Hand Embroidery

eMbroidery – Tod Hensley

by Mr X on 3 May 2015

We were sad to hear of the passing of Tod Hensley, a manbroiderer whose work was filled with drama and energy. We had the pleasure of interviewing him in April 2011 and share the interview with you again here. You can also read more from Tod in an interview with Penny Nickels on her DonkeyWolf blog. He will be missed.

Name: Tod Hensley
Location: Brooklyn, New York City
Main embroidery medium: Embroidery floss = regular, metallic, transparent.

How did you come to be an embroiderer?
I was working on small collages and decided to use thread as a way of joining (by stitching) unfinished parts and pieces that I didn’t think were finished. It was like I was ‘suturing’ parts of something together like a doctor puts together broken skin. Joining the different parts worked to help finish the collages, but also the stitches themselves added an aesthetical element that I liked. I quickly became more and more interested in the possibilities of what could be done by using just stitches for the entire piece. Soon I was doing that. I realized it was embroidery that I was doing. However I took the approach that I was using the thread like I was using paint. I still feel that way.

What does it mean to you?
It meant that I could return to using certain imagery that I had lost years ago, back when I was painting. It’s also limiting, which helps me finish things. Oil painting, for example, is so versatile that there are too many possibilities and I find I just experiment but get nothing finished. I also find the process of stitching calming and peace inducing.

Where do you like to work?
When I’m home I work on my floor, my apartment is very small. I bought a beautiful, handmade rag rug from a woman in Amish country. Its very comfortable to lie on (I switch between lying and sitting up), and all the colors and textures help me stay inspired. In the nicer weather I pack up my floss and hoop and head out into my neighborhood. We have a huge park that I have spent many hours embroidering in. There are also little spots all over the place – an outside bench at a coffee shop, on the curb during a street festival while a live band plays. Sometimes I trek to other neighborhoods looking for new places to sit and sew. I’m always ‘sewing and moving’, ‘sewing and moving’ on these outdoor excursions. Of course, in the winter time I pretty much stay inside.
Then there is an art/craft group I attend monthly.

How do people respond to you as a male embroiderer?
They never mention anything about me being a male. They just respond to my embroidery.  I have shown my embroidery to a lot of people, most of them women, but the subject of my gender never comes up.

Who inspires you?
Basquiat was probably my biggest artist influence. There are others –  other neo-expressionists, surrealists, folk artists, and other artists of all types throughout recorded history –  too many to name. Let’s see, recently I’ve been inspired by Brian Wilson (the musician), Bruce Bickford & Jan Svankmajer (animators). Last month I got inspired by a woman who was singing in a Peter Greenaway film. I was inspired a week ago by watching the Peter Jackson ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, so I guess I could say I was inspired by Peter Jackson, and all the people involved in those films. I get inspired by people who make homemade videos on Youtube, or post their photos on Flickr. And I think I may even inspire myself on occasion, is that vain?

How or where did you learn how to stitch or sew?
It’s not completely clear, but sometime in my life I sort of figured out the basic ‘push the needle through the thing, then pull it back up and out’ to make a stitch. I don’t know under what circumstance I needed to know that. I remember watching my mother and grandmother use the sewing machine (an old one with a foot petal). I know my mother had a sewing basket and she used it to fix my clothes on occasion. But I was never formally taught by anyone. I do know that for me the purpose of making a stitch was strictly for joining two parts of something together –  like doctors suturing patient’s skin up, or for repairing a doll or clothes. Over the years I touched up some collages by stitching them together using string dipped in paint. I am not sure where I got that idea. When I did the small collages, thread was the appropriate size so I used that. That was about 3 years ago. It was during that experience when I realized that I could actually make forms using a buildup of stitches.

Are your current images new ones or have you used them before?
Years ago I was making images similar to what I am now, but none of them are exactly the same since I invent new ones for every work. I was doing collage and film work for years and during that time those images kind of stopped manifesting, but now it seems they are coming back, but not exactly the same.

How has your life shaped or influenced your work?
I have done some works that deal directly with the way I perceive my brain functioning to have affected my life.
I think my feelings toward my life, and life in general manifest themselves into my imagery as well, but that can be said for almost all artists. One thing I am interested in which I experience almost everyday is the contrast, or duality of things – the beauty and wonder, but also the drudgery, depression, loneliness and pain that accompanies it. It doesn’t seem that there can be one without the other, and that occupies me. I’m sure there are other things, but when I dig into my brain I can only pull out a little at a time.

What are or were some of the strongest currents from your influences you had to absorb before you understood your own work?
Well, I still absorb things from all over the place.
I always tried to make images with a certain ‘primitivism’ approach, and also a ‘hit and run’ approach like Basquiat did. Everything he made looked like he had just completed it a minute ago. I liked that excitement. But I think I needed to absorb his work so I could learn that I was UN-able to do that with my own work. I tried very hard. As for now, I can’t do embroidery in a ‘hit-and run’ fashion, but I like the images I am able to make. They are cruder than what I could do with a paint brush or pen. They are more limiting, or ‘clumsier’ and I can successfully make the kind of ‘dumb painter’ imagery I studied a lot of. I always looked at many expressionists and folk artists and had to find a way to make something look ‘expressionistic’ without looking too contrived.
Mixed media artists, like Robert Rauchenberg and Anselm Kiefer (and others) were important in learning how to incorporate a variety of textures and markings into one work.

Do formal concerns, such as perspective and art history, interest you?
Yes. Over the years, and continuing even now certain formal elements create a sort of a ‘base’ that I rest upon. This is used as a starting point and a ‘ground’ that I can then move away from, for a while at least, but then I always need to return to it.

What do your choice of images mean to you?
Well, for some pieces I think the images are a way of illustrating certain feelings I have. But there are other reasons, like, when I first started embroidery I was making images that I thought of as religious, like they were representations of spirits that I pretended to believe were real. I think that was to entertain myself because at that time I wasn’t showing my work to anyone. I don’t think in that way much now. In one piece I used demon images. Demons – like Gods, ghosts, Aliens, etc. have been used for years to explain causes for things that people otherwise cannot explain. Some of the personal problems I have cannot be exactly, precisely explained, so I used the demons in the same way. I had them surrounding an image of myself, as if they were the cause of my ills. They were also a metaphor for my frustrations, unhappiness and confusion, and other bad feelings I have regarding these problems. All of that may seem a bit negative, but at the same time I make my images strong and vivid and in that way they are celebrating the joy and beauty of life. I suppose that could illustrate the ‘duality’ I was talking about above.

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?
You mean cut out to show a detail of? No. I mean, I do try to make an overall image that will be easily readable. Actually I have recently been caring less about that. As far as photographs or digital reproductions, I feel they all fail to show an accurate representation of the work. It needs to be seen in person.

Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us?
I don’t think so. I like to be as ‘transparent’ about how/what I do as possible. I know I use certain imagery that looks symbolic, and therefore might look like there is an underlying intent only known to me, but there isn’t. I’ll be glad to explain anything I do to anybody. That’s what I try to do on my blog. Recently I have been making videos about current embroidery and I try to explain every part of what I’m doing. But I don’t think that type of explaining is very important. I actually prefer to hear what other people think of when they look at something I make. And some of the images are really just meant to be evocative.

How do you hope history treats your work?
If you mean on a large scale like popular art history, well, I don’t think about that since it I don’t think anything I do will ever be remembered or recorded on that level. On a smaller scale I don’t think it will be remembered long enough for it to be considered ‘history’.

Where can we find you and your work?
Blog: http://flyinghaystackshandembroidery.blogspot.com/
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/todstitch/
Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/flyinghaystacks
Deviant Art: http://flyinghaystacks.deviantart.com

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

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It's the Craftster Pick of the Week - brought to you by Mr X Stitch!

Time for another look at some of the great work featured in the forums at Craftster. Note: Although they’re the pick of this week, they may have appeared before this week.

Bexster created a mini series of Alice in Wonderland hand embroidered hooplas. This one is my personal favourite, but you can check out the rest on the original Craftster post!

Bexster's Alice in Wonderland Hand Embroidered Hoopla

See you next time for another great pick from the forums!

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Exploring Etsy with loadofolbobbins!

Hello again my fellow needlecraft enthusiasts, first off I bow down in awe of Mr X’s marathon achievements, let us all raise our needles and give him a well deserved three cheers! For this week’s outing we are venturing into the fabulously funny and dark world of Yasemin Sumner and her shop ‘Stitch You Up’.

Princess Bubblegum by Stitch You Up (Hand Embriodery)

Princess Bubblegum by Stitch You Up (Hand Embriodery)

Emoji Badges by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Emoji Badges by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Geronimo Fez by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Geronimo Fez by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Based in Melbourne, Australia ‘Stitch You Up’ began from Yasemin’s need to make a birthday present for one of her crafty mates in late 2013. After this she began to remember some creepy cross stitch clown portraits that her Grandma had and being obsessed with Stephen King from a young age she was inspired to start stitching Pennywise the Clown, then Cujo, then Carrie and she hasn’t stopped since. Drawing on themes of dark comedy, horror and nostalgia ‘Stitch You Up’ is a place for people who love the beautifully grotesque, the weird and wonderful and connect with those childhood love and fears that Yasemin’s work evokes.

Beetlejuice by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Beetlejuice by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Shining Sisters by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Shining Sisters by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

What is your earliest stitching memory?

It’s a hazy blur of tangled half-finished scarves and wonky hems. Being all fingers and thumbs in high school textiles class. No patience or skill whatsoever, I was definitely a late needlecraft bloomer.

Falcor by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Falcor by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Princess Mononoke by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Princess Mononoke by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

What fires your imagination?

Horror movies and books, cartoons, TV from the 80s & 90s, rock n roll, sassy women, camp men, creepy kids, divas, animal heads on human bodies, disturbing art – the kind of stuff that should make you feel weird but comforts you instead. Grimms fairy tales, greek mythology. Anything that creeps me out, anything that makes me laugh.

Log Lady by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Log Lady by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Teen Cat by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

Teen Cat by Stitch You Up (Hand Embroidery)

If you get a kick out of these brilliant pieces there’s even more to enjoy in her shop. To see the latest pop culture classic that’s found it’s way into Yasemin’s hoop you can check out her Instagram here!

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Jessica Taylor aka Loadofolbobbins is a Textile Artist and Illustrator based by the sea in Portsmouth. At her happiest with a needle and thread, with a passion for genealogy she often explores old photographs in her textile art. With her fingers in many creative pies she loves to experiment with new techniques, creating illustrated and stitched goodies for her new Etsy shop.

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Hand & Lock

On the 200th anniversary of Waterloo it seemed fitting to look at the traditional military embroideries of the time from this portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Thomas Phillips.

Duke of Wellington

But first, it’s worth noting that Hand & Lock can trace their history back to this historic period. The London embroidery house was formed by the merger of two great embroidery houses, M. Hand & Co and S.Lock.

Hand & Co is the eldest of the two and can trace it’s long history back to 1767, before the battle of Waterloo. Not much is known about the company founder M.Hand besides the fact he was a Huguenot refugee who came to Britain from France and a talented lacemaker who supplied the British royal forces.

48 years after M. Hand arrived in the United Kingdom most of Europe was under Napoleonic rule and the Duke of Wellington was commanding the allied army which together with the Prussian army under Blücher defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

Order of St Ferdinand embroidery by Hand & Lock

Thomas’ portrait of Wellington after the famous battle tells us a great deal about his military endeavors and the respect he was afforded. He is pictured here wearing about his neck the Order of the Sword, Order of the Golden Fleece and the Peninsular Cross with nine bars; on his chest he wears the Order of the Garter, Order of Saint George, Order of Maria Theresa, Order of Saint Ferdinand and of Merit and the Order of the Sword. Finally, the sash over his right shoulder is the Order of Maria Theresa. The sheer number of them indicate that Wellington was a highly decorated commander.

Many of these Orders would have been embroidered by hand in goldwork, a specialism of M. Hand & Co still to this day. These Orders, their historical significance and meaning are still very relevant today and are still made by Hand & Lock for military and ceremonial purposes. Each one is a precious piece of handmade art.

Order of St Ferdinand embroidery by Hand & Lock (detail)

Taking for example the Order of St Ferdinand, a rich design embroidered in 90 silver spangles,  2% gold spangles, 2% gold bullion and gold passing; featuring cloth of gold and a figure rendered in silks. A badge of this detail and with this level of quality materials takes around 20 hours work to complete. The time, precious materials and dedication to precision required to make a finished badge are a testament to the esteem of those awarded such high Orders.

The Duke of Wellington was said to be very proud of his many Orders and wore them with great pride for official portraits and at special occasions throughout his life.  Knowing how he came to earn them and what workmanship went into each one it’s easy to understand why.

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Hand & Lock have been producing the world’s finest hand embroidery since 1767. They cover a wide range of niche markets from Civilian and Military Regalia through to Ecclesiastical and Couture, specialising in bespoke, individually crafted embroidery.

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Mr X