Mary Pal: Extraordinary Cheesecloth portraits

Italiano (Italian)

Mary Pal is a Canadian fibre artist best known and appreciated for her cheesecloth portraits. Her work has been exhibited internationally, purchased for private collections and museums throughout North America and published in many books and magazines.

Mary Pal work’s has received many awards in international exhibitions, you can find information on the events in which she took part at link below:


34 x 24 inches

Based on a photo by Clint Colbert, with permission

Most recently exhibited with the People & Portraits exhibition:

International Quilt festival – Houston, Texas  2013

Texas Quilt Museum – La Grange Texas , 2014

Festival Of Quilt – Birmingham, U.K.  2014

Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts in St. Bonaventure – NY 2015

1) I often ask this question to the artists I have the pleasure of interviewing: why did you choose to use fabric and threads as a medium for your art?

Like most fibre artists, I have always found fabric and textiles to be alluring! I love the transparency possibilities in silk organza and for texture I turn to linen, canvas, kozo and, of course, cheesecloth. While a painter is limited to applying paint to a hard surface, we have the suppleness of cloth, the ability to add stitch either by machine or by hand to provide more texture, and our fabrics can be painted or dyed or discharged for endless colour combinations. Imagery can be included through processes like screenprinting or stamping or collage … or sculpting cheesecloth. Sheen can be added through gold leaf or foiling or metallic paints or the use of silk. What a versatile medium!

2) Can you tell us something about yourself and your artist story?   How did you start?

I spent most of my childhood embracing one art form after another, and when it came time to register for university, my parents counseled against a B.F.A., insisting I get a degree that would pay the bills … advising that I could pursue art later in life.  That is exactly how it worked out; I became a high school teacher in Literature, Law and commercial subjects and then a stay-at-home mother with three children. But once those jobs were done, I had time to devote to art pursuits and SAQA became both the BFA I never got to take and an endless source of guidance in Marketing and promotion.  Life is too short to have regrets, so I now make the most of every day and revel in the moments I have to create art.


36 x 46 inches

Hand dyed cheesecloth sculpted with PVA adhesive , machine stitched with monofilament thread to hand painted cotton canvas , soft mounted on felt

First place winner of People’s Choice award at Fibre Content exhibition at Art Gallery of Burlington , September 2018

Reference photography by Edmondo Senatore , Italy

3) Are there artists or artistic currents by which you are inspired?

Of course, I love portraiture – I find the human face endlessly fascinating. But I am also drawn, as many artists are, to the intricacies of nature and I think I will be exploring some ways to convey scenic beauty on textiles over the coming months.

I enjoy seeing the artwork of the many talented fibre artists – and those in other mediums – that I see online and in magazines, but I don’t seek to mimic anyone else’s work – I admire it and then I go about doing my own thing. I encourage this kind of independence in my students as well. We always begin by working on the same portrait, to learn the basics, and then they develop the confidence to tackle one of their own, with some friendly guidance, and every one of them succeeds. That is the greatest reward in teaching.

4) Most of your works are made up of portraits that express a strong personality and a great expressive intensity. How do you choose the subjects of your works?

After my first two cheesecloth pieces were completed, I realized that cheesecloth was an ideal medium for aging skin because it can be sculpted to mimic the lines and folds and even the translucency of older skin. My quest for photos of interesting faces has led me again and again to the elderly and the homeless, for you can see their whole lives – the expression of their pains and sorrows and laughter – etched in their faces.

If a face captures my attention, then I am intrigued to see if I can convey it in such a way that it will keep a viewer’s interest as well.


24 X 20 INCHES

Based on a ph. By Csaba Zoller

5) Is there a common element for all the characters you portray?

Of course, the more lined a face is, the more it draws my attention for its interesting texture, but I am drawn to any face that conveys the complexity of the human condition.

6) The protagonist of your works is the cheesecloth. Why do you use such a fragile and delicate material? 

Its very fragility – that is, the ease of spreading apart the threads – is what makes it so useful in creating an appearance of transparency. And bunching the threads close together gives the appearance of opacity. In essence, I am using value rather than color to create drama in my portraits.


41 x 30 inches

Exhibited at:

Art Quilt  Elements, Wayne PA , 2017

Fiberart International, Pittsburgh PA 2017

Will be travelling with SAQA’s  exhibition:

“Layered and Stitched : 50 years of Innovative Art “  from 2019 – 2022

7) How do you use it and transform it to make your portraits? May I ask you to describe your technique? 

After selecting a photo that I might discover online, the first thing I do is contact the photographer for permission. Respecting copyright is critical to me, and most photographers are very generous about allowing me to model my work on their photos. The next step involves adjusting the photo so it becomes a usable pattern. I cover it with a plastic sheet that provides a temporary substrate on which I “sculpt” the cheesecloth with PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue, cutting and dragging and manipulating the threads as needed. Then I consider what elements I might add to the portrait to convey the subject’s lifestyle or personality.

