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Dream #3  2007, embroidery, cotton, cotton thread, in vintage sterling silver Lunt tooth box. (box - MA, US) 
3.5cm W x 4cm D x  5cm H


Blushing Heart  2008, Relief print, embroidery, trapunto, pigment, silk, on vintage handkerchief. 31 cm x 31 cm,



Artist: Valerie Knapp, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Interview 25: Valerie Knapp exhibited in 2007 and 2009 in the Common Thread International Juried Exhibition and the exhibition Quiet Zone at The Gallery at Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre in Oakville, Ontario.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Valerie Knapp was born and raised in Gravenhurst, in the beautiful lake district of Muskoka. In 1975 she graduated from the Textile Studio at Sheridan College School of Crafts & Design, and in 1993 from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Education. Known in the 70's - 80's for her original screen-printed fabrics and innovative fashion, Knapp's boutique Viverie on Avenue Road was a destination. Those were memorably productive years with numerous shows, especially at Harbourfront Centre. Wonderful experiments, loyal clients, and custom work abounded. Later, from 1993 - 96 Knapp was Head of the Textile Studio at Sheridan College.

Now best known for her repertoire of mixed media textile and paper-based wall work Knapp also works in book format and makes embroideries, in particular the ongoing series, Boxed Embroideries. Knapp maintains a busy practice—actively exhibiting, designing textiles and a range of products and carrying out special custom textile projects for interiors. This year she is introducing a new collection of functional work in her distinctive print fabrics. She is represented in Toronto at David Kaye Gallery and in Ottawa at Lafreniere & Pai Gallery. Her work is in numerous private collections in Canada, USA and Italy. Knapp lives and works in the west end of Toronto. Website


Valerie Knapp in her Toronto studio, 2011. Photo by Maxine Bell.

Tell us about your work?

Assembling and organizing is central to my work, as is repetition, pattern, sketching and storytelling. Stitches form a face or an eye, lines and dots form a pod, ink forms a dress and perforations form a trunk. Metaphorical symbols that simply stir up memories or serve as reminders to conserve, to observe and to care! Through processes including relief printing, drawing, embroidery, hand and machine sewing and writing, I explore ideas of memory, containment, conservation and time. Combining cloth, a variety of papers, and sometimes vintage or repurposed materials and words, I investigate the body, clothing, naturalistic themes and needlework, especially sewing. Craving serenity and calm, I carve out poetic moments in delicate, precise, layered assemblages, in spite of the chaos swirling about. I suppose it's a way to make peace with the world.

'It is extraordinary how having done a thing once you have to do it again, there is the pleasure of coincidence and there is the pleasure of repetition.'
Gertrude Stein


Woman with a Heart, 2008, Relief print, embroidery, vintage sewing, pattern paper, pigment, old lace, silk, sewing, on vintage, handkerchief. 35 cm x 35 cm, Reminiscence, Kent Farndale Gallery, Port Perry, ON. and Safekeeping: Work in Textiles and Paper. David Kaye Gallery, Toronto


From where do you get your inspiration?

I find inspiration in mundane everyday things or in a conversation, a quote, or perhaps in a piece of fabric. At times I choose to be saturated in looking, reading and researching and at other times I take time out for solitude, doing nothing. I look at other artists work, I scout the internet and I read a wide range of material. I travel, hike, visit museums and galleries and generally stay plugged in. I'm nourished by my other passion of gardening and nature. I collect small objects, paper, pictures, books, fabrics, ephemera, and memorabilia, all which inform, or may find there way into my work. Inspiration can arrive in any form, from any place, so I carry a notebook for ideas and sketches.


Breathe, 2007, Silk & metallic thread embroidery, drawing,  vellum, silk, paper, Florentine paper, lace, pins, in aluminum stand made by Allan Bell. 24cm W  x 4.5cm D  x 25cm H, Hard & Soft: Metal and Fibres Now. Lafreniere & Pai Gallery, Ottawa,  and Wrap Stitch Burn, *new*Gallery, Toronto.


Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

I began to explore structures at an early age via sewing, macrame, crochet, weaving, and knitting. By the age of 12, I was making my own clothes and later embroidered a dress and various jeans. I revamped and repurposed vintage 40's garments of my mothers. The 60's was an era of fantastic fashion experimentation and I was glued to the media and magazines promoting it. I had a mentor from a young age. Marie Barnes (then Aiken) was a fibre artist and friend. I spent countless hours with her, soaking up her knowledge, perusing her startling book collection and learning to make things. My mother was a skilled dress and hat maker and bookkeeper who also studied navigation and seamanship while raising four children. Maps and plans, ledgers, patterns and sewing machines vied for table space. I picked up this work by osmosis.


