Christine Alexiou: The artist's toolbox
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These aren't your grandmother's quilts.
Christine Alexiou is turning the very notion of quilting on its head. The Markham resident creates intricate nuanced pieces of textile art that draw from a number of different art forms. In fact, a single work easily reveals more than a dozen techniques, each of which is a craft in its own right.
The artist traces her passion for sewing back to Grade 7 and her first home economics class. She was a natural at it and was soon making her own clothes. Later she studied at the Ontario College of Art. She worked in educational publishing as an illustrator, graphic designer and art director.
Now a full-time artist, she says needle arts and textiles bring all of her deepest loves together.
“Fabric has always been my first love, because of the texture and tactile nature,” she says. “Every quilter and fibre artist will tell you: we're fabric-a-holics.”
The artist's current focus is hand-painted whole cloth and appliquéed art quilts. While all of her work can be categorized as fibre art, only half is technically quilts. Quilts have three distinct layers: a front piece, back piece and a layer of batting in between, all stitched and bound together. With fibre art, there's less worry about what the back of a piece will look like. They're often framed and displayed on a wall.
Alexiou does everything herself from start to finish, including the remarkable, detailed embellishments that are all done by hand.
“To me the needle is like using a pencil, it's like drawing,” she says.
She admires the work of North Carolina textile artist Hollis Chatelain, as well as California quilter Sheila Frampton Cooper. While their approaches may differ from hers in style and tone, they definitely share a love of colour.
Alexiou excels at creating exquisite pieces from humble materials.
“Very often I like to use recycled stuff that would normally end up in the garbage,” she says, citing drain covers, washers, cheesecloth, plastic wrap, brown craft paper, silk rag remnants from saris and even the mesh bags you buy onions in at the grocery store as examples. “All of these are everyday materials you'd have no idea you could transform unless you tried.”
She likes the effect rusting objects have on fabric. Often she'll use pieces of rusted metal, wrapping them in white fabric and placing them in a solution of water and vinegar for a few hours. The patterns left behind form the beginnings of a great abstract piece.
While she may occasionally worry people think she's crazy for stopping to pick up bits of rusty metal off the street, she is otherwise quite comfortable pushing her chosen art form forward.
“I'm not interested in typical bed quilts,” she says. “I want to show things that are more art-related. I have to be true to what I feel and want to express.”
Last year Alexiou entered the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. The annual show draws more than 50,000 visitors and features quilts from all over the globe, including Australia, Europe, Africa, China, Japan and South America. She submitted an ambitious project that took her almost three years to complete—the Seven Deadly Sins, illustrated and in quilt form. She wasn't even sure it would qualify for entry. Not only was it juried in, it went on to win one of the show's major prizes.
Alexiou currently teaches fibre art at the Markham Guild of Village Crafts.
“We start out with a piece of fabric and then we play with it,” she says. Fibre art pieces evolve and grow as you work on them, she explains. “It's a challenge. There's mystery. You don't know what it will be until it's done.”

For more information on Christine Alexiou and her art, visit christinealexiou.com.

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