This technique is complex enough that I teach weeklong workshops to show students precisely how to adjust their photos and the various ways the cheesecloth can be teased into position. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to take my students from a place of timid uncertainty to total confidence in just days.

below, the work steps:

  • Find an image that fires up my imagination.
  • Sketch a composition incorporating that image.
  • Sometimes that involves using a computer to adjust the image to make a usable pattern.
  • Sculpt the cheesecloth.
  • Create the background for the image with paint, dye, printing, etc.
  • Applique the image onto the background.
  • Decide the best finishing method: either quilting, hard-mounting on a stretched canvas, or fusing to felt without any quilting.


60 x 36 inches

Originally created for “ Expressions in Equality” exhibition in Visions Art Museum in San Diego  in 2015, where it received the “ Viewer’s Choice” Award.

Based on Ph by Csaba Zoller

8) How did you come to this technique? 

I discovered my cheesecloth technique in an unexpected way. In an abstract piece I was working on, some dry cheesecloth I had stitched down randomly had the appearance of a human figure. I wondered how I might create such imagery intentionally. I experimented with various adhesives to hold the cheesecloth in place, and online I found a great photo of an elderly woman by Chalmers Butterfield, which I used for “Waiting.” I cropped the image to use just her face for “Portrait,” which I donated to a fundraising auction for Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). It had a huge impact and drew a lot of attention, which encouraged me to explore its uses further.


28 x 22 inches

Based on ph. By Chalmers Butterfields with permission

9) Can you tell us about the birth and development of one of your works?
How is a new work born?

Each piece has its own story, I think. Sometimes I start with a compelling photo I have come across randomly, sometimes because a famous face like Willie Nelson’s appeals to me, and sometimes I seek a photo of a specific subject like the miners I depicted in “Precious Time” for SAQA’s 25th Celebrating Silver exhibition. Once, I was asked to make a piece for an exhibition about water ecology, and that led me to use faces from Greek statues whose hair I turned into the froth of ocean waves as they represented the daughters of Poseidon, unhappy with our treatment of the seas. I think it is fair to say that I enjoy challenging myself and I can look back at works I have completed and recall what problem it was that needed “solving” that drew me to tackling it in cheesecloth.


24 X 34 INCHES

Exhibited at Visions Art Museum, San Diego CA, 2016-2017

10) Some of your works have been exhibited at the Shenzhen International Patchwork and Handmade Art Exhibitions and at the Third China International Patchwork Invitational Exhibition, Beijing, China. You have traveled a lot in China. Why do you have this link with oriental culture and its art?

It all began in 2012 when I was invited to teach and exhibit in Taiwan. There I met some wonderful artists from all over the world and in 2015 I met many of them again at an exhibition in Beijing. Eight of us formed a close friendship despite our language differences and began corresponding and collaborating on art quilts. We returned to China this year to exhibit our first series “Beijing Inspirations” and are now working on the next one, “Nature Inspirations.” The history of our connection is outlined on our Facebook page Bing Bing Sisters. During this last trip, I took a Chinese brush painting class and I expect the skills I learned will make their way into work I create in the coming months.

11) Does Oriental art or philosophy somehow influence your creative process?

It hasn’t in the past, but I am enthralled with the incredible history of Chinese civilization and centuries of amazing art, and I know this will influence some pieces that are forming in my mind.

12) How do you imagine your future works?

Sometimes future work comes from imaging how a particular idea or image might be expressed on fabric – working out the technical challenges. And sometimes I see a photo that grabs my imagination and I want to see if I can replicate it, adding some imagery of my own, to create a new version of it.


45 x 34

Hand dyed cheesecloth sculpted with PVA adhesive , machine stitched with monofilament thread to hand painted cotton canvas , soft mounted on felt

13) Are there any techniques you would like to explore and develop in the future?

Yes, I want to continue working with the concept of transparency and the use of stitch and cheesecloth for texture. Maybe I will combine these in some landscapes that will have a vaguely Asian look to them, based on photographs I took on my trip there in October.

Thank you very much Mary!


39 x 32 inches

Hand dyed cheesecloth sculpted with PVA adhesive,  lutradur with burned edges , acrylic painted  cellulose fabric, machine stitched with monofilament thread to cotton.

Second-place winner  of People’s Choice awards at Fibre Content exhibition at Art Gallery of Burlington, 2018

Reference photograph by Edmondo Senatore , ITALY

Maria Rosaria Roseo

English version Dopo una laurea in giurisprudenza e un’esperienza come coautrice di testi giuridici, ho scelto di dedicarmi all’attività di famiglia, che mi ha permesso di conciliare gli impegni lavorativi con quelli familiari di mamma. Nel 2013, per caso, ho conosciuto il quilting frequentando un corso. La passione per l’arte, soprattutto l’arte contemporanea, mi ha avvicinato sempre di più al settore dell’arte tessile che negli anni è diventata una vera e propria passione. Oggi dedico con entusiasmo parte del mio tempo al progetto di Emanuela D’Amico: ArteMorbida, grazie al quale, posso unire il piacere della scrittura al desiderio di contribuire, insieme a preziose collaborazioni, alla diffusione della conoscenza delle arti tessili e di raccontarne passato e presente attraverso gli occhi di alcuni dei più noti artisti tessili del panorama italiano e internazionale.