Cathryn Miller, “In Winter”

Image of In Winter when wall-mounted.

Detail of a section of In Winter.

Close-up showing stitching.

Image of In Winter at gallery opening.


Cathryn Miller
515 Gabriel Road
Grasswood, Saskatchewan, Canada

In Winter
2015 (completed April 5)
paper, thread; paper cutting, embroidery
140 pages
30 x 86
30 x 4.25

In recent years my work has frequently combined cartographic and textile typologies with non-codex book structures. This is a melding of my life-long interests in books, maps, and textiles. All of my works are autobiographical in the sense that they are reflections of personal experience.

In Winter is about a sense of place, a sense of belonging.

My partner and I have done a number of walking and cycling holidays in Britain. We enjoy the slowness of the process: travelling at foot or cycle speed we meet the country on local terms. We meet individuals and have personal conversations in a way that the tour-booked tourist doesn’t.

About ten years ago we went on a walking holiday around the Yorkshire Dales. We stayed twice at The Thwaite Arms in Horsehouse, Coverdale. On the second occasion we had a conversation with the landlord’s wife. She commented that many people found the high moors around the village to be dark and forbidding, especially in winter. She then described her own feelings, and her sentence stayed in my mind for a decade.

“I wrap the hills around me like a shawl.”

I cannot remember anyone else in my life saying something so wonderful about where they live.

The sentence kept itself in the back of my mind until it was ready to be something else: it turned out to be something large and complicated.

The piece is a map and a shawl and a book.

The design was created by combining the contour lines and water courses of a topographic map of Coverdale and environs with two geometric grid patterns. The grids evoke the local stone-walled fields, stone field barns, and stone houses with their small-paned windows. They also recall, together with the stitching, the types of lace patterns often produced using traditional domestic textile processes.

The colour scheme was chosen to represent winter: pale blue for sky and becks (streams); pale fawn for the faded grasses, sedge, and bracken; shades of white for clouds and Dales sheep and snow (with the occasional faint smudge for coal smoke).

The individual squares for the piece were hand-cut to create a map and a quotation. Details of river courses and outlines of the blocks containing individual letters were pre-pierced, then hand stitched. The piece was assembled by sewing all the squares together using a double blanket stitch. Pins are used to mount the piece since pins are used both as markers of location on maps and for blocking lace after washing. The work folds into an accordion for transport or storage.

There are 140 squares of cut paper in In Winter.  I was asked at the Affinity Gallery opening if my work was like snowflakes. It took a moment to understand the question, but the answer is: yes — no two squares are the same.