Male Embroiderers

The Cutting & Stitching Edge | Contemporary Embroidered Art from Mr X Stitch

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Stewart Easton on a couple of projects, and he’s a great guy. A fantastic illustrator – check out this mural he’s done in the bar at Cecil Sharp House as part of the Yan Tan Tethera project.

Stewart Easton Mural at Cecil Sharp House

Cecil Sharp House is home of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, who are working with David Littler on Yan Tan Tethera, a project that I’ve been helping out with in some stitching lyrics of songs relating to textiles on chairs at locations in London. You can add your #textilefolk stitch to three chairs at these London locations:

Find out more about Yan Tan Tethera at the textilefolksong website.

When I first met Stewart, it was part of an event called Interviews with Boys Who Sew, at MAC, in Birmingham. The event was inspired by Stewart’s exhibition Four Tragic Tales and featured Stewart. David Littler and Twiggy and I. You can see my interview here, but I digress.

Stewart Easton - Four Tragic Tales

I subsequently interviewed Stewart for eMbroidery and now it’s my pleasure to share a great video about one of his pieces Burden of Bones, produced by R&A Collaborations. It’s a great video where Stewart exlains the story and you can really enjoy his work.

Beauty in a Sad Song from R&A Collaborations on Vimeo.

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The Cutting (& Stitching) Edge is brought to you in association with PUSH: Stitchery, the contemporary embroidered art book curated by Jamie Chalmers. Featuring 30 textile-based artists from around the world, it’s a must have for needlework fans.

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eMbroidery - A Series Of Interviews With Men Who Stitch

Welcome to eMbroidery, a series of interviews with male embroiderers. This month, Seth Brenneman.

Seth Brenneman - Green Dragon Mask

Name: Seth Brenneman

Location: Iowa City

Main embroidery medium: Mixed Mediaish? I sew stretchy fabrics onto steel-wire frames.

 

Seth Brenneman - Hadrosaur Lamp

Noteworthy projects or pieces: The hadrosaur lamp is probably the largest example of my process. My favorite thing about working in these materials is that you’re not limited by scale. The philotic web is a perfect example of the limitless scale one can accomplish.

How did you come to be an embroiderer? I guess I never really considered myself an embroiderer. When you spend time developing your own medium, you don’t really think about what your process is making you. I certainly didn’t start my textile/wire method with the needle and yarn. Initially it was just the plain combination of the two in the black spire. Then I started applying it too the figure with various knotting methods. After that I used different kinds of glues. Several major headaches later (figuratively and literally!) I started using the needle. It seems fairly obvious in retrospec.

What does it mean to you? Being an artist is wonderful. You never get bored. You always have something that you can be excited about. In regards to my work, I’m very process driven. The making of the thing is more important than the end product.

Seth Brenneman - Philotic Web

Where do you like to work? I work on the floor. Working in three dimensions really does not lend itself to working at desk or tables. I work 90% in my lap. You never know what angle you’re going to have to come at that stitch from.

How do people respond to you as a male embroiderer? People are usually pretty surprised when I say I love to sew. Then they get a little confused when I try to explain that I’m not usually just sewing textile too textile.

How or where did you learn you learn how to stitch or sew? I started sewing as soon as I found my way into the family sewing kit. I started just making bean bags and other shapeless things. I did really well in all of the home ec type things one does in middle school. I didn’t really fully embrace the needle until I was about 20 or so and started sewing pieces of cardboard together. Here is when I really got into costume type stuff. Wearable sculpture is also a good descript.

Seth Brenneman - Geometric Growth

How has your life shaped or influenced your work? Well, being a working artist is not high paying. My obsession with material efficiency stems from this a little. I always knew I wound not work in infrastructure heavy mediums like metal and woods. I was more interested in a more gentle and effortless process. Something where I wasn’t trying to fundamentally alter my materials. Instead, I work in materials that perfectly compliment each other. The wire gives the strength, the fabric expresses the shape. The negative space created by the wire is effortlessly and efficienctly described by the fabric.

Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us? I’ll gladly teach you all my secrets. I recently took to the Youtube. I create a piece from start to finish with a webcam strapped to my head and offer up some live commentary and step by step instructions on my process. I really want others too take this process and run.

