By day, Ontario, Canada resident Tania Denyer is a legal assistant and a mother of two. But in her spare time, she makes quilts (and smaller “quiltlets”) that riff on food and what’s in her kitchen cabinets. She’s always been a “maker,” with a passion for illustration. But 22 years ago, when she was 27, a co-worker brought in a quilt block with a tea-cup design to work. Denyer, who calls herself “a hipster before hipsters were cool,” was entranced. That same co-worker, seeing her interest, signed her up for a quilting class. Denyer remembers thinking, “How hard can it be?”
While Denyer had done a little sewing before, quilting was an entirely different world. The only thing that kept her going, Denyer says, was experimentation. At first, she depended on other quilters’ patterns before she began to make her own. Then, instead of using patterned fabrics, she switched to solid colors, using them “in the same way as a painter would use paints.” She cites Henri Matisse’s cut-outs with colored paper as an inspiration, and often cuts her fabric free-form before constructing her quilts and quiltlets.
In the end, it all comes down to art, though. “I do get frustrated by the perception that quilts are not art, that they are merely craft,” she says. “If a sculptor uses marble, a painter paint, why can’t a quilter use fabric as her medium and be considered an artist too?” Her focus on food as a primary subject ties into expanding the definition of art as well. Especially because women textile artists and cooks have been long overlooked. “To my mind women have been making art from their homes forever,” Denyer says. “Food is a key part of women’s art.”
With that in mind, many of her smaller quilts are designed to hang on the wall rather than drape over a bed. Fittingly, she was recently the artist-in-residence at the Cotton Factory in Hamilton, Ontario, a former cotton mill that’s now a co-working space for creatives.
These days, she’s especially interested in certain foods. One recent quiltlet featured a vintage spice bottle (Denyer has always been fascinated by food packaging) and another, larger quilt displayed an arrangement of Japanese sweets, with designs made by herself and fellow Canadian artist Geri Coady. While showing a quilt at QuiltCon (“Yes, there is a QuiltCon”), she took a photo of a diner breakfast that she now will recreate in fabric. “Even simple diner food is art too.”
Denyer is currently planning to render a series of vintage spice bottles in fabric, all while pondering the concept of abstract food art quilts. But she’s kept up her illustration work, too. (One recent series of drawings highlighted food packaging, especially Canadian stalwarts such as Five Rose Flour and Windsor Salt.) The goal, she says, is to combine her two passions into one, and someday become a fabric designer.
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