Bettina Matzkuhn learned to embroider as a child. She uses thread and fabric to explore stories about nature, geography and memory. Her work has taken many forms: embroidered sculptures, maps, interactive projects, and animation that incorporates textile processes. In the 1980s, her three animated films for the National Film Board of Canada –using textiles– garnered awards. She has participated in residencies in the Yukon, Saskatchewan, Banff Centre and Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland. She holds a BFA in Visual Arts and an MA in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University. Her work is exhibited across Canada and internationally, and held in public and private collections. She writes professionally on the arts, lectures, teaches and volunteers.
I grew up around sailboats on BC’s coast, and hike in many corners of Canada, hence a love of charts, maps, symbols and landscape. My interest in local ecologies represents an ongoing learning. I study landforms, vegetation and weather for their histories, portents and metaphoric potential. A sense of passage is important to me. I see embroidery as a miniature trail, a pathway performed by the fingers rather than the feet.
My process includes research, photography, test samples and drawings I make before beginning and during the making itself. I experiment with a range of materials, for example, bootlaces, cut up gore-tex, repurposed items along with more traditional fibres such as silk, cotton and linen. I synthesize these disparate elements towards textile work that is aesthetic, ambiguous and open to discussion.
Hand embroidery is a slow, sedimentary process, a versatile language I’ve used since childhood. I learned sewing skills from my mother and from my elementary art school teacher. I often print, stain or dye the cloth I stitch on. I use a sewing machine to construct sections or to anchor collaged elements while handwork is reserved for the intimacy of detail. The sheen, colours and textures of my materials convey opulence. For me, there is nothing more opulent than the natural world.