Breathe Deep, 2008, Relief print, embroidery, pigment, cotton, on 60's handkerchief. 44.5 cm x 44.5 cm, Reminiscence, Kent Farndale Gallery, Port Perry, ON. and  Safekeeping: Work in Textiles and Paper. David Kaye Gallery, Toronto


Which is your favourite fibre medium?

I like combining techniques, especially relief print and embroidery on linen, cotton and silk and sometimes I stitch on paper. I use mostly DMC and Anchor embroidery floss and commercial threads but I also use a variety of silk, linen and cotton threads that I have collected or been given. The last few years I've been using a range of found fabrics and you'll notice handkerchiefs in images of work such as Labyrinth #2 and Breathe Deep. Vintage trims, lace and table linen find their way into some pieces. I use Japanese and Florentine paper but am not adverse to using paper from a wide range of sources, whatever fits. I've collected quite a stock of unusual papers from vintage ephemera to a range of contemporary papers. I like a particular handmade paper I order from Quebec. 

Embroidery as a drawing tool combined with text and assemblage in a book format is also a favourite method of working.



Book of Sewing, 2008, Relief print, drawing embroidery, vintage sewing, xerox transfer, pigment, sewing pattern paper & lace, papers, textiles.  72 cm x 8.5 cm, World of Threads, Common Thread 2009 exhibit.

Book of Sewing (detail), 2008, Relief print, drawing embroidery, sewing, xerox transfer, pigment, vintage sewing pattern paper & lace, papers, textiles. 72 cm x 8.5 cm, World of Threads, Common Thread 2009 exhibit.


What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

When developing new work I draw. I draw from nature, particularly plant material and I draw technically or abstractly for print designs. When planning a piece of embroidery, I sketch it first. I sketch in my notebooks and refer back to these periodically to refresh my memory of ideas. I also knit and sew for practical reasons.


Book of Gray  (detail of cover, book in box) 2005, Mixed media accordion fold book in box, with handmade paper, wool, cotton, silk, other paper, laser copy, cotton thread, ribbon. Including embroidery, relief printing, drawing, appliqué, sewing, weaving, and folding. 9 x 106 x 0.2 cm, Art of the Book 2008  Touring exhibition and catalogue.

Book of Gray, 2005, Mixed media accordion fold book and box, with handmade paper, wool, cotton, silk, other paper, laser copy, cotton thread, ribbon. Including embroidery, relief printing, drawing, appliqué, sewing, weaving, and folding. 9 x 106 x 0.2 cm, Exhibition and catalogue - Art of the Book 2008

Breathe (installation view, back of work), 007, Silk & metallic embroidery, drawing,  vellum, silk, paper, Florentine paper, lace, pins, in aluminum stand made by Allan Bell. 24cm W  x 4.5cm D  x 25cm H, Hard & Soft: Metal and Fibres Now. 2007  Lafreniere & Pai Gallery, Ottawa


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

Discovering Paul Klee (b.Switzerland) and Sonia Delaunay (b. Ukraine) early on in my studies at Sheridan College had a significant influence. Delaunay, a strong female artist bridged the world of fashion, design and painting in a timeless modernist aesthetic. I poured over her work learning that bold strokes of simple pattern were powerful. While Klee in contrast, offered intricate detail, mastery with colour and an intimate scale combined with a playfulness; his work excited me. I experimented with both approaches, bold and detailed and to this day I still look at their work and feel inspired.

'What is really essential, really productive is the Way—after all becoming is superior to being.'
Paul Klee

The Dadaists, in general, are a source of ongoing curiosity and influence in their seemingly off the cuff surreal compositions, the originality in their recycling of material and everyday objects, the anti-war edict and their follow no rules theory. What resonates with me is the quirky juxtaposition of contrasting imagery, the subliminal messaging or actual insertion of text, and the use of everyday materials and objects. Work made with thought provoking thought. 


Dream #3, 2007, embroidery, cotton, cotton thread, in vintage sterling silver Lunt tooth box. (box - MA, US) 3.5cm W x 4cm D x 5cm H, Reminiscence, Kent Farndale Gallery, Port Perry, ON and Safekeeping: Work in Textiles and Paper. David Kaye Gallery, Toronto


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work? 

