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31  Milena Radeva

30  Rochelle Rubinstein

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26  Bettina Matzkuhn

25  Valerie Knapp

24  Xiaoging Yan

23  Hilary Rice

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5  Cynthia Jackson

4  Lorraine Roy

3  Christine Mockett

2  Amanda McCavour

1  Ulrikka Mokdad


A Map of the Creative Process (for Tourists), 2009, 150cm w x 140cm h, fabric paint, hand and machine embroidery


The Adjectival Coast, 2007, 132cm w x 112 cm h, fabric paint, hand embroidery






Artist: Bettina Matzkuhn,
Vancouver, British Columbia Canada

Interview 26: Bettina Matzkuhn exhibited in the 2009 World of Threads Festival show Common Thread International Juried Exhibition Part 1. For the 2012 Festival she exhibited in De rerum natura (On The Nature of Things) at the Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre in Oakville, Ontario.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Bettina Matzkuhn has worked in textiles for over thirty years with an emphasis on embroidery and fabric collage.  She holds a BFA in Visual Arts and an MA in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University.  In the 1980s she animated and directed three award-winning films using textiles for the National Film Board of Canada. An interest in narrative continues to inform her work. She exhibits her work nationally and internationally and she gives talks and workshops in conjunction with her exhibits. Matzkuhn also writes professionally on the arts and teaches as a sessional instructor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Website


Artist, Bettina Matzkuhn, photo: Amona Ra


Tell us about your work?

I focus mainly on hand embroidery and ideas around narrative. I tend to work in series of images that together tell a story. I want my work to be about something whether it is a specific scene/place, a metaphor, or a way of looking anew at something we take for granted. I want my work to be accessible to a wide variety of people, but also to generate ideas.



Torrent, 2003, 150cm w x 150cm h, Hand embroidery, appliqué, fabric collage, fabric paint.


Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

My mother and grandmothers always knitted, sewed clothing, and mended cloth so it is like growing up with a language. It just seems normal to use it. People have asked why I don't paint -they think it would go faster and make more money -which may well be true. But I feel very invested in the fibre medium, in its tactile qualities and I feel part of this historical and contemporary community.


A Map of the Creative Process (for Tourists), 2009, 150cm w x 140cm h, fabric paint, hand and machine embroidery


Which is your favourite fibre medium?

I embroider, but appreciate the myriad variations within the discipline.


The Cryptic Sky, 2007, 55cm w x 66cm h, fabric paint, hand embroidery

Night Vision, 2007, 53cm w x 66cm h, fabric paint, hand embroidery


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

Drawing is essential to my work -for planning, but also to record something with sensitivity and attention. In old sketchbooks, I can tell where and when I made drawings whereas I can't say that about photos. But, I do take many photographs as a way of recording reference images and to practice working on elements of composition.

I write professionally on the arts. This is a way of promoting and celebrating other artists. I think it is also important to keep up writing skills as every artist needs them for writing press releases, grants, exhibition proposals and so on. Writing is also a way to articulate my own ideas to myself.


Vortex, 2007, 48cm w x 61cm h, fabric paint, resist, hand embroidery, appliqué

Cross Currents, 2007, 48cm w x 61cm h, fabric paint, resist, hand embroidery, appliqué


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

I saw a small, old Japanese embroidery decades ago. It represented a scene within a forest. I felt like I could smell and feel it. The thread shone, the details were extraordinary and textures of the forest floor were entirely credible. I think detail and texture are critical in my work and while I can't recall this piece exactly, the sense of it remains indelible.

I admire: The Bayeux Tapestry as a narrative on a grand scale and a textile tour de force; Caspar David Friederich for his evocation of the sublime. Academics may argue about this now, but I find that his fascination with landscape rings true for me. I would like to take him hiking around Vancouver. Kathe Kollwitz for her simplicity of line and sheer depth of emotion. Paul Klee for his wit and textile-like sensitivity. Emily Carr for her devotion to her work and love of place.


Alighting, 2002, 95cm w x 165cm h, Fabric paint, fabric collage, hand embroidery


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work? 

Ayako Miyawaki, again a Japanese artist, works with remnants of cloth to make appliqué images. They are very unpretentious, elegantly simple: a bunch of leeks, or fish or strawberries. I have a book of her work I refer to when I need to centre myself.

