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Circle of Memories 2 -2009, machine and hand stitched felt, 10x42


Detail: Fragments of Nostalgia, 2008.



Artist: Gordana Brelih, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Interview 20: Gordana Brelih exhibited in the 2007 and 2009 World of Threads Festival exhibition Common Thread International Juried Exhibition Part 1.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Gordana Brelih studied at the Academy of Applied Art and Design in Belgrade. She immigrated to Canada in 1991. Following a successful career in fashion design, Gordana discovered quilting in 2002.   After receiving a strong grounding in traditional quilting she began experimenting with different techniques. These experiments cultivated a devotion to all forms of quilting and a love of hand-embellishment, free motion embroidery and machine piecing. She has put hundreds of hours into her work, stitch-by-stitch, adding lustrous threads, beads and non-traditional materials like paper and metal. Her art takes on a life of its own. In 2010 she received the Grand Prize at Threadworks and Curator's Choice Award at The Grand National. Website


Artist Gordana Brelih in her studio.


Tell us about your work?

My work is like the tip of an iceberg. So much is hidden in my life's story. Born and educated in Serbia, I came to this country eager to learn English and to expand my training in fibre art. I began as a fashion designer but my love for textiles led naturally into fibre art.  Technically I am an advocate of mixed media, willing to experiment with every medium that comes my way.  There are an incredible number of possibilities to incorporate into a piece of work and I not only use them all, but I invent more. I paint on fabric, I burn it, I do free motion embroidery with my sewing machine, I hand stitch, I bead, and do collage. I use photographs, paper, rust, bottle caps, and the list goes on and on. What happens is that I begin with an idea and it carries me far into the night.  I have a passion for hand stitching, for using a heat gun on felt, for thread painting. I love superimposing layer on layer, working with fragments.  My art background has a tremendous influence on everything I do. Above all, I cherish the freedom that is possible in all my work.


Circle of Memories 2 -2009, machine and hand stitched felt, 10''x42''


From where do you get your inspiration?

I start working with the sense of colour, making many small fibre pieces that can be put together, connecting with the border or having colour, traveling from piece to piece. I have a couple of books open next to my sewing machine and I let my imagination travel from the image to my needle and thread. I don't try to make sense and tell a story at this point. I just play.

The book "Folk Art of Asia, Africa, Australia, The Americas" is a good source of design and ideas for stitching. When I start putting fibre pieces into a story, I connect them with beads, French knots, bleached fabric or burned Tyvek. As I studied costume and fashion, I find inspiration in beautiful embellishing that can be seen on costumes throughout history.


Fragments of Nostalgia, 2008, Machine and hand stitched felt, beading 36''x37''


Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

Since my childhood I worked with fabric.   Soon after I moved to Canada, I started to work as a fashion designer for a Toronto based manufacturer of ladies wear.  I discovered quilting in 2002, after the birth of my daughter. But, I always wondered if there was more to it than just putting pieces of fabric together.  A workshop with Penny Berens opened my eyes.  I started experimenting with fabric, using different techniques and I never looked back. I love stitching on bubble wrap, water soluble film, felting, embossing, hand stitching, beading and burning. I use an embellisher to get texture on felt.  I'm multi focused. I paint, stitch and bead as well. Everything is creative and they all belong together.


Orange Flower Pod 1,2,3, 33"x 8"each 2011. Machine stitched felt, embellishment stitched on water soluble film Photo: Lily Markovic


Which is your favourite fibre medium?

My favourite fibre medium is painting fabric, stitching, burning felt and Tyvek and then embellishing by hand.   It gives my fibre pieces an aged and antique look. I love to make fairly large wall pieces, appliquéing extraordinary fragments in such a way that the whole becomes a mystery. I would not like to be limited to just one medium, as I indulge in the freedom of mixing them up in a delirious mosaic of colour and shape.


Steps of Time, 2009. Triptych- Monoprint on paper, stitched and burned felt, 10''x24'' (2), photo by artist



What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

At the time when I started stitching, I also started experimenting with mono-printing on paper and on fabric. I can say that when I'm printing, I use stitching elements and when I work with fibre, I collage my fabric the same way.   I tear and collage my paper. Printing on fabric to make an original cloth makes my work unique.


Circle of Memories 2, 2009, 42" x 8" 2010. Free motion stitched felt Photo: Lily Markovic


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

The artists I studied in Serbia laid an ethnic foundation to everything I do. I am inspired by many artists. Flower patterns on fabric and wallpaper from William Morris are my constant inspiration.

As I work spontaneously without knowing how the finished products will look, I let my piece talk to me and take me from first stitches to more intriguing and meaningful form. I don't stop the process. I let the images fly to my sewing machine. If for any reason I'm not happy with the outcome, I put a piece aside to be used in the near future.

As I had to finish my piece for Threadworks in less than two weeks, I used all my little treasures and collaged them on black felt. And, "Tree Leaves" was born. It was exhibited at the Wellington County Museum, at Archives where I received the Grand Prize.