Where can we find you and your work? Two places:https://www.etsy.com/shop/SethBrennemanor my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOA9cWB2wpABf7CI22LdjGA

Seth Brenneman - Prodigal Horserer

eMbroidery was created with the support and wisdom of the magnificent Bascom Hogue.

If you are, or know of, a male embroiderer that we should interview as part of this series, contact us!

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eMbroidery - A Series Of Interviews With Men Who Stitch

Welcome to eMbroidery, a series of interviews with male embroiderers. This month, Billy Kheel.

Billy Kheel - No Guts No Glory

Name: Billy Kheel

Location: Los Angeles

Main embroidery medium: Felt Applique

Billy Kheel - Denver Pennant

Noteworthy projects or pieces: DNVR v OAK pennants at GATE Projects, Chinese Zodiak Banners at Gallery 533, Kheels Fish Shack at The York (coming in June 2014)

How did you come to be an embroiderer? I am trained as a painter but was looking for a way to connect my medium more directly with my personal history and interests. I am a sports fan and played football and lacrosse through high school and college (Go Wes!) so I started working with felt applique and embroidery as a medium that connects to my personal history through the materials used in sports memorabilia. Once I started using felt as a primary medium I became very interested in the processes involved in fabric arts and started to use more and more of them in my artwork.

What does it mean to you? For me using embroidery and applique techniques have shifting meanings depending on the project – which is what I like so much about it. The materials can evoke a return to handmade quality goods of yesteryear when used in a traditional manner, such as making pennants or banners. I like to subvert this nostalgic meaning with non-traditional subject matter. I also think there is a more uncomfortable meaning from the material when its used for something that it is not really meant for, like making realistic trophy fish or taxidermied animals.

Billy Kheel - Mahi Mahi Dorado Dolphin Fish

Where do you like to work? I like to work in my studio in El Sereno when I’m cutting or using sewing machines but then I like to work at home in front of the TV when I’m hand sewing.

How do people respond to you as a male embroiderer? My first response was from an old football buddy who was visiting and saw me sewing something, and he asked “Are you knitting???” in sort of an uncomfortable way. That was when I knew I was on to something, because if it makes people uncomfortable its probably not boring. Since then responses have been all over the map, but people are usually surprised (I’m about six feet tall and weigh 225 lbs). My studiomate sometimes calls me Betsy Ross.

Who inspires you? Claes Oldenberg (only I don’t have my wife sew my stuff), Mike Kelley’s Felt Banners, James Gobel, Francesca Gabbiani, Ben Venom, Orly Cogan, Erin Riley, Ellen Schinderman, Ebbets Vintage, Mishka

Billy Kheel - Sports Cards Boz

How or where did you learn you learn how to stitch or sew? I took a class at a place in LA called Blue Rooster on how to make plushies. I made a winged Ol E bottle plushie. After that I learned mostly from the internet and meeting other people that work with fabric.

Are your current images new ones or have you used them before? I am currently working on a series of sport fish and sports trading cards and both are new for me.

How has your life shaped or influenced your work? Besides my background in sports, there have been two other ways my life has influenced my work. First is that I had two kids and am inspired by working on projects with them. For example, I just made my newborn son a stuffed replica of Bruce Willis’s gun in Diehard that I think could lead to some artwork down the road. I am also planning on working with my daughter on a cape, which I think can also inspire some artwork. My work has also been influenced by my family history – we came to America as furriers and eventually had a clothing manufacturing company in the garment district of New York City. The Kheel Building still stands there today (although now it’s apartments for rich people). My dream is to have an art fabric manufacturing company in a Kheel Building West.

Billy Kheel - Oak Pennant

What are or were some of the strongest currents from your influences you had to absorb before you understood your own work? I think there is an current of revulsion and a current of attraction that constantly need to be balanced to make successful work. I think in some ways, well-crafted fabric work is automatically attractive to people, so the trick is to make something that also confuses or slightly repulses them as well. That’s where the poetry is, right?

Do formal concerns, such as perspective and art history, interest you? Yes, very much so. For the most part, I am more interested in artwork that takes some sort of skill to produce so I’m very interested in, and consider myself a part of, the Radical Craft movement that has emerged in the last few years.

