The flowers, leaves and dragonflies that fill Mary Vanson’s garden regularly make their way onto her clothing.
Vanson’s latest floral creation, a delicately quilted and embroidered vest called Flower Power, won the top prize for excellence in original wearable art in the Canadian Quilters’ Association juried show in St. Catharine’s, Ont.
This was a wonderful surprise for the accomplished Red Deer quiltmaker.
Although Vanson regularly wins prizes in local quilt shows, she had never before entered the national competition.
In fact, the 75-year-old said she didn’t even know about the event until other quilters saw this vest and persuaded her to enter it.
While talented people from across Canada submitted works to the St. Catharine’s show, both of the pieces Vanson entered were accepted — including a lap quilt she designed with an underwater theme, featuring mermaid, fish and seaweed.
She admitted the ocean scene was her favourite of the two works.
But it was her vest, with its subtle green shades, hand-embroidered insects and free-style, machine-stitched flowers and foliage, that came out on top in its category. Vanson won a sewing machine and sewing table.
“I don’t follow anyone’s patterns. It’s strictly my original design,” said the quilter who came up with the idea from what she observed in her own yard and from a trip taken south of the border.
“I didn’t do much planning, my (quilted) garden just grew and grew!”
Nature is a reoccurring theme in Vanson’s work, as she’s always enjoyed and found comfort in the outdoors.
She recalled her dismay at returning from the Ontario show to find her basement flooded with a half-metre of water and watermarks on family heirlooms. In the midst of the stressful mess that entailed stripping everything out of her basement, she saw a butterfly outside her front door.
It fluttered around her for a while, then made a reappearance outside her living room window. “After seeing that, I kind of thought, things are going to be OK . . . ” she said.
Vanson grew up in the Markerville area to parents of Norwegian and English descent. For as long as she could remember, the women in her family kept their hands busy with knitting, sewing and embroidery.
“My mom, sisters and aunts made clothes and knit sweaters. They were always mending or doing handiwork,” she recalled.
As a tribute to their skills and talents, Vanson made one of her most personal and impressive quilts.
Its three panels feature her maternal and paternal grandmothers and her mother engrossed in various projects.
All three detailed scenes were inspired by family photos, so the wall hanging changes from black, white and grey on the left to marvellous colours by the time it gets to her mother’s depiction on the right.
Vanson, who has two grown sons, grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, often takes her designs from photographs.
A series of smaller wall quilts feature her and her husband having fun at various vacation spots.
She also quilts using Norwegian patterns, and even quilted a footstool in her living room to match the leaf patterns in a store-bought armchair.
But her creativity doesn’t stop at needlecraft.
Vanson has made inlaid bowls out of burled wood, and carved faces out of wooden buoys. She knits, has created three-dimensional doll-like Norwegian gnomes, called Tomtin, and embellished wooden eggs and boxes with Norwegian rosemaling designs.
“I like detail, and if I see something, I like to decorate it,” she said.