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Wendy Van Riesen says the 35 years she spent acting were the perfect training ground for losing her judgment—and becoming a designer.

“Within judgment it’s hard to be creative or curious, but [those qualities are] essential to move forward,” says Van Riesen, whose dramatic background includes a stint with Second City at Expo 86, a Jessie Richardson Theatre Award for best actress, and most recently, an appearance on Da Vinci’s Inquest.

Van Riesen had always been interested in textile arts. But it took a trip to Alaska and the events of September 11, 2001 for her to turn a dream into reality.

Using natural objects such as blackberry leaves, saskatoon berries, and dahlias, she hand-dyes one-of-a-kind patterns onto vintage slips, half-slips, and men’s shirts. She’s even wrapped fabric around an old saw blade, saturated it with vinegar, and buried it in the garden to get a particular rust pattern.

“I’m dictated by weather and the seasons—what’s inspiring around me,” says Van Riesen.

Van Riesen loves using recycled materials. Her favourite pieces are those that are torn. “In our society, we want everything to be perfect but we can’t afford that anymore. Mass production locks us onto a train; [but] if there is an openness to use what is present, it will transform us.”

Van Riesen has worked with Loving Spoonful and Rose Charities, and is a member of Fashion High, a non-profit network promoting local shopping and sustainable design. Her pieces are available online and at select shops. Watch for her at the Circle Craft Christmas Market in November—and on a screen or stage near you.

—Joanne Will

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