Thursday, 18 April 2013

Monika Kinner-Whalen

There is a delightful young woman who lives in Saskatoon.  She is taking the nation by storm with her detailed landscape fibre art.   Her love of  her country becomes evident when Monika puts camera, needle and thread together.  Her blog is an overload of colour and talent.  It is a total thrill to have interviewed  such a talented and wonderful young woman!

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

 My name is Monika Kinner-Whalen.  I live in Saskatoon SK with my family of 5.  I've been an active part of our local quilting guild for almost 5 years.  I'm a juried artist with the Saskatchewan Craft Council, and a member of the embroiderer's guild as well. 

What got you into this type of fibre art? 

 I was raised by a landscape artist who couldn't sew.  That's my story.  I grew up on an acreage right across the tracks from a grain elevator.  Summers were spent at the lake.  I know my subject matter like the back of my hand.  I just never loved using paint.  I preferred needle and thread.  So for a long time, art was a hobby and sewing was a hobby.  Three years ago I was given a Quilting Arts magazine.  I had never heard of such a thing - my entire brain re-filed and I sewed my first art that day.  I've been going strong ever since. My transition from quilter to artist happened via Postcards.  I fell in love with these little projects, and the happiness they bring people.  I've been offering Creative Quilted Postcards Workshops for 3 years now.

Explain   how you go about constructing a piece.  
 My main body of work is my thread-painted landscapes.  They are free motion stitched and hand embroidered on canvas.  All are based on my local surroundings.   I don't trace or use templates - I just stitch 'by sight' with photos nearby.

Is all your work from your own photographs?
 Being raised by an artist gave me a VERY strong sense of respect and etiquette for the art and artist.  It was drilled into me from a very early age never to copy anyone else's work EVER.  Not even a picture in a magazine. That would be breaking the 11th commandment and I would surely go straight to you-know-where.  The only photo exception is with commissioned work, but even then I ask for permission from the original photographer.   Sometimes I work with no photos, but when I want to get the true depth and distance in a landscape, a real image helps SO much.

So yes - I only work from my own photos.  I spend a lot of time photographing scenes to stitch.  I love driving down dirt roads in search of pretty things. I have THOUSANDS of personal photographs to work with.

You do threadwork and embroidery on your fibre art, tell us about the embroidery?  Is there only a few stitches you use?   
 My machine stitches are mostly straight stitch, grass stitch, or zigzag.   Not a lot of other stitches will work for free motion embroidery.  My hand stitches are what I call 'freestyle'.  Ultimately, my goal is to use whatever stitch will be most effective in resembling what it is I want to convey.  If it will look better done by hand, then that is what I will do.  I take no short cuts.  So, grass needs long straight stitches.  Dots of flowers may be seed stitches.  I love to fill a canola or flax field with French Knots.  I make things up as I need them - wrap once, wrap twice, wrap three times.   I've used Sorbello stitches for buffalo beans.  I don't have formal embroidery training - I try to learn as much on my own as I can to broaden my choices.  Double knot stitches, long and short stitches, couching, herringbone... There are a LOT of stitches out there!

Tell us where this fibre art has taken you.
 Oh my - where hasn't it taken me?  It's crazy really.  It's my day job now.  It pays the bills.  I pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming.  'Paid to sew?'  I thought that was just a silly fantasy.  I couldn't be happier.  My work has been purchased and commissioned from all around the world (thanks to the internet).  I had a Wearable Art piece accepted into the NJS, and that was the first time I'd ever entered anything.

 I've won awards for my art, and cash prizes for my photography as well.    I've been invited to do many public presentations to guilds and groups.  I've been invited to teach creative sewing to adults and children.  I'm doing fibre presentations in public schools now which is so very cool. 

 I am already booked into 2015 to teach nationally, and to curate a provincial art exhibit.  Truthfully, none of this would be possible without a strong presence on the internet.  That's how you get seen these days.  I was scouted for national magazines and recently had images of my work prominently published in Mastering the Art of Embroidery by Sophie Long in the U.K.  My head is spinning!  The possibilities are endless.

What is your greatest accomplishment with your fibre art?   

 My greatest accomplishment...  right now this solo exhibit I'm preparing for in the next province over is a pretty big deal to me.   Having A Needle Pulling Thread magazine and Janome America ask me to be profiled as an artist... that meant so much.   My Prairie Dress - it has a life of its own.  It was accepted into an exhibition with the Saskatchewan Craft Council, it went to Halifax for the NJS, and then later the provincial craft council used it for the visual in their ad in a national art and craft magazine. 

 I would also like to add that I've been published several times in Quilters Connections and A Needle Pulling Thread magazines.  I wholeheartedly support Canadian businesses as much as I can and encourage readers to do the same.   I have my own blog and also founded a blog called The Needle and Thread Network (TN&TN) that links Canadian crafters together with weekly WIP's and interviews of talented Canadians.

Do you have your own studio to do your work and how many hours a day do you spend on it?
I work full time.  You can find me there on weekends, late into the night, and all day too.  It's a big sunlit room with a vaulted ceiling in my home.  My three kids go to school right across the the street and come home for lunch every day, so I like that I can juggle motherhood and career like this.

What is your favourite food?
 Vietnamese or Korean food.  Salty, fresh, and gluten free. ; )

Truly a pleasure finding out about Monika and we will look forward to see where she goes next!


  1. Great article/interview! I am loving these meet the artist blog posts. Congrats to Monika on her creativity and thank you to Jackie.


  2. How awesome to read this interview with my favourite fibre artist. Monika totally awes her viewers with her detailed stitching, precise expression and artistic eye; such talent! Wishing you all the best Monika, with your Winnipeg exhibit.

  3. I found the article interesting as it delved into how Monika got to be where she is an artist. The statement Monika makes, 'It was drilled into me from a very early age never to copy anyone else's work EVER.', speaks volumes to me as to the originality of her work. Awesome!

  4. What an interesting interview! I want to see more of Monika's work after reading this. Thanks for interviewing her, Jackie.

  5. Thank you very much for such a fun opportunity Jackie! : ) I really appreciate all your support. Thanks everyone for the comments too! ; )

    ~Monika K.
    Sewing in Saskatoon...

  6. Great article, Monika! Still waiting for you to come to Calgary for a workshop - I'd love to learn your techniques. Have the hand embroidery thing down, but those free motion machine stitches, that's another thing :) Really enjoy your art and blog.

  7. Monika's work is simply stunning. I now have a new blog to follow and a new book to order (Mastering the Art of Embroidery). Thank you Jackie, for introducing me to another wonderful Canadian artist. I feel that by doing these interviews, you're helping to build our artistic community. Can't wait to see who you interview next!