Unlike many fiber artists who learned to sew from their mothers and grandmothers, Regina Marzlin was surprised to find herself drawn to textiles as an art medium – she didn’t even own a sewing machine! All of that changed when Regina began printing, painting and stitching on fabric to reflect her thoughts in a meaningful way. She found a mentor to guide her and got to work developing her methods that elevate plain white fabric from simple cloth to art.
How long have you been creating with textiles? Why does working with fabric appeal to you?
I started to work with textiles in 2004.I admired the tactile component and the additional linear design element that stitching, by hand or by machine, brings to the overall design.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners. Your purchases via these links may benefit Create Whimsy. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I employ several methods of monotype printing on fabric that are not per se unique but are very personal in that the marks I make are completely my own. So making the fabric is an integral part of my practice. Often, I print in black on white fabric and colour in afterwards, and then combine these fabrics with other fabrics from my stash. I do use commercial fabric, too, but mostly combined with my own surface designed fabrics that I printed, painted and/or dyed.
Who or what are your main influences and inspirations?
I get inspired a lot by other artists, be it textile artists, or artists using other media. Some contemporary collage artists do really exciting work. I also look a lot at ceramic pieces, another very tactile medium with a wealth of surface design methods. As for painters, I admire Paul Klee and other European painters of the early 20th century. Their use of line, colour and value is worth studying.
Do you have a mentor?
I had a mentor for a year and a half some years back. She is a highly successful textile artist who was very generous in sharing her expertise and knowledge in the field. Getting your work critiqued by a skilled artist opens up your eyes. I can highly recommend that approach if you ever get stuck, feel overwhelmed or unhappy with your work or just need some gentle critique to improve your work. The accountability I had towards my mentor made me finish more pieces and be more focused on problem solving, good design and progress. A mentor can help tremendously with all those things as well as teach you a lot. Plus, the relationship can be very rewarding on a personal level. I hope to become a mentor for someone else in the future. I would like to give back and share what I have learned along the way.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Somewhat in between. Mostly, I do have a concept in mind. I often work to a given theme or prompt which requires a more specific approach. So I jot down some words or sentences, maybe a very rough sketch to bring order to my thoughts. After that, I make the fabric required for the piece, and that sometimes looks different from what I envisioned. I go with the flow, let the fabrics speak to each other and I’m open to minor surprises and changes. It’s rare though that a concept will change completely. But I might make a second piece or a whole series if I have additional ideas on how to approach that particular theme.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Studio organization is a lofty term for what actually happens in my house!
I have a small room as my actual studio, where I store most of my fabric and materials, as well as my sewing machine table and ironing board. But it’s really small, so I have another space in our basement, which houses a bigger sewing table with my sit-down mid-arm sewing machine. I also take over our dining area most of the time, as the large table is great for cutting and working on larger pieces. My design wall is propped up in front of my living room book shelf, but these arrangements are not permanent.
I love being surrounded by my work material and works in progress all the time. I find it stimulating and important to be able to see my projects. Most people would think it’s very cluttered, I guess, but I’m not a neat studio person. I like being able to work improvisationally and that means sometimes just combining a lot of different fabrics on the design wall and letting them sit and simmer there for a while. Breaking out of my small workspace enabled me to work larger, which is one of my personal goals right now.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I need white cotton fabric, paint (acrylic, ink, or fabric paint), my different sized gel printing plates and printing material (stencils, stamps, printable objects and shapes). Of course, my sewing machines. As well as lots of hand-stitching threads. My phone camera is a very important tool; I tend to take a lot of pictures of my work in progress to gauge the visual impact of a design. Often, I use the black and white filter in the photo app to assess the distribution of value across my piece. It helps me to see the design clearly and not be distracted by colour. Having enough light and dark areas in a piece is important for its visual impact and overall design, and it is one of my weaker points. So the technology is sometimes very helpful!