I was lucky to see the exhibit Prismatic Eye: Collages of Anne Ryan (b.Hoboken, NJ, USA) at the Met in NYC last year. Having discovered her many years ago it was a happy coincidence to see many examples of her work and be able to photograph them. Bonus — they showed a few of Karl Schwitter's collages alongside as she sited him as her influence to begin collage. I'm drawn to the painterly quality of her fabric pictures and like their diminutive nature and simple abstract composition.

Louise Bourgeois (b. Paris France), in particular her prints and her fabric works intrigue me. I especially admire her small fabric collages, an extensive series of works, each titled 'Untitled'. She has reused domestic fabrics in simple pieced compositions. I recently looked through the book Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works. I had a hard time putting it down. Check it out!

If you can make the trip to DIA in Beacon NY you will surely find the space and presentation of the modernist collections completely satisfying. I wanted to see the installation of Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman, Blinky Palermo and Sol LeWitt in particular. The scale and peacefulness of the shrine-like atmosphere is most memorable. Sol LeWitt's subtle but monumental wall drawings, Agnes Martin's Zen-like studies of precise line and repetition and Robert Ryman's white paintings make non-colour and delicate precision feel like PERFECTION. The work is like permission to stay pure and true. Then Blinky Palermo wallops you with brilliant colour (and precision) and you feel so very happy.

Many contemporary artists inspire and interest me. There's an enormous and varied crowd of makers and the web makes it possible to feast your eyes on their work! I'll mention some that come to mind and elaborate on a few. 



Installation view -  Safekeeping: Work in Textiles and Paper, David Kaye Gallery, Toronto. 2008


What other fibre artists are you interested in?

Marian Bijlenga's (Dutch) works in an additive process where she organizes tiny stitched marks or fish scales or twigs into pattern-scapes that transcend structure; they appear to effortlessly float on the wall. Her techniques vary depending on the material. Sometimes the fragments seem to be pinned to the wall, sometimes sewn together first in a delicate web. Other times the parts are disconnected but form a resolved pattern, the connections invisible. The work interests me, the dialogue about connection and disconnection.

I admire Ke-Sook Lee (Korean), for her exhaustive and innovative work with thread. I'm interested in thread as a drawing medium, for patterning and making connections.  Lee's work uses stitching in large format installations in a quiet natural palette. I'm intrigued with the scale and the suspension of her work, the way the pieces float.  



Her Diptych, 2009, Embroidery, relief print, drawing, thread, paper, pencil, pigment, vellum.  38 x 31 cm, Multiplicity, Ontario Crafts Council Gallery, Toronto. 

His Diptych, 2009, Embroidery, relief print, drawing, thread, birch bark, silk, paper, pencil, pigment, vellum. Multiplicity, Ontario Crafts Council Gallery, Toronto.


I look to Lynn Whipple (USA) for her humour and a freedom and whimsy in her use of material and figures.

Dorothy Caldwell (Canadian) is an inspiration. She is so calm. She continues to make work that I find inspiring because each piece I encounter is a story I read very carefully. I learn from that.

Judy Martin (Canadian), because she is an insightful writer and searching artist. I find her blog eloquent and soothing in this rushed world. She's got her priorities straight....work, work, work, nature, people and family and not in any particular order.  

Maija Isola —Marimekko (Finnish), has been a constant. Providing a background, the ground-breaking contemporary textile design from the beginning, giving me confidence that print can be important, smart and recognized worldwide, a motivation to take silk-screen seriously.   Isola's work, notably her iconic poppy print Inikko, resonates with the power a motif can hold. Her daughter Kristina has followed in her footsteps.

I discovered Sophie Digard's (French), crochet quite by accident. I'm in awe by how she combines tradition, exquisite craftswomenship and a refined attention to detail and colour. I have a closet fetish for fine crochet work and hers is superlative. I notice Selvedge magazine's website has her work available for sale, a great place to view some of her work. I especially like her delicate floral and leaf necklaces which are unfortunately not pictured there.



Hope with Yucca Pod, 2008, Mixed media, 20cm W x 28cm H, Reminiscence, Kent Farndale Gallery, Port Perry, ON


Tell us about your studio and how you work:

My studio is in our wonderful old house. I have three distinct work areas. There is an airy top floor room that I love, where the walls are filled with shelving to organize and store the myriad of supplies, tools and materials. There is a large work table in the centre that can have up to four work stations, as I often have several pieces ongoing in varying stages of process at any given time. I work in the round in that room, able to circulate around the generous table. Good task lighting is a must and I also employ two magnifiers. I have a good sound system but listen mostly to CBC radio or enjoy the peace and quiet, in my thoughts.

The office and industrial sewing equipment share another room with my library and pressing station, one floor below. I also have a less than pristine print area in the lower level with a washout sink. I use the stairs a lot! At times I press into service a long dining room table for cutting or assembling larger works. I dream of having a spacious studio on one floor, like the 2000 sq. ft. studio I once had in the 80's.


Pollen, 2007, embroidery, cotton thread, silk satin, in vintage Liberty jewelry box. (box - American), 12cm W x 7cm D x 8cm H, Hard & Soft: Metal and Fibres Now. Lafreniere & Pai Gallery, Ottawa, 


What role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art?

Many contemporary artists incorporate cloth or a textile technique into their work, particularly stitching. In some cases I don't consider the work 'fibre' art but it certainly creates a bridge across mediums. Conversely textile/fibre artists are also mixing mediums, creating sculpture and making installations. Ultimately I appreciate art work for its meaning and integrity rather than whether it's paint on canvas or print and stitching. The murky labeling debate continues—is it art or craft or design? I am immersed in all three worlds and would not denigrate one over the other. I prefer to co-exist amicably.



Safety Lessons  (end view, egg in sheath) 2008-10, egg, pigment ink, organza, sewing, 21cm L x 15 cm diameter, Eros From Chaos: The Contemporary Erotic, Lafreniere and Pai Gallery, Ottawa.

Safety Lessons  (full view, egg in sheath) 2008-10, egg, pigment ink, organza, sewing, 21cm L x 15 cm diameter, Eros From Chaos: The Contemporary Erotic, Lafreniere and Pai Gallery, Ottawa.

Safety Lessons 2008-10, (book, box and egg in a sheath), Japanese paper, drawing, pencil, ink, map, embroidery, hanky fragment, perforation, organza, egg, other. Book 36 cm x 7 cm. Box 10 cm x 9.5 cm x 1 cm Egg in sheath 21cm L x 15 cm diameter, Eros From Chaos: The Contemporary Erotic, Lafreniere and Pai Gallery, Ottawa.


Which World of Threads Festival/s have you exhibited in?

I participated in 2007 and in 2009 I was awarded an honourable mention.


What was your motivation for submitting your work to the World of Threads Festival?

For several years I had wanted to submit but I was so busy. Then the last few years I shifted my focus to develop more exhibition work, so I entered more shows when I found I had enough work to circulate.


Town #1, 2008, relief print, embroidery, cotton and cotton thread, in vintage Elco bracelet box. (box - American) 20cm W x 4cm D x  8cm H - when open, Safekeeping: Work in Textiles and Paper. David Kaye Gallery, Toronto

Ten  2007, embroidery, linen, cotton thread, in vintage Bucherer bracelet box. (box - Swiss) 20cm W x 4cm D x  8cm H - when open, Safekeeping: Work in Textiles and Paper. David Kaye Gallery, Toronto

Four Seeds, 2009, Embroidery, thread, silk, in vintage Ganeshi Lall & Son bracelet box. (box - India) 20cm W x 4cm D x  8cm H - when open, Multiplicity, Ontario Crafts Council Gallery, Toronto.


Where do you imagine your work in five years? 

I mentioned dreaming about having a spacious studio on one floor so if I let my imagination go, I see myself in a naturally lit white walled studio with many works in process, a website by then, my blog to share the work and stretches of uninterrupted time to research, think and make. I might like to be doing portraits but that's just a hunch, I doubt if I can wait five years to start these faces. I'm not good at predicting where my work will take me, but I know for certain I will always be exploring clothes and the body.


Trunk Diptych, 2009, embroidery, perforation, thread, paper, 38 cm x 31 cm, Multiplicity, Ontario Crafts Council Gallery, Toronto and Fibreworks '10, Cambridge Galleries, Cambridge, ON


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Relief printing with a hand cut block. Shirtwaist print. 2011. Various other fabrics in the background.


A work in progress. Stitched and perforated paper.