Not For Sale
The untold value of ‘a gift’. At 75, Dianne Dykstra, speaks about her key to joy at her exhibition in
Red Brick Art Museum, Edson, Alberta, Canada
By Sujata Devadas, October 16, 2016
She began early
Little Dineke picked up a sewing needle at the age of 8. She is 75 years old now - still sewing and altering for Edson residents, a small town along Highway16, Alberta, Canada.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
From July to August 2016, her incredible craftsmanship in making quilts, dolls, teddy bears, embroidery, knitting and crochet was displayed as the central feature of the Red Brick Art Gallery in Edson. This is her first exhibition. “A lot of people are impressed with my work. President of Red Brick Art Museum, Betty Stitzenberger, knew about it. She asked, I agreed.”
Not for sale.
Endearingly called ‘Dineke’ in Netherlands, she is Dianne in Canada - the name put down by her first Canadian schoolteacher after her parents moved to this vast American nation, responding to Canada’s request for farmers, in 1952. Her Dad, Eilt, was a farmer. Dianne, his eldest daughter, was 11.
After 8 years of school education - 5 in Holland, 3 in Canada - Dianne discontinued schooling to help her mother raise 8 younger siblings. “My Mom sewed all our clothes.” says Dianne “ ‘Idle hands are devil’s tools.’ she believed. Her skill, Mom told us, ‘was a gift from God.’ Her motto in life was to always keep busy.”
Education and upward mobility
As the eldest child, Dianne was allowed to stay up an extra hour during weekends to knit and mend socks for her brothers and sisters. “When the local dry-cleaners needed someone for mending work, I already knew it. I earned money for many years that way.”
But Dianne married a philanderer. Her low education level kept her trapped in the marriage. “I had 3 jobs: at the dry-cleaners, the men’s wear shop and cleaning buildings in the evenings. I was a parent by then. Raising my kids kept me financially dependent on him.” says Dianne. Much later, at the age of 48, she completed up to 11th grade with a 92% average.
“I felt so good.”
Gripped by creative passion
“Sewing was my métier from age 8. With so much fabric around me, I wished to learn something new. In 1996, I bought a quilt magazine. It took over my life. I enjoy quilting so much, it grew on me like a disease. 20 years! Now, my work is in an exhibition.”
“No one taught me” says Dianne. “We had a Bunt Madden shop in Edson earlier though. I worked on one of their projects just for fun and learnt a few tricks. Any work in my hands, I give it full attention. It keeps pointless worry away from me.”
Her first quilt was the fastest. Using the paper-piecing method, it was cut out of blue jeans. “I collected pockets from blue jeans and sewed them on every alternate square of the quilt, adding a label to each pocket. By now, a grandmother, I gifted this quilt to my grandson. He loved it. My two grandkids lay down on the floor, intent on reading the labels. Motivation comes from such simple things.”
Impossible to evaluate
Adept with practice, Dianne now looks at a pattern and quilt, then plans systematic steps towards completion. She never sells her quilts.
“It is sheer joy to tackle something difficult and succeed. Over the years, visitors view my craftwork displayed on the walls of my home and get mesmerized. Raptured by an item or two, they hand me money to own it and take it home. Yet, all my income comes from sewing and alterations. I spend any extra money to cultivate my quilting passion further.” She points to a bulrush quilt hanging in the gallery. “I spent $1200 on making it. Who will pay that kind of money?” asks Dianne, nonplussed.
If passion drives craftsmanship, it has invaluable worth to its maker.
Dolls and teddy bears
Alongside quilts, many dolls and teddy bears decorated the Red Brick art exhibition. “I made it all.” says Dianne. “My childhood was not all drudgery. Television did not exist. So we played outside. I loved playing with dolls and learnt to make them.”
“At the local thrift shop, I found some fur coats and turned them into teddy bears - one each of my two daughters, one for myself. I knitted a fourth one.”
In short, if Dianne sees raw material with artistic potential, her skill surges to the top.
Not a humdrum life - best mileage
Dianne’s craftwork skill spans embroidery, knitting, crochet, doll-making and quilts. “Quilting scenes and cultural motifs of different countries is like eating different cuisine.” she says. Her quilts cover Canada and its wildlife, Chinese characters and motifs, Christmas festivities. Instead of the traditional quilt squares, circular patches are used in making a yoyo quilt - one she just completed. Next “BIG” quilt is on mountains.
Alongside, Dianne is drawing inspiration from a profuse set of antiquated quilt blocks found inside an old trunk, currently on show in a United States museum. A lady began a quilt pattern in 1866, but did not finish it. Fascinated, a museum visitor wished to photograph the quilt blocks displayed in the museum, but was denied permission. Unfazed, she drew it all on paper. Compiled into a book and published, Dianne finds it very challenging. “Some of it must be sown by hand; others can be done by machine. Interesting if you have the right frame of mind. It can take a while.”
“When I quit learning, I’ll be dead.” says Dianne. “Life is a learning experience. Enjoy it. People tell me ‘It is raining relentlessly. It all looks glum. Aren’t you depressed?’ I reply, ‘Above the clouds, the sun is shining. ‘ That is how I lift myself. Be optimistic to get the best mileage out of life.”
The secret of joy
“Canada has been very good to us.” smiles Dianne. “But you must contribute to the local community for it to reach you. No matter which country is home.”
Sitting at the top of 75 years of living, Dianne is healthy, eats a variety of food in moderation. She sews and alters 2 or 3 orders at Edson each day. “Then comes my hobby. Lately, I play on my IPad in the evenings.” she says, laughing at her own playful spirit.
For 14 years, she sang gospel music at the Seniors Lodge every Monday evening. She stopped that just recently. For the second time, she is leading TOPS - short for ‘Taking Off Pounds Sensibly’. She still works at the thrift shop, “now reduced to once a month.” She was a regular visitor at the Toronto Creative Festival, registering for courses there, accompanied by her sister, Sylvia.
“Find a passion. Pursue it. That is the secret of joy. Worry less. Live a longer, happier life.”
’Love a skill. Learn it. Use it.’
“Staying active helped my mother through pitfalls in life.” says Dianne. “My brother, her eldest son, died in the war. Our home in Netherlands was bombed. But she stayed active with fortitude. Here in Canada, she was still solving English crossword puzzles in the Edmonton journal a few months before she died at age 96.”
“All my craftwork show what I made with most of my free time. But I have friends who have nothing to show for that same time period - nothing at all.” Dianne notes. “Call it our family motto if you like, it helped my daughter Edith while she underwent medical treatment for cancer. Far from caving in, she remained active at her quilt shop.”