What do your choice of images mean to you? For the series on sports cards, the images are very personal and connect to my childhood and my relationship with my brother. Growing up with a single mom a lot of these athletes were our father figures (even if off the field they weren’t the best guys in the world). It amazes me how these images of athletes connect people of different cultures and ages, even though they start in such a personal place for me. For the images of fish, it probably started from growing up in Florida and Massachusetts and spending a lot of time on docks. But then when I started making them so many more meanings associated with fish started to come up: fish as metaphors for success, religion, purpose, belief, time. It’s amazing how many different things fish can mean to people.

Billy Kheel - Gemini Sunset Fish

Do you look at your work with an eye toward it like what can and can’t be visually quoted? In other words what you will or won’t cut out? We have a saying in the studio – “Churn & Burn”. That is, anything you make should be able to be cut, screwed, gutted, changed, burned, combined, duplicated, whatever. I think I am always trying to make work that can be visually quoted in that I want to have the nerve to destroy something precious if it can make something better or more meaningful.

Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us? Sometimes I have a secret sewing ninja from Monrovia that helps me sew. I could tell you her name but then I’d have to kill you.

How do you hope history treats your work? I hope history looks back on my work as an innovative take on a traditional medium. I think its an interesting time to be making this kind of work, it seems to me that people are really sick of stuff that is manufactured across the world that isn’t that well made and they are also sick of cutesy craft stuff that you see everywhere. I like to think I’m hijacking this medium to raise questions about craft and gender and once its all said and done my work will say a lot about being artistic guy in this day and age.

Billy Kheel - Cherryhole

Where can we find you and your work? bkheel.com, @bkheel on instagram, https://www.facebook.com/bkheelart, kheels.com

eMbroidery was created with the support and wisdom of the magnificent Bascom Hogue.

If you are, or know of, a male embroiderer that we should interview as part of this series, contact us!

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eMbroidery - A Series Of Interviews With Men Who Stitch

Welcome to eMbroidery, a series of interviews with male embroiderers. This month, Jerome Speekman.

Jerome Speekman - The ArtistName: Jerome Speekman

Location: Bellingen Australia (NSW)

Main embroidery medium: Cotton and metallic thread

Jerome Speekman - Common Wombat

Noteworthy projects or pieces: It s hard to say myself which is the more noteworthy of my projects as each one I make a challenge to myself to see if I can do it and different people like different works of mine but, after 30 years of doing “pretty stuff” (native flora and fauna) and still not creating a (small) flurry in the art world, I decided to do something ugly to see if I could stir things up a bit. Watching the Russian news, I saw that 2 woman in Russia had blown themselves up, a policeman was holding their heads by their hair.I thought now that is ugly so I did 2 embroideries on that subject one looking from above which looks a little like a mandala and many people that saw it, thought it was something like that and speculated all sorts of theories on what it was. This was not the idea nor my intention I wanted to do something ugly something that would shock and made people realise that this was not done by grandma, so I photographed my work and used it in a 3D program to model all the figures in the same poses as my original work which I called self explosion . Having it in a 3D program enabled me to look at from a different angle more dynamic and self explanatory so I printed that angle out and used that scene as the next one in the series and called it Suicide Bomber which is far more dynamic and self explanatory.

Jerome Speekman - Self Explosion

How did you come to be an embroiderer? My ex did some embroidery and I always loved the multitude of colours spilling out of her basket especially the blues that were made out of crushed lapis lazuli ,one day when I was not well I asked her to show me how to do a chain stitch. At the time I was reading a book on a comet that had passed the earth and I could just imagine the tail of this comet, so I did a work representing that tail on a jacket I had and when ever I wore this jacket so many women would ask me who had made it and how amazing it was that I thought I could do better so I started to more elaborate works. From clothes I progressed to wall hangings as clothes wore out and I would loose my embroideries as oil rags.

What does it mean to you? To me embroidery means contemporary art that I can do (when the works aren t too large) I can do anywhere at pick-nicks boring parties or the beach all I need is a few cottons and a needle that I can throw in a bag not leaving a mess (like oil painting) bar perhaps a few loose threads.

Where do you like to work? Mainly at home in front of the TV.

Jerome Speekman - Out Of The Shade

How do people respond to you as a male embroiderer? The response is usually the same, “how unusual for a man to do embroidery where did you learn that etc.How did you get started and wow your work is so amazing.

