Finishing School: OCADís Evolving DNA 2008 by Monica Bodirsky PDF  | Print |  E-mail

A Q & A with a few of this years’ Fibre graduates from OCAD

In the last several years, the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto has changed dramatically. Currently under the watchful eye of innovative president Sarah Diamond, the former ‘art college’ has been transformed into a degree granting university complete with liberal studies and a newly created masters program. Diamond’s vision for the future is very much driven by the need to train students to contribute to cutting-edge design and sustainable solutions for a world going ‘green’.

At this year’s graduating student exhibition “Evolving DNA,” I had a chance to speak to four talented fibre majors in OCAD’s Material Art and Design Department. The following Q & A sheds some light into these four new textile artists and their personal vision for the future.


Adrienne Shields is a fibre student who loves to weave and spent her final year at OCAD creating fabrics made from a variety of sustainable, natural fibres. Shields is a cheerful perfectionist with an eye for subtlety.

Alexandra Veilleux, another weaver, created large scale natural fibre weavings with a twist. She specialized in the woven shibori technique which allows for heavy fishing line woven into the fabric which when pulled creates a myriad of patterns after the fabric has been dyed. Veilleux, is a thoughtful and studious worker whose patience seems tireless.

Jenna Dahl, a third weaver, also has an eye for detail, but prefers to work with a dyed and painted warp and ikat technique. Her work is dazzling and Dahl’s need for experimentation and eye for unique patterns is stunning.

Kat O’Shaughnessy, an artist and clothing designer, not only spent her final OCAD year combining complex notions of technology and textile into her body of work, but also kept her inspired fashion creations on the runway.


Together all four of these up and coming textile designers and artists are entering a world currently re-defining itself. While many refuse to argue the notion of arts versus crafts entirely, the world of textiles is as complex as it’s creators. These enthusiastic graduates will no doubt contribute to and hasten its evolution. Here, in their own words are their thoughts on graduating and the world of fibre.


Kat O’Shaughnessy,  Cybersentimentaly 35 ( I2 X 12 framed )  weaving 


M. What do the four of you plan to do now that you’ve graduated? 

Adrienne: Now that I have graduated, I plan to pay off debt (of course) and I am currently working to do so, as well me and 2 of my friends are thinking of starting a business.  We are all weavers and thinking of coming up with a one of a kind production of eco-friendly, fashionable, contemporary scarves that we would sell at shows and possibly some retailers. I am also interested in industry and designed textiles for function in interiors so the scarves could also be throws. 

 Alex:  I've got a part time job 3 days a week so that I will still have time to weave. I'm trying really hard to keep the part time job part time. So that I don't loose focus from my own work.

 Jenna: Honestly, I don't know.  Everyday I change my mind about what I want to do now.  Going to school and doing well at OCAD has been my goal for four years and now that I've accomplished this I am trying to give myself some time to let everything sink in.  I don't really know what my next step should be.  I suppose I'll let inspiration take over and follow my instincts.

Kat: My plans are constantly shifting… currently, I'm taking an extra couple of courses this summer I never had the time to while completing my degree (photography, bookbinding and ceramic mould making).  I also plan on working on a series of garment commissions (mostly wedding dresses) and website designs (it pays the bills!) In the near-ish future, I hope to help found a new fine craft co-op in Toronto – it's about time a new studio is available for contemporary artisans!

M: What is it about fibre or textiles that attracts you?

Adrienne: I love linens, sheets, duvet covers and that is what got me interested in fibre.  From there I became interested in texture, touch, function, contents that make up our day to day uses and love of functional fabrics.  I also love the structure and make up of textiles I look at a yardage and I think of so many things such as architecture, nature, and the movement of the cloth interests me too.

 Alex: I like the way that textiles need to be touched to be appreciated.  I don't think that there is enough touch in the art world.  Also with weaving, I was very drawn to the labour intensive process of it. It makes me appreciate the end result more and I find it very satisfying.

Jenna:  I love the feel of textiles, the colours, the range of techniques, choosing materials, dyeing, setting up a loom, weaving; everything is tactile.  It's a sensual experience.  I also enjoy the feeling of constructing and using textiles in everyday life. 

Kat: Fibre and textiles attract me by their tactility- there is something so inherently 'real' and 'essential' about them that I can't find in the canvas & acrylics.  Working with my hands is something I simply feel I need to do, and textile techniques remind me of my early childhood, crafting costumes and décor items at my mother's side (she is a spinner, weaver and seamstress).  My ecological side also keeps me in fibre/textiles – as much of my work is made from recycled materials, which in the form of textiles and paper are VERY easily found.

M: Where do you see yourselves in relation to fibre and textile; as designers, artists, or both?

 Adrienne: I see my self as a designer; I want to create functional beautiful textiles for people to enjoy on a day to day basis.

Alex: I've always been more interested in the art side of things, but having been forced to take general design classes at OCAD, I do feel that I have a good understanding of the design side as well.

 Jenna:  I want to spread my appreciation for textiles.  I think people take for granted the beauty and value of textiles, not to mention the level of difficulty in creating and fabricating cloth.  I'm hoping to up the value of textiles in art and craft by making them accessible to everyone for functional use as well as decorative pieces.  One fantastic thing about craft objects is that they can bridge the gap between art and design.  I'd love to see where that gets me.  Also, I want to research and bring green textiles further into the market.  I think it's a great thing that green products are being recognized more and more. 

Kat: I see myself as both artist and designer.  I often find myself producing ready to wear fashion garments, or contemporary home décor items, while at other times I produce more avant-garde pieces that only make sense in the gallery environment.