The Beast, 2006. stitched bubble wrap, machine and hand stitching, 24''x30''



What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work?  

Since coming to Canada my interest in fibre art has increased dramatically. Books, the web and workshops with highly trained artists, have made a terrific impact and I have added this to the art that I learned as a young girl. Tradition and history is the base for my inspiration.

A big influence on my work is Sybil Rampen. Her work and way of thinking, her approach to life and art, have helped me to develop as an artist. She opened my heart. I visited Joshua Creek Studio in 2006, when I took a workshop with Sybil. We burned fabric over hot coil to get different shapes. Hand stitching was applied afterwards. I learned a lot from Sybil. I burned paper and bits of silk, I stitched wild cucumber and much more. She was very generous to share her knowledge and after many years, I'm honoured to call her a friend. We share good times and she is also there whenever I need her advice. She is very supportive of my work. She guides me and encourages me to strive for more.

Canadian textile artist Joanna Staniszkis from British Columbia, with her original techniques and unconventional use of materials; Dorothy Caldwell and Sandra Meech are my inspiration to get better.


Help me Find my Way, 2007. 30"x90" photo by Courtney Gibson


What other fibre artists are you interested in?

There are many artists that I occasionally "study". I'll just name a few: Alice Vander Vennen, Alice Kettle, Julia Caprara...and why do I love their work? It must be the colour and texture that sets their work apart from others. Alice collages fabric and found objects. Alice Kettle and Julia Caprara's work are stitched by hand. This is very similar to, and at the same time, so different from my work.


Steps of Time, 2009. Triptych- Monoprint on paper, stitched and burned felt, 10''x24'' , photo by artist


What role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art?

It's nice to see some big fibre names in our galleries and museums. Fibre art is finally getting recognition.



Strong and beautiful, 2010. Monoprint on fabric, machine stitched felt, 27''x60'



Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I have a small but very creative space in my house. I try to be organized. When I work, I like to be surrounded with fabric pieces, thread, books, drawings, so it gets very messy very quickly. I paint my fabric, Stitch Witchery and paper. I go to Joshua Creek studio to take advantage of big tables, printing press and a beautiful garden, where I dry my fabrics easily. I burn my felt and Tyvek in a garage. I work best late at night, with music on. My ideas are coming quickly so I work on a few pieces at the same time.



Angel, 2010, Stitched and burned Tyvek, 8''x10''


Where do you imagine your work in five years?

As I gain experience and recognition as a fibre artist, I feel confident to show my work internationally. To follow my dream, I would like to see my work exhibited back home, in Serbia.

I recently began to experiment with printing my fibre work onto acid free paper with pigment at the Joshua Creek Studio, and then I combine it with fibre work, to get a unique and one-of-a-kind piece. I always challenge myself with the question: "What if...?" I work on a few pieces at the same time as my ideas are coming. So it's hard to imagine my work in five years, but for sure, I will keep striving, I'm not going to stop.


Circle of Memories, 2006. 29"x39" photo by Dean Goodwin


What was your motivation for submitting your work to the World of Threads Festival?

I challenge myself to enter a few shows. 2007 was my first year of exhibiting my fibre work. I didn't get into the main show but it gave me the confidence to enter other shows.


Dreaming, 31"x22" 2011. Machine stitched and burned Tyvek, machine stitched on water soluble film and couched by hand, Photo: Lily Markovic

Detail: Dreaming, 31"x22" 2011. Machine stitched and burned Tyvek, machine stitched on water soluble film and couched by hand, Photo: Lily Markovic


Is there anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?

I had an amazing last couple of years being part of the Outdoor Art Exhibition and exhibiting with Connections fibre artist group.

In 2010, I received the Grand Prize at "Threadworks" which was held at the Wellington County Museum and Archives in Fergus, Ontario (WCMA). "Threadworks" is a juried exhibition that is mounted every three years and travels across Ontario to many museums and galleries, showcasing creative needlework by artists from across Canada. This time the theme was "Trees". WCMA proudly act as host, sponsor and support the inaugural exhibition, and act as the organizing venue. My entry, "Three Leaves" was made as a triptych. I collaged pieces of painted stitch witchery, hand stitched felt and united them with machine stitched trees. I was surprised but very happy to receive my first Grand Prize.

Also in 2010, I received the Curator's Choice Award at The Grand National. The Grand National Show "Off the Wall" took place at Homer Watson in Kitchener, Ontario. My entry "Give me a Chance" is a three-dimensional piece that hangs from the ceiling and it is also a triptych. My work was inspired by a friend whose life fell apart. I machine and hand stitched, felted and beaded on felt, for this piece.

As part of "Fiberworks" Kingston, Ontario, I gave a workshop "Transformation in Tyvek" in October 2010. Hillary Scanlon has invited me to give another workshop for them in 2013.


Orange Flower Pod 2, 2011, Photo: Lily Markovic



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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.


Three Leaves, 51"x34" 2010. photo by Rick Kowalczykowski .

Bags, 2009. Machine and hand stitched felt, 12''x16'', Photo: Courtney Gibson.