Name: Ailish Reaney
School: 2016 graduate from Leeds College of Art where I studied Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design
When and how did you learