Like many artists, Kate Bridger draws inspiration from her surroundings.
Since 1994 — when a cross-Canada move from Northern Ontario landed her here in Nelson — those surroundings have been our city streets, heritage homes, lakes and forests. All things Bridger has spent countless hours in front of her sewing machine stitching from fabric and thread.
Her new artbook The Fabric of Nelson is a compilation of more than 80 local scenes she created, each taking an average of 60 hours to complete. She stitched the view from the deck of her Uphill home, old cars spotted at the Queen City Cruise (her favourite annual event), downtown shops and cultural hubs like the Capitol Theatre, and lots and lots of heritage homes.
Looking at the pictures reproduced in the book, it can be difficult to tell they were created with fabric. Bridger is a master at layering materials of different colours and textures, and shading areas with her sewing machine stitches to create depth in her images.
For the Nelson collection, everything is created by machine — no hand stitching — and she doesn’t add paint or other pigments to the picture, all the colours come from the fabric.
“For me to feel like I’ve created a ‘pure’ piece of art, it all has to be done with only fabric and the sewing machine. That’s the challenge I set for myself,” Bridger explains. “People ask me why I don’t just paint the pictures, but that’s not my art. My art is fabric.”
Bridger learned the technique at a workshop on free style sewing back in Ontario. At the time, as a mother of small children, most of the sewing she did was following basic applique patterns, but during the workshop the instructor briefly demonstrated a method of “scribbling” with the sewing machine, which she realized looked a lot like shading with a pencil.
“After that I started experimenting with trying to recreate pictures of places I’d been,” Bridger says. “It was a lot of trial and error and happy accidents. Some of my favourite things in the pictures are things I did by accident.”
The move to Nelson provided her with plenty of inspiration, as well as opportunities to sell her work. From 1997 to 2006, Bridger ran the Redfern House and Gallery, where she sold home furnishings, gifts and artwork, including some of her own. She is also regularly commissioned to create portraits of people’s homes.
Over the years she’s taken photographs of all her original artwork before it’s sold. These photos are what she used in The Fabric of Nelson. Some of the pictures, snapped before the days of digital cameras, aren’t as crisp as others, but Bridger likes the variation.
“It just shows how long I’ve been doing this and how much technology has changed in that period,” she says.
Alongside many of the picture in the book, Bridger has included some information about the area and what it means to her. In an effort to capture the essence of the city in 72 pages, Bridger stitched nine new images of iconic places and events that she hadn’t immortalized in fabric — including the Kootenay Pride parade, a couple enjoying the view from the Gyro Park lookout, and the burned remains of the Kerr apartment building.
Some of these new works are currently on display at Touchstones Nelson as part of the holiday gift shop. Copies of the book are also available there.
Touchstones will also be hosting a book launch for The Fabric of Nelson this Thursday, December 5 from 5 to 7 p.m. Bridger will be on hand to sign copies and Re-lish will provide light snacks and refreshments.
The artist sought several local sponsors to help publish the book and would like to acknowledge the support of Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, Valhalla Path Realty, Prestige Lakeside Resort, Nelson and District Credit Union, Rel-ish, Snowpack, Dancing Bear Inn, and Touchstones Nelson.