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Discovering Canadian Cities Through Design

by Soft Strokes Silk

Soft Strokes Silk is a small studio in Toronto, Canada specialising in silk bedding, clothing and accessories. Their team members are all Toronto women from different backgrounds, brought together by a love of silk. In this article, founder Tianpei Ma describes how personal memories of Canadian cities inspired their debut scarf collection. 

“Why do we have cats on our Montreal scarf?”

“Did you know there are like a million cats in Montreal?” Our copywriter Caroline Chuang replied.

I didn’t. Looking at the lavender cats sitting on top of the St. Louis Square fountain in the Montreal design, I was again amazed by how we each hold unique knowledge and memories of a city, even though we both breathed the same air, bit into the same street bagels, and walked down St. Catherine Street, the sunset painting the clouds purple.

Silk Scarves Inspired by Canadian Cities

When I first decided to put together a silk scarf collection featuring Canadian cities, I turned to New Zealand-born and Toronto-raised artist Lilia Andrade. We are both Torontonians; we are both immigrants. Interesting, but not surprising, as almost half of the population in Toronto are immigrants.

We hosted votes via Instagram, TikTok and email campaigns to ask people which Canadian city they’d like to see on our silk scarves. The top votes were for Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Instead of creating scarves with the city skylines, I decided that we should pick elements unique to each city. Then Lilia started painting.

Lilia had just returned to Toronto last year after living in Montreal for eight months. To an artist hungry for inspiration, Montreal is a feast. “There’s art everywhere,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It’s chaotic. I’m constantly looking at all these creations that I want to include in this scarf.” 

Discovering Toronto

As a result, she designed the Montreal scarf with more sketches than the other two. On a lavender-pink background, Lilia piled up everything she saw and loved, each a piece of her life in the city; the flowers from Montreal Botanical Garden, cobblestone streets, Mount Royal, riding a bike, sipping wine, and, of course, the iconic Montreal bagel. “I’d go back to the city just for the bagel,” she concluded.

After all, what is a city if it’s not the sum of our personal memories? Lilia added Highway to Heaven to the Vancouver scarf, drawing from her memory of driving from Vancouver to Tofino and using long, wavy lines to express a west coast spirit. I insisted that we add sea otters to the scarf. They are from a sunny afternoon I spent with my high school English teacher at a seaside dock. We stood there, chatting about our favourite books, watching the otters leisurely floating in the water, sunlight glittering in their fur. 

Vancouver Silk Scarf

Then there’s Toronto. Toronto - The word comes out light and soft from the locals. The first “t” turned into a soft “ch” and the last “t” omitted, the end “o” sounds like a pebble dropped into Ontario Lake, bouncing once before being completely swallowed. Although the origin is much debated, recently scholarship said the word came from Mohawk, meaning “where there are trees standing in the water.”

The Toronto scarf carries hidden secrets that put a smile on Torontonians’ faces. The raccoon, which is climbing the CN Tower on the scarf, has a special place in Toronto. We confront them whenever they dig into our trash bins; we laugh when a local comedy club puts on a show for them; we even make a memorial when one of them died on the street. We have a love-hate relationship with them. 

“It’s more hate than love for me because I had a face to face encounter!” said our Caroline, who once lifted her trash bin lid only to find a raccoon mom with babies hissing at her.

Toronto Silk Scarf

My favourite element on the Toronto scarf is the cherry blossom branch. Although Toronto’s unpredictable spring weather could bring freezing rain or even snow in April, every year, Torontonians still eagerly check the weather forecast, follow the High Park Sakura blog, and text friends and family to go together to High Park, the Exhibition Place, or the Robarts Library. These delicate, cotton candy pink petals indicate the beginning of the warm season.

After all, Toronto only has two seasons: the season you can go out, and the season you can’t.

Lilia’s first memory of Toronto, however, is the snow. Arriving in Toronto in January from New Zealand, where it was still summer, three-year-old Lilia saw snow for the first time in her life. The white, fluffy, soft stuff covered everything. 

She jumped right into it.

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