How did you get started doing what you do?
I began sewing in my last year of university, before that point I had no experience with sewing or embroidery (a friend kindly showed me how to thread a needle and tie thread off.) I became familiar with the work of textile artists like Lauri Faggioni and wanted to give making my own things a go. I began with making soft sculptures and didn’t click with embroidery for about a year, when I stopped using traditional stitches and instead tried to sew like I would paint or draw.
What’s your inspiration?
As well as a fascination with the natural world, I take a lot of inspiration from sources like illuminated manuscripts, which I was constantly looking at when first starting these little animal embroideries — there’s something about how they arrange animals and decorative elements that really speaks to how I design an embroidery.
What does your typical day look like?
Rather uninteresting to some, I get up around 7am, walk the dog, then tidy the house and particularly my desk as I can’t work in a disordered setting, and then sit down to work around 9:30am. As well as lunch, I sometimes break at five-ish to go for a run. I was in the habit for a few years of working through until 9 or 10pm, but in the last couple of months I’ve been trying to stop at 6 or 7pm instead and spend my evening reading or doing anything that isn’t sewing.
How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
Anything from a few days (like the dormice) to over a month, but it probably averages out to a couple of weeks.
How do you keep motivated?
I used to struggle with motivation a lot more when I was primarily painting or drawing, but one of the things I loved best about switching to embroidery was I was suddenly able to sit and work on pieces for hours on end without having to force myself to sit down. Although I sometimes have to psyche myself up to sit up late to get deadlines met, embroidery is something I truly love doing and always leap at the chance to do it.
How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
They’ve been a huge influence, I grew up in a particularly un-picturesque town, but it was surrounded by the Chiltern Hills and a lot of natural beauty. I now live on the edge of Oxford so I have the opportunity to spend time tramping around the countryside. Many of the animals that turn up in my work are ones I’ve seen around my home.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I want to be able to apply this work to as many different avenues as I can. It’s quite easy with embroidery to get into just making pieces for private commissions, but I enjoy doing a lot of self-directed work along with commissions for publishing and advertisement, as I hope I can try out more down the road.
How have others reacted to your work?
More than anything they’re usually surprised at how good my eyesight must be, and baffled at how long each piece takes, but then most people are very positive about my work, which is wonderful.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Probably not to fall into the pattern of creating pieces on a production line, which can be tempting when you’re working with craft techniques. Keeping my focus on always making something new and improving rather than repeating what I’d already done has really helped push my work further.
What are your thoughts on art school?
I have a degree in Illustration and spent most of it creating traditional pencil and oil pieces, but I think it does inform the way I work. I rely a lot on having a solid drawing to work with and being able to work out how the fur and feathers work. It was also helpful in learning how to work to deadlines and creating a work ethic which I’m not sure I’d have done on my own, so although it’s not for everyone, I definitely benefited.
What art supplies do you use?
Unbleached calico and polyester sewing thread, along with a thimble, some embroidery hoops, and a vanishing fabric marker for drawing things out.
What’s your process like?
I usually start with doing several sketches from reference of whatever I’m planning on sewing: at this point I’m just trying to get a feel for the animal and how the fur and muscles work. Once I’ve done a few of these I make a final drawing that is a mixture of reference and imagination, and is where I work out things like thread direction. I then pick out the colours I want to use and get started — with the animals I always start at the nose and work through the rest of the body in a block.