Who inspires you? I am self taught so I am mainly inspired by photographs I see on the net and I think that looks cool I wonder if I can do that as an embroidery.

How or where did you learn you learn how to stitch or sew? As I said I started by doing an open chain stitch that i made smaller and then bigger filling in the gaps. I lived in a forest for 7 years (learning about healthy living from a naturopath) in North Queensland swimming daily in a beautiful creek, the birdlife, especially kingfishers, were easily represented by stitches long and short the azure blue got me really excited to try and represent in an embroidery.

Jerome Speekman - Naughty

Are your current images new ones or have you used them before? I usually don t do the same work again except if some one wants me to do a commission sometimes I have done possums numerous times (up to 7 times) but I usually change the backgrounds plants and trees to keep it interesting for myself.

How has your life shaped or influenced your work? I am lucky enough to have a partner that supports me (as I have retired from the computer industry) so I work usually everyday on an embroidery and see it as a job and start work in the mornings and don t stop until it is time to cook dinner.

What are or were some of the strongest currents from your influences you had to absorb before you understood your own work? As most of my work is representative of nature and is rather photographic in the end result it looks just pretty but looking back I can see some influences of things that were happening in my life at the time for instance there is a work I did called weed rush which are 2 Crebes ( a type of bird in a mating ritual) I just like the picture and it looks innocent enough but I used to like weed and mating so it may not be as innocent picture as it appears.

Jerome Speekman - The Crying

Do formal concerns, such as perspective and art history, interest you? I have been to many art galleries in the beginning of my career the curators (mainly ladies) are always impressed with my work and the size of them,however they don t know if it falls under fine art or craft which left them with the dilemma on where I would fit in with their gallery space. So more often then not it would be the end of their interest and I would feel left desponded that I would not be exposed to the public on a bigger scale.

What do your choice of images mean to you? I often make my work of a series of images I either draw myself and use nature as inspiration. After my explosion series I thought I try and do something erotic, again to show that grandma did not do it originally I was going to do 9 works to make one scene using photographs of trees and using my imagination and some naughty pictures of the net. I ended up doing just 3 as I ran out of ideas for it all.

Jerome Speekman - Middle Sextet

Do you look at your work with an eye toward it like what can and can’t be visually quoted? In other words what you will or won’t cut out? I always try and make my work a challenge to what can be done with my style of embroidery (short and long stitches)I would like to do bigger works but my framer tells me it is getting to hard for her to do really big ones and there is not much room for them on my walls in our house. At the moment I am doing a flock of pelicans from a photo I saw on the net on it are at least a thousand of those birds it looked hard to do so I started it it is probably one of the hardest embroideries I had to do as in the beginning looking at a small picture of the birds I can t find the same bird on my canvas how ever I soon gave up and doing it add lib. I can t recall ( I have doing embroidery for 34 years now) ever having given up on an embroidery but I sometimes do a sampler of a work so see how effective it is going to look These samplers I give away as presents on birthdays and the like. If I am not happy with a work I give them away to friends who love them and see nothing wrong with it but I am more critical.

Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us? I do have quite a few tricks I use in my work but maybe that could be talked about later…

Jerome Speekman - Devil' s Back

How do you hope history treats your work? I know for sure that they will say how did he get the time and the patience for it. This is often mentioned by people seeing my work, first of all it has nothing to do with patience as I can t wait to see what it looks like myself as each work to me as like and adventure I never know what it is going to look like in the end.

Where can we find you and your work? I reside in Bellingen New South wales Australia if any one wants to come and see my works they are welcome to come and visit most my works are for sale but I don t let them go cheaply. I understand that I will never will get the money go for 6 months of work how ever seeing how much some people get for their paintings I want my fair pay to. In my eyes my work is fine art not a craft all though I am happy to call it that to. I see my work as contemporary culture I use cotton like paint hence the phrase needlepainter which was coined by ladies in the know they also called it creative embroidery or needle painting.

Jerome Speekman - No Sunshine

eMbroidery was created with the support and wisdom of the magnificent Bascom Hogue.

If you are, or know of, a male embroiderer that we should interview as part of this series, contact us!

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Mr X