my studio home, Skyswept Designs.”

Where did the snow dyeing come from?

“Over the winter of 2009-2010 there was talk online among art quilters about snow dyeing,” Louise says. “I was in the middle of trying to finish a piece that was going into the FAN (Fibre Arts Network) exhibit at Quilt Canada in Calgary in April 2010 so I would not let myself try snow dyeing until I had had this piece finished and sent on its way. I did my first snow dyeing on the first day of spring 2010. I was hooked! The dye patterns created by this technique are simply amazing. I did my second batch in May 2010.”

Louise Perrin, Pink scarf array

“Usually the length of the Saskatchewan winter allows me lots of time to snow dye a year’s production, but in 2011, winter was late getting started and we only had fresh snow a few times. That meant I ended up having a snow dyeing marathon in late February and early March 2012, before the “big melt” happened and I would be out of snow.”

Lately Louise has been pushing her experimenting even further. She talked her local arena into providing her with scrapings off the rink ice, before the ice is coloured for hockey. She reports that the medium is amazingly pure and fresh – probably fresher than snow that falls from the sky!

Louise lives her work. As she says, “I am an internationally juried mixed media fibre artist and a Professional Juried Member of the Saskatchewan Craft Council.  My fabric dyeing and fabric painting was commented on by the jurors as part of my jurying process in the Saskatchewan Craft Council in March 2010.”

“Louise really impressed the jury with the technical excellence of her work,” said Chris Jones, member services co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Craft Council. “Her use of colour indicates the mastery that she has achieved.”

Louise adds, “My original fibre art has been exhibited in juried shows, art shows, and galleries, locally, nationally and internationally; been published in books; and shown in videos. At this point I have been quilting for over 30 years.”

Louise Perrin also teaches process-based classes at her studio, at the Art Gallery of Swift Current, and as a travelling artist and artist in residence in schools, parks and other locations. “I love to create art in unusual locations,” she says. “I have been known to sew in a library, in a Laundromat, in a tent at a campground, outside beside my car, at a hunting lodge and at an oil patch camp where I was working as a cook. I have what I call the ‘travelling’ studio which can carry my portable sewing machine and other necessities needed to allow me to create wherever I go.”

Scarves dyed in snow, or in rink ice. Art made everywhere. A passion for adventure and creation. Love what comes.

Louise Perrin’s scarves and many other choices are available for purchase at Grasslands Gallery. Just click on the image. For stories about other Grasslands Gallery artists, please go here.

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 The blog is a series of posts from one artist/art gallery owner’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. To receive updates with beautiful images, stories about the Grasslands and its artists and inspiration every week, just put your email in the box on the right. We never share your email address.


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