Dahlia Drive: One Week to Flying the Nest

A plethora of paper, bits of lace, woven seaweed, buckets of buttons and doodads, fraught threads, brushes and dyes fortress my studio. Each item beckons me with endless possibilities. It is my nest.

#TheLastHundred humbles me. Every day, there are fewer canvases to print, paint, embellish and dye, yet the nest does not seem to diminish. This predicament bothers me less than I anticipated; I am comforted by their presence, but I do not need to heed their call. I am quite content with the imposed limitation, returning to my creative roots of working with what I have right here in front of me on my table. It is a somber yet freeing relief to simply celebrate each piece, each nest fragment, each canvas, and myself right here, right now.

When I was in Textile School at Cap U in 2005, I had only recently left my 20 year career as an actor. The Drama teacher at my sons’ High School, Suzanne Cook, asked me if I wanted to direct Twelfth Night. I jumped at the chance. The experience with my friend Darien Edgeler was one of the highlights of my theater career. Those 20 years of practice provided me with a strong foundation to create a safe, inclusive space for young thespians to explore storytelling, listen to each other and live into their parts with wild abandon. We had a blast. I had acted with some famous people and won awards, but the thrill of telling a good story (Shakespeare helps) out of mutual respect and inclusive creative expression was a true gift. There, I rediscovered the spark that led me to acting; the sheer joy and humility in playing with those who were willing to play together. I was grateful for that 20 year practice.

During the making of #TheLastHundred, I am rediscovering my textile roots. Slips are the original Dahlia Drive canvas, a piece of cloth with its own story to tell: stains, holes, torn lace, length, color, size, perfume of its owner. I am inspired by what they bring to the table for me to play with. The practice of Dahlia Drive over the past decade and Yaahl, Guud, Tsai over the past 7, has been a practice of telling stories on blank canvases of consistent fiber in varying structures, informing the story through design and colour, shape, flow and form. Returning to the initial spark, my personal big bang with slips has been an unexpected joy.

Today, one week until I leave the nest, I find I have arrived back at the beginning. My 16 years of practice can return to joyful creation for myself and perhaps others who are willing to play together. My nest will always be calling. I am grateful for these 16 years.

Threads From the Nest

1. Last year, I took an embroidery course from one of my great teachers, artist Elenor Hannan. I used one of my samples from her class to mend a hole in this slip dress.


2. In 2018, Yaal, Guud, Tsai, participated in a fashion show for the Textile Society of America Symposium at the Anthropology Museum. Joleen Mitton had brought her indigenous mentee models and younger trainees. I had bought a discarded B.C. Ferries work suit in Port Renfrew and upcycled it into a tight indigo dyed jumpsuit. I brought it to the event and the young trainees tattooed it with markers. It was incredible to witness them mark making on the garment.

Those young indigenous girls saw their words walk through the Anthropology Museum alongside their ancestors’ practice. This piece will be gifted to Joleen.

The first slip dresses I made were printed with Leonardo da Vinci skeletons or intestines or hearts. This week I enjoyed layering all three; printed innards and a heart protected within the lacy structure of  bones, upon a thin piece of nylon designed to be worn as a layer between a woman and her dress and the world. 

Oh, and the bugs on the boob cover and seal small holes. 

This stuff makes me happy.

I used to bury a lot of fabric to rust it; yardage and men’s shirts. It was messy and fun. Here is a gate rusted onto a Victoria Secret silk slip and then dipped into sodium permanganate (for not very long).

{One summer in Alberta I was wrapping vinegared fabric around a rusty pole in a farmer’s field. I was kneeling in the field and really concentrating. I looked up and there was a cow peering at me 5 inches from my face. Curious creatures are we all.}

This slip dress was printed with paper twice. The first was pink lace and gray tree printed paper. I thought the gray tree was too pale, so I overprinted it with a torn piece of black tree printed paper without noticing a piece of black paper was hiding within the heat press ‘sandwich’. That errant piece of paper left an unintentional mark on the landscape. Although no glacier was involved, it is an erratic that I like. I see it as a ‘black hole’ (here a black squarish); a window into another world. I like the story, I like the surprise in design.

I look forward to seeing those of you who can come to Circle Craft November 8-12, D14. Come and play! I am grateful to you for encouraging me to practice.

If you need a ticket, let me know. I have a few which I am eager to share until they are gone.

Create your nest, practice with love, fly,