Playing With Dolls: KayTor, Sheridan Textiles PDF  | Print |  E-mail

Kay Tor

I have an embarrassing confession to make: I was one of those kids who played with dolls well into their teenage years.  Combine an active imagination with crippling social awkwardness, work them through an agonizing adolescence and you get a human being with the makings of either a disaster or a career in the arts.   I like to think I'm moving toward the latter, but early on the road was bumpy and the doll thing didn’t exactly help matters.

 Looking back, there were certain images that, as a child, left indelible marks on my inner workings.  Most vividly among these was a photograph from explorations of the sunken Titanic. Eyeless and skull-like, the bisque porcelain head of a child's doll gleamed eerily from the muck of the Atlantic floor.   There was just something about that head, and about the exquisite creepiness of dolls in general that led me to Sheridan's Crafts and Design Program with the intent of studying ceramics.

 You see, my discovery of fibre art began as an afterthought, an additional bit of studio time filling empty space in a timetable.  I was certain that ceramics was the way to go and dreamed of filling rooms with my own personal porcelain army.  The tactile quality of the clay, the laborious process, the potential of shaping raw mineral into something like and unlike the human form was what fuelled my early enthusiasm for the program, despite the advice of one of my Surface Design professors, Isabel Stukator, to take Textiles.

 Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, my love of clay turned out to be strictly theoretical.  Despite the exceptional teachers of the clay studio, the program's early emphasis on functional rather than sculptural forms, and a process with very little personal reward, turned my attentions toward my filler studio.  In short- throwing threw me.   It was a significant lesson and one that was painful to learn, but I came away from clay knowing that if you can't enjoy the process, then the potential of the end result just isn't worth it.

 Kay tor

In the Textile studio, magic didn't happen for me until the day I learned to felt.   Here finally, was the immediacy I was seeking.  Felt had all the tactility  and sculptural potential of clay without the cold dead weight, or the anxiety of trusting something I had shaped to the will of the kiln.  There was just something about coaxing disparate fibres into a sturdy whole that made the process itself rewarding.  I was in love.  

It seemed that if Felt and I were meant to be, that I should introduce it to My Doll Thing.  I started out wet-felting directly onto wire armatures which created stylized figures with spindly tapering extremities.  I absolutely loathe spindly forms, which in a perverse way, made these early attempts fascinating and visceral to me.  I started to experiment with different types of armature materials and vary my process.  Multimedia was a big part of these early explorations, as I would incorporate bits of scrap cloth and objects that were readily available in the Textile studio like T-pins.  There was something about adding just one significant splash of colour to an otherwise monochrome piece that excited my imagination.

The Material Exploration class, taught by Monica Bodirsky, was especially formative.  Monica knew exactly the right questions to ask, helping me pull imagery from my subconscious like a string of colourful magicians' hankies. She encouraged me to build up my collection of little felt dolls, teaching me about the collective power that small, intimate objects can have when  shown in great numbers. 

I continued to experiment with my process throughout the program, and used felt to indulge in another lifelong passion, headdresses and hats. 

In Year Three, we learned how to spin, which taught me to enjoy wool fibres in new and exciting ways.  For one particular piece, I spun dyed wools and then threw them in boiling water to felt them for added strength, afterwards sewing them onto a headpiece inspired by traditional Aztec and Mongolian costume. 

It was exhilarating to explore all the varied possibilities of wool, particularity how beautifully it works as a ground for surface work like stitch and bead, but eventually I returned to my dolls, using needle felting to create my most detailed human forms to date for my graduate piece, Rapture.

Coming away from my education at Sheridan, I feel ready to put myself out there, whether it is through Gallery installation or by sharing my love of felt online, at craft fairs, and eventually in boutique shops   More importantly, the time I spent in school  made me feel truly fortified by the collaborative spirit of the Fibre Arts community.   It was just really nice to finally meet people who don't judge a grown-ass woman for playing with dolls.

You can follow Kaytor through her blog at mightykaytor.webs.com


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