Karen Dueck's art is not what you'd call ordinary. She has only been
working at her craft for a year, and already her pieces are attracting some
attention. She works out of her home and at her studio at 123 Woolwich
Street, and is represented by Harbinger Gallery in Waterloo. "I've been
there since Christmas. They have been very encouraging about my work, and
are always saying 'we need more stuff.' My problem right now is with
production, not with selling."

Karen makes art objects and jewellery out of handmade fabric. The
materials for her art work come mostly from recycled materials. She buys
old items of clothing from thrift shops and cuts them up into the much
smaller pieces that she needs. Even though these pieces come from the 49
cent table, "sometimes I can't stand cutting them apart", she tells me.
Her studio is full of things that she uses for her art. A whole wallboard
of necklaces, bowls of old earrings, boxes of ribbon. One ribbon in
particular catches my eye, embroidered Inuit sleds and dogs on a white
background. She picked that up in the Arctic when she was living there.
"The Inuit use it to finish their parkas", she tells me. "People know I
look for glitzy things, and they bring me what they find; things they see
in a store that they know I'll like, or things they have lying around that
they'll never use and are too pretty to throw out." The box of crayons are
intriguing. She sometimes uses shavings from the crayons to make her
fabric. When she irons the fabric, as she always does when she finishes a
piece, the shavings melt to become part of the fabric.

Karen got started making fabrics when she took a fabric workshop at the
Embroiderers Guild where she is a member. "I've always been interested in
textiles; I've always had a fascination with beads. I've been collecting
bits of things for years, and then all of a sudden, in this workshop, it
all came together." She shows me the piece that started it all: a night
sky on a flimsier version of the fabric she now makes. It is surrounded by
clouds, the byproduct of a synthetic fabric that is used to make slippers.
The clouds are covered with netting. "It's the layering of all the pieces
of fabric and glitzy stuff that continues in my current work", she tells me.

Before doing anything concrete, Karen comes up with a colour idea. This is
where she begins. Then she takes a sheet of water-soluble plastic that is
cut from a medical laundry bag, puts all the fabric and "glitzy stuff" on,
uses a machine to stitch it all in place, and then puts another piece of
plastic over top. When she washes it, the plastic dissolves into the
fabric and gives it a metallic sheen.

"I believe you can get your inspiration from a lot of different places,
from whatever is around you. A lot of my inspiration comes from living in
many different places, places where people live in such poverty, and are
creating such beautiful things." Karen's inspiration for being so
resourceful comes to her from her parents and grandparents. "I grew up
watching the way they'd use things, coming through the depression and
everything. I use a lot of recycled stuff, but I'll also spend money at a
thrift shop. I get a lot of my thread from thrift shops, but then I also
keep all the small pieces that are left when I'm stitching on the machine.
I don't waste anything."

She shows me a photo of a tapestry she has just finished. It is
extraordinary, what she has done using little more than her handmade fabric
and her sewing machine. It is an ocean scene with fish, octopus,and sea
urchins, all made from fabric, recycled wire, and beads. It is hanging in
the Guelph Public Library right now, where artists are promoting the Guelph
Studio Tour by displaying their art. Starting in early October, there will
also be a display of each of the artist's work at The Bookshelf. Based on
the ocean tapestry, I wouldn't be surprised if Karen commands a lot of
attention, both on the Guelph Studio Tour and beyond.

Christime Stodart, September, 1998