My Faded Laundry

15th June 2023

First published in Inspirations issue #111 in March 2021, written by Ansie van der Walt

‘All the words and symbols I stitch have meaning to me. It is also a way to evoke a feeling in the person looking at the piece.’
~ Carol-lyn Jackson

For Carol-lyn Jackson, words and threads are her way of expressing emotion and feelings about life, love, loss, memories, belonging, and home. Growing up as the oldest of four siblings, raised by a single mother struggling to get by, Carol-lyn remembers moving around a lot. ‘Always in the same city, but from house to house. Everything always seemed very unsettled.’

Regular Saturday outings to the library and attending church and Sunday school were rare moments of joy and stability. ‘These experiences inform the use of words and symbols in my work today. I use words about searching and longing for home. The symbol of the cross represents a time when I felt at home somewhere – a sense of belonging. No one else in my family was creative. The only creative time I can remember was when, as a young girl, I worked on writing a book. I have no memory of what the book was about.’

For many years Carol-lyn owned an antique store and vintage clothing store where she loved sourcing things, planning the displays, and doing the research. She also managed the wardrobe for a local theatre company and designed a clothing line. All these ventures confirmed her love of antiques, fashion, and textiles. ‘I have a love for the worn, discarded and shabby, and an appreciation of history and the past.’

Looking for a creative outlet that might also create some income, Carol-lyn started upcycling some of the pre-loved clothes from her vintage clothing store. Her embellished denim jackets and skirts soon became a favourite. ‘This started my collecting bits and pieces of fabrics, lace, doilies, and clothes I could recycle from thrift shops. I did all the sewing and embellishments by hand which added to the appeal.’

As a born-and-bred Canadian, it was Carol-lyn’s move to Mexico that set her on a new creative path, inspiring her to create new works instead of just upcycling existing clothes. The different climate meant her denim creations were not as popular, and in her quest to find something else to sell at the market, Carol-lyn stumbled upon the idea of sock-dolls. This soon evolved into her, now signature, old-fashioned-looking ragdolls dressed in simple clothes. ‘Once they are done their names just seem to come to me. In my mind, they have a story first, and then the name comes.’

Interestingly, as the dolls became simpler, so did Carol-lyn’s stitching. It also inspired her to start creating new work in the form of small collages. ‘I found I enjoyed working on these small artworks and telling a story. From there I just simplified further by using stitching on mostly plain linen. I wanted to see what I could say with less…’

Carol-lyn’s favourite colours to work with are pink and indigo blue, gravitating towards a soft vintage palette. Her cotton embroidery threads mostly come from thrift shops. ‘Generally, I make do with the colours I have, but I recently bought a few interesting new colours, and it was a treat. Yet, I have found that I mostly enjoy stitching with black as it is stark and simple.’

‘I am not good with having a set plan for a piece. It will start with a colour, or a word, or a symbol, but I never know how something will turn out. Sometimes I will be inspired by a painting, or a movie, or something I have read. I have a notebook that I use to jot down ideas or things I have read that touch me. I do not use a hoop and I use secondhand needles. I am sure some of this comes from my childhood and my later life of making do. I did buy a cute little pair of scissors though. I am very much into reusing and reclaiming. I am not interested in perfection and find charm in the used and the shabby, pieces with a history and a story – the philosophy of wabi-sabi.’

Simple stitching allowed Carol-lyn to process words she heard growing up. ‘Where are you going? Why can’t you be more? Try to keep up. Please wait, I’ve been trying to follow you. These phrases all go back to my childhood. My mother always found me lacking and she was not very kind to me. When I think back, I just feel immense sadness for that young girl…’

Carol-lyn moved back to Canada but her time in Mexico changed her work, evolving from creating upcycled clothing to the art stitching she does today. ‘Living in Mexico gave me a lot of time for introspection and I feel I started to work through some of my memories by stitching them onto cloth.’

After years of working as a part-time artist, selling at markets, in her Etsy shop, and through Instagram, Carol-lyn now considers herself a full-time artist. ‘Shockingly (to me!), I am now old enough to receive a pension, allowing me to dedicate myself to my art.’

Connecting with her customers gives Carol-lyn immense joy and satisfaction. ‘At the market in Mexico, a woman came by and bought three pieces for her three daughters who were graduating from university. She wanted to buy them something meaningful that would speak to each one personally. She came back several times and finally chose the pieces. The following year a woman came to the market and said she was a teacher and wanted to purchase something for a special student who was graduating. Again, she took her time and came back twice to make a choice. A few weeks later the original woman came by to tell me a story. It turns out the teacher who came to buy for her student was the woman’s fourth daughter! So, the whole family loved my work!’

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Carol-lyn loves doing research, and looking for one thing often leads to a journey of discovery. Collecting art, walking the dog, collecting pebbles, sticks, or rusty bits and pieces always inspire new ideas. And words. Always words. ‘I’ve been thinking about how they no longer teach cursive in school. I love good handwriting and calligraphy. I bought some antique letters written by soldiers during WWI, and I have some idea brewing regarding old fashioned writing transferred to fabric. With stitching, of course…’

‘I have read that Capricorns are old when they are young, and young when they are old. I believe that describes me.’ Maybe, just maybe, that young girl from Carol-lyn’s childhood is still working on her book. This time, using vintage memories and simple stitching to write words on cloth.


>Instagram: @myfadedlaundry

>Etsy: FadedLaundry

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