M: How do you think the role of contemporary fibre and textiles in art and design are changing? And do you see this as positive?

Adrienne: I feel that the world of textiles is becoming more innovative with materials.  I have been weaving with materials such as soy silk, tencel and bamboo I would like to try new alternative materials that are sustainable and suitable.  I think fibre technology is becoming more innovative and as a result we will see new fabrics.

 Alex: The changes that get me most excited in the textiles field are the new developments being made in yarn.  Like that beautiful bamboo yarns. I love to see textile developments that are both luxurious and sustainable at the same time.

 Jenna: Traditional construction techniques need to be maintained I think.  I see a lot of work that uses new technology almost for the sake of using new technology.  And at the same time there is a trend of representing traditional technique on modern objects.  For example, ikat is a design element on things like dresses, purses and pillows.  The problem I find with this is that most of these fabrics could not possibly be hand made ikat.  They are simply replicas of the technique.  For me, this takes away from the value of hand constructed textiles.  I love artists like Judith Fielder, who uses an old technique and dye method to create contemporary, simple and beautiful woven pieces.  This is an aesthetic that I want to accomplish.

 Kat: I think Fibre/Textiles is a poorly represented and oft-ignored field.  There are loads of marvelously talented artists working with these materials, but they often have to work much harder for recognition and exhibition opportunities.   As far as design is concerned, the mass-production of fibre/textile objects has devalued the process and techniques involved with hand-production.  I feel this is an incredibly negative space/time for these materials – but that's ok.  When you're near the bottom, the only real direction to go is up.

 M:  Has your education and newly acquired Bachelors degree in Design from OCAD prepared you for the field you’ve chosen?

 Adrienne: I think OCAD has prepared me for the challenge of having a creative life, the courses were difficult and they pushed me more than I have been pushed before.  OCAD also opened the door for me to be a creative thinker and now I wont be able to go back to the way I was before I have learned that I can achieve what I want and now I know how much work that will take, this is only the begging of a life of seeing the world differently.  OCAD has taught me that I can be the creative person that I have always wanted to be.

 Alex: OCAD has made an effort to prepare us -- but not enough of an effort. I don't feel that we've learned nearly enough about how to make a living as an artist.  While in the studio classes we have learned to make great art, we never really learned what to do with it after we make it.  In our last year we got one class where all the practical information was condensed and shot at us with lightening speed.  I would have been much better to have the information eased in from year one.

 Jenna: OCAD has opened my mind to many possibilities in the fibre arts realm.  I was able to try a bit of everything and see the potential in different techniques.  I think another great thing about OCAD is the resources that we have, in faculty, equipment and other things like printing services and the library.  I can't say that OCAD has prepared me for the field I've chosen, but it has certainly contributed to my learning about how to think freely, openly and to always look, question and push things further.  This is a great thing I think and what I feel I've gotten the most out of being at OCAD.

 Kat: I'd love to exclaim positively that OCAD has me completely prepared for the world of art and design – I've been a well-known 'cheerleader' for the school on many occasions… but really, I don't think any school can prepare you for the reality of the art world.  Due to the state of flux the school is currently in, with changing programs and requirements, I think they did the best they could – but I'll be searching out as much professional advice as possible throughout my future endeavours.

M: What do you think is the biggest misconception about material arts and fibre?

 Adrienne: Some people seem to think that ‘craft’ means hobby... to me craft is beautiful and tactile...a whole experience, some people think it’s grandmother stuff... I don’t know the same people who don’t take craft, art, materials seriously are the ones who brag about their acquired art or their expensive rug....to me its all the same thing, a beautiful object or something that you love is important whatever it is.  I guess the misconception is that material art is different from any other kind of art.

 Alex: That we sit around knitting and darning socks.  Most people I talk to think of textiles as only a practical application and not an art form.    

 Jenna: I just don't think that people outside of our field understand the possibilities that are available in material arts.  Being a jewelry artist doesn't mean you only make wedding rings, ceramics doesn't equal cups and fibre doesn't lead to being a fashion designer.  There really isn't enough around for the "outside" world to begin to understand what goes into making objects.  We all take for granted that things are just made.  But when you really consider this, throughout history, objects have been designed and handmade by people.  Production has changed but it was the original artist, you could say in a way that lead to how objects are seen and used.  There isn't enough connect to the hands anymore I don't think.

Kat: The biggest misconception about material arts, I think, is that the majority consider them "homely crafts".  People think of scrapbooking, tea cosies and summer dresses.  The idea that "anyone" can create material art and that it's a dime-a-dozen field.  Terribly sad… and frustrating!

M: What advice would you give to someone interested in studying textiles or becoming a fibre artist or designer?

Adrienne:   if you catch the bug of creativity, then do all you can to make it part of your life. (That would be my advice)

 Alex: I would tell them to either go to OCAD right now, while the program still exists and is still very strong, or to check out NSCAD. As the future of material art and design at OCAD is looking pretty grim, since the closure of the ceramics program.

Jenna:  Have passion, work hard, experiment, research, focus on what you love and it will make you feel fulfilled and challenged always.

Kat: I advise current/future students in the field to keep going.  Try new things! Be adventurous and follow your inspiration – no matter how few others 'get' what you're doing.  One day people will understand the value in what we 'fine craft artisans' are up to.   


Monica Bodirsky is a Toronto textile artist with a Bachelor’s degree in design from OCAD. She has exhibited at *new* Gallery, The Gladstone, AWOL, and the Toronto Outdoor Art Show, was editor of the Native Canadian newspaper, written articles for Lonely Planet, and several other publications. When not creating art or writing, she plays the djembe


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