Art You Can Feel Con’t

Photo by Sarah Ryeland

A Huntsville artist shows just how tactile textiles can be

By Sarah Ryeland

Miranda Thomas has been an artist for as long as she can remember. And for someone who’s only 26 years old, that adds up to a lifetime of creation.

“I’ve always been an artist,” she says. “For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawing, painting and creating things.”

But it wasn’t until fairly recently that she discovered her passion for textile arts.

Born and raised in Huntsville, Thomas enjoyed studying art in high school and when she started looking into post-secondary education, decided to enroll in the craft and design program at Sheridan College.

“Believe it or not, it was totally random,” she says. “I had been drawing and painting for years and I needed a change, so I applied to the craft and design program because it seemed to be very creative but offered a lot of options.

“In addition to the textile stream there was furniture and ceramics and glass and I thought hey – I’ll try something new.”

And that open-mindedness led her directly to the path she’s on now.

Working with textiles – cloth, string, ribbon and various types of fabric – to create art has added an exciting new dimension to Thomas’s work. Creating one-of-a-kind pieces of jewellery and other functional and artistic works, she is able to learn and grow within her style.

“I love how open-ended it is,” she says. “To a certain extent it’s more practical than some of the other directions I could have gone with in school, just because it’s more portable. I mostly use my sewing machine, so I’m able to work in just a small room in my apartment versus glass-blowing or furniture where you need a bigger space, more startup money and more of a studio.”

And she has learned practical skills along the way.

Working in her day job at DN Designs, a Huntsville embroidery shop, Thomas is able to use her creative and technical skills to benefit her employers. In return, they support her work in every way possible.

“They are so supportive, they’re really great,” says Thomas. “My boss has a little corner for me there where I can display my pieces so people will see them and ask about them. Whenever I need time off to do a show or catch up on some artwork they’re always really accommodating.”

She was even given a basket of colourful threads as a Christmas gift.

And while working at an embroidery shop might not seem like living the artist’s dream, Thomas really enjoys the work.

“It’s mostly commercial embroidery, but it’s nice because it’s still creative and still very much in my field,” she says. “I can apply a lot of the technical skills that I learned in school – the design, the colours. Just working with the colours is wonderful. I get a kick out of that.”

The work is satisfying because of the quantity she’s able to produce. What makes it vastly different from her artwork however, is the speed at which she can finish an item.

“My stuff is all very one-at-a-time, handmade,” she says. “I’ll spend half an hour on a single piece, just a tiny part of it, and then I’ll go to work and plow through a giant order of a hundred shirts and it’s like ‘yeah!’”

But it’s that painstaking, labour of love that showcases her true talent.

Aside from jewellery, Thomas creates custom works for those who request it. Cushions, coasters and even fusions of painting, drawing, needlework and photo transfer are on her resume.

As for getting the message out about her art, Thomas relies on craft shows and word of mouth.

“I’ve done craft shows in Oakville, Guelph, Baysville,” she says. “I do art in the park here usually, although I’m not sure if I’m going to do it this year or not. I’d like to try to get into more local ones and each year I’m digging up more and more possibilities.”

Together with a web site, blog and Etsy online shop, Thomas relies on her mother and grandmother, who are her biggest champions.

“My grandma and my mom are very supportive in that way,” she smiles. “They’re always trying to help me get the word out.”

So what makes her artwork unique? That would be the one-of-a-kind materials.

The jewellery, which is one of her main focuses at the moment, is all created with threads and fabrics chosen by the artist herself. Instead of having an image in mind, she lets the textiles inspire her, which in turn inspires her customers to take a closer look.

“I like that part of textiles,” she says. “It’s so tactile. I always want to touch. From artist to artist you don’t know if you’re allowed or not. I definitely encourage it, at least with the jewellery.”

And although making jewellery is popular and a fulfilling practice for Thomas, she’s always looking to the future. Her boyfriend of nine years, Seguin Sailors, is a photographer and fellow graduate of Sheridan College. Together, they’ve been toying with the idea of creating a body of work that incorporates both their techniques.

“I think it would be a really neat way to create a number of complementary pieces,” says Thomas. “He’s a photographer, but we’re hoping to see if we can figure out ways to bring our work together. I’d like to bring his photography into my work and he’d like to bring textile into his. We might even trade a little bit and I’ll do a bit of photography and he said he’d try some textile, which I thought was pretty cool.”

The two artists were inspired by a friend’s film that was shown at a recent documentary festival.

“We both thought wow, that’s so cool. He spent all this time on this big thing that now he’s sharing with the community. We want to do that.”

But while that project is in development, Thomas says she’ll continue to enjoy the creative process and the evolution of her work.

“Just because you’ve done one thing doesn’t mean you’re done with that idea,” she says. “If you keep going, the likelihood is that the stuff’s going to get better and better.”

And for fans of her work, that’s a sign of some very exciting things to come.

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