Artist at Work: Susan Wittrup, Individually Crafted Fabric Boxes

by Laureen on June 5, 2013


Susan Wittrup, “Blue Patchwork”, small hand-dyed and quilted fabric box

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.

Susan Wittrup’s studio is filled with fabric, thread, paints, dyes, inks and ideas. Her individually crafted fabric boxes are abstract representations of the prairie colours and imagery taken from her photographs of her wanderings. Just as the prairie landscape presents an unlimited variety of views, no two of these little creations are the same. At Grasslands Gallery, Susan is showing her Grasslands Collection, inspired by the colours of wildflower and landscape and oerfect for holding little treasures or just to fill with memories. Susan Wittrup lives in Regina.

 Here, Susan talks about her career, her life with her art, and what’s she’s excited about in her future as an artist.


Susan Wittrup, “Butterfly”, small hand-stencilled fabric box

“I started sewing before I could read. I’ve never had a period in my life where working with textiles hasn’t figured prominently in my world. My mother was a needleworker doing petit point primarily, and she also made beaded and sequined jewellery. Teachers in the school were always hopeful to have me or my brother in their classes so that they would be graced with one of my mother’s creations at the end of the year! She taught me to embellish with embroidery and encouraged me to learn everything I could about sewing and needlework. My grandmother was both a tailor and a quilter. Between the two  of them, I learned the joy of manipulating textiles, embellishing, exploring the many ways of combining these skills.


Susan Wittrup, “Grasses”, small hand-painted fabric box

“I started quilting after my children were born and I quickly learned that I could only make so many quilts. However, I loved the dimension that quilting gives, which led me to start looking for ways to use the techniques of quilting as embellishment. The beads I’d learned from my mother found themselves gracing many of my pieces.

 “Perhaps my ‘signature’ is my desire to honour the ordinary. It’s how I came to make boxes. Everyone needs storage containers but there’s no law saying they have to be boring mass produced objects. At the same time, there’s no reason why a unique functional object can’t be valued for its beauty or design. I’ve chosen to use hand-dyed fabrics on the interior of the boxes, to recognize the ‘specialness’ of the everyday. It’s like a hidden secret to have beauty on the inside as well as the outside.


Susan Wittrup, “Clouds”, small hand-stencilled fabric box

“Unless I’m using an ‘exotic’ fabric such as velvet or brocade, I usually dye and/or paint my own fabrics. Colour is always my starting point. Sometimes I use stencils I’ve created from my own photographs, or use found objects as stamps, or simply paint with ink, paint, dye. I love the excitement of dyeing as you never know exactly what you will end up until it’s finished. Paint is rewarding because you can see exactly what you are creating as you apply the paint. Combining dye and paint in layers is the best of all worlds.

 “Through my quilting, I met many who were working as fibre artists and all were excited to share their knowledge. From there came commissions which pushed me further and challenged me to grow in so many ways. I’ve just completed a piece representing one of the fossils of the Burgess Shale formation in Yoho National Park. It will be featured in an exhibition opening in June which has been coordinated by the Studio Art Quilt Associates-Western Canada group. There will be an educational book produced from this exhibition for use with school children, a combination of art and science. In addition, I have a piece in another show, organized by this same group, entitled Meet the Best of the West, which is currently touring Western Canada until July 2014. At the moment, I’m experimenting on a wall hanging series of white on white using different fabrics and textures to create space and shape. I’m very fortunate to have my work included in private collections on three continents.”

These fabric boxes 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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