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Sew Cool 

Blythe Church sculpts retro-inspired objects such as record players and Nintendo games out of felt.

When you first look at Blythe Church's boom box, you'll notice it has all the things a boom box should have, but for a few minor details. It's rectangular in shape, has a handle, knobs and buttons, a cassette deck and two speakers blaring out your favourite '80s tunes. It's also made of fuzzy felt and called a "Sewny."

Church's felted ghetto blaster is currently on display at Argyle Fine Art in The Pitch of the Stitch show. The NSCAD grad started making textile objects last February when she made a felted camera for Valentine's Day for her boyfriend Spencer. "At first he was disappointed when he discovered it wasn't real, but when he realized I had made it," says Church, "the expression on his face changed." That camera took Church, 26, about two weeks to make. Since then she has moved on to crafting mischievous monsters out of old sweaters and creating other felted household items such as telephones, guitars and electronics, including an impressive Underwood typewriter, complete with its trademark projecting keys and intricate mechanical parts.

The Pitch of the Stitch showcases eight of her larger pieces including the boom box, based on a treasured find from Value Village. Church says she likes the juxtaposition of using soft textiles to illustrate objects normally seen as cold and mechanical. "People usually don't pay attention to everyday objects. I like the play of hard industrial, machine-made objects seen as something I've spent a lot of time on."

Adrianna Afford, owner and director of Argyle Fine Art, is a fan of Church's work. She says the felted objects appeal to people of all ages. "You can hear adults giggling when normally they're whispering in a gallery setting." Afford remembers the first time the gallery displayed some of Church's fuzzy sculptures and there was a Canadian Standards Association conference in town. "All these middle-aged people who came to see it were all amused and delighted. The 40-year-olds especially liked her blender piece."

The time and care Church puts into each work is evident. No two are identical since she hand-sews industrial felt ordered from Ontario. Having studied textiles at NSCAD, Church dyes the felt herself and then cuts a pattern while working with the object next to her, using it as a guide. She finishes the pieces by embroidering on details and they can take anything from a few days to weeks to complete. Even though the '80s were a colourful era, many of the plastics and materials used in that decade were browns, greys and tans. As a result, the colour scheme of this series of Church's work is a tad lacklustre. Despite the drabness in colour, Church's pieces more than make up for it in their whimsicality and playfulness. Afford says the show will appeal to those in their mid-20s and 30s because it features '80s retro objects such as the boom box and cassette tapes and a Nintendo Entertainment System. People often do a double-take when they see Church's sculptures because they resemble the real objects so closely.For her next series, Church plans on making more colourful pieces. She has already started amassing old toys such as a Lite-Brite, an Etch-a-Sketch and a Fisher Price stove for inspiration.

It's also important to Church to have people touch her work. Unlike most works found in art galleries, she encourages you to play around with the pieces. "I like watching people look at my work, and I see a lot of people smiling. I like people to interact with the pieces. It's a lot of fun."

The Pitch of the Stitch runs until April 27 along with Give 'er the Gears, a showcase of artist Teresa Bergren's fanciful, functional ceramic sculptures---complete with cranks and pulleys. For more information check out sewnbyblythe.com or argylefa.tk.

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