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I don’t use a sketchbook for planning my pieces, but more as a learning tool as I note down bits and pieces about composition, or try out a rough layout for an idea. Sometimes I make lists of words that I associate with a given theme to find the right visual approach to visualize it.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I don’t have any music playing while I work on constructing a piece. I find it distracts me and might set the wrong mood. When I feel like I’m having an internal dialogue with a piece, I value silence and don’t want any background noises.
Lately, I started to listen to podcasts or watch webinars while I sit down for extended periods of hand stitching. Mostly, it will be textile and art related content. Listening to other people’s voices while stitching doesn’t seem to negatively impact my concentration on the work. As a consequence of the forced isolation during the pandemic, there is a lot of great online content available now for artists to connect and learn from each other.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is www.reginamarzlin.com. It serves as a portfolio of my work, information about me and my resume, as well as current events like exhibitions. If you’re interested in work in progress, I post on Instagram (@reginamarzlin). I’m a member of two international textile art groups, Cloth in Common (www.clothincommon.com) and Art Cloth Network (www.artclothnetwork.com), as well as a juried artist member of SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates).
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
So far, I’ve lectured and taught locally in my province, but it’s not something I actively pursue. Traveling to teach is still not easy, and so many good online teachers already have this covered. People interested can always reach me through the contact form on my website. I’m happy to get any kind of feedback or requests.
How has your creativity evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new media/kinds of work/ways of working? Has living on three continents influenced your work?
Looking back, I was always creative in a crafty way, dabbling in ceramics and card making and other things. But I never worked with textiles before 2004, when I moved from Germany to Canada. That was a falling-in-love and I let it happen. I was actually surprised by it, as I was never before interested in sewing. I did not learn it in my family or at school, and I didn’t own a sewing machine. It just felt like the right medium to me, so I set out to learn from scratch, without any preconceived ideas, and I taught myself by borrowing quilting books from the local library.
Living in different parts of the world gave me a wealth of visual impressions to draw on. Wherever we went, I tried to get a feel for a place. I walked and hiked and visited local natural attractions as well as cultural institutions, museums and such. I think this was my attempt to get grounded in a new environment, and the inspiration I take from opening up to a new place is a large factor in my work. Also, seeing art in those places, be it aboriginal art in Australia, the masters in the famous European museums, or contemporary art in North America, definitely has had an influence on me. I try to learn about visual arts and look beyond fiber arts to see what artists are currently doing. I love collages, printmaking, abstract art, learning about composition and colour and educating myself as well as I can.
Do you critique your own work? What is your process?
Paying attention to how I use the elements and principles of design is important during the creative process, but oftentimes, that seems to happen almost unconsciously. I try to be mindful of general ideas about good design. Using the phone camera helps immensely, seeing your artwork as a small thumbnail shows the design impact much clearer. The voice of other artists helps; I’m a member of two critique groups where we look at our work in a non-emotional, more objective way. We help each other with design questions and dilemmas.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
Everyone has creative abilities, they just manifest themselves differently. Some people like to cook or garden in creative ways; others write or make visual art or crafts or play very creative games with their kids. I always enjoyed doing something with my hands that involved fine motor skills, and ending up with a finished project. Once I found my main medium, I honed my skills and gained knowledge to make good art in that medium. Connecting with other people through a piece that I created, that expresses something about the world or myself that others can relate to, is very satisfying.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Creativity is definitely an ability that needs to be fostered and exercised. We talk about creative muscle because it needs time and training like other skills.
Set aside the time to do it, and don’t listen too much to your inner critic and you’ll be well on your way to improve and eventually be able to say what you want to say with your art.
And don’t worry about “finding your voice” – if you create something it will always be uniquely yours, nobody else can do it the same way. The more art you create the clearer your style will become, because you will gravitate towards certain materials and techniques that are important to you. That gut feeling about what you like is a good guidance, because it will help to make your art authentic. You just need to be attentive to what you like and not get overwhelmed by a multitude of different styles and techniques.
I love this quote by Amy Krouse Rosenthal: “For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life: pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.”
Interview posted July 2020
Browse through more inspiring art quilts on Create Whimsy.