Alex Colville has been with me since elementary school. I admire that he never changed his work to be fashionable or trendy. I find in his paintings the great mystery of human/human and human/animal relationships. They are like novels, rich and complicated. I take inspiration from this ongoing inquiry. Faith Ringgold works with paint and textile. She is lively and fearless.


The Territory of Blah, 2008, 111cm wide x 47cm high, hand embroidery on cotton/linen dyed with tea


What other fibre artists are you interested in?

Canada has many exceptional artists in this medium and I enjoy them all. In British Columbia, Ruth Scheuing, Lesley Richmond, Yvonne Wakabayashi, Barbara Heller, Jean Kares and Eleanor Hannan are dedicated and accomplished artists that have been very generous in discussing their work with me and in giving me feedback on mine.


Legends, 2008-2009, 50cmw x 250cm  (each legend), fabric paint, hand and machine embroidery, Photo: Bettina Matzkuhn.


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

Fibre is simply raw material in contemporary art, used for its association with gender and its material qualities. It is a productive vein. It is a way to speak about being human as fibre is familiar to everyone. Even in traditional craft circles, techniques are constantly evolving and mutating, carrying new significance as they do.

I work traditionally, by hand, but I try to pay close attention to how my work is presented, a reflection of my time as a BFA student at Simon Fraser University.


Road Signs: Hazard, 2003, 79cm w x 100cm h, Hand embroidery, appliqué, fabric collage.


From where do you get your inspiration?

Ideas are cheap and plentiful; it's refining them to something concise, thought through and well made that's challenging. Part of my practice is to create imagery that focuses on experience of place-journeys near and far. Other series have examined more difficult subjects such as The Sewing Machine Story which deals with my ambivalence around my German heritage, or Inundation which depicts flooding as a metaphor for emotional upheaval and irreversible change. My series of embroidered maps spring from an affection for maps and extensive research. They are an expression of internal geographies.

I am currently working on a series of twelve foot tall embroidered sails-they will be large and three-dimensional. I grew up around sailboats and this body of work is in memory of my late father. It speaks about the importance of knowledge of the natural world-knowledge gained from individual experience as well as knowledge compiled within a community.

I collect images, from trips, from newspapers/magazines, from the internet. I am a bibliophile and read both fiction and nonfiction-often taking notes. My inspiration comes from the wider world, not just from other artists. I think I am both a visual and verbal thinker.


A Map of the Ocean ,2006, 144cm x 117cm, fabric paint, hand embroidery

A Map of the Ocean (detail)


Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I have always worked in a spare room at home. It seemed more convenient when my children were small, when we were broke, when I was a single parent. Now I live alone, but I like having this room nearby in case I have a bright idea. Perhaps someday I will have a "real" studio. I have a regular part-time job that covers bread and butter. I also feel it gives me the freedom to explore and experiment on work towards an exhibit in a public gallery rather than pieces specifically for sale.

It often takes years to work through ideas to begin a series and then more years to actually make them. I draw/photograph, keep a working sketchbook which includes notes from research and ideas and questions I want to address, make samples, talk to my peers about all this and finally produce pieces for exhibit.


The Bike Trip Map 1998 (finished 2006), 240cm w x 60cm h, fabric paint, fabric printing, photo transfers, hand embroidery., AND The Bike Trip Spool 1998-ongoing, 10cm w x 2300cm long, dyed fabric, ink drawing, hand embroidery, wood and plastic stands.


The Bike Trip Spool (detail)



Where do you imagine your work in five years? 

It will take me a number of years to complete my sail project. I have also been reading (in conjunction with this project) about weather and I expect I will continue to study this. I don't know what form it will take.


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

I wanted to be counted in the textile arts community beyond British Columbia.



Yours/Mine, 2008, 90cm x 109cm (35.5" w x 43" h), fabric paint, machine and hand embroidery, linen overlaid with organza.




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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.


Wind Embroidery 1, 2010, Hand embroidery, cotton and silk on linen, 20cm w  x 26cm h, photo: Bettina Matzkuhn


Wind Embroidery 2, 2010, Hand embroidery, cotton and silk on linen, 20cm w  x 26cm h, photo: Bettina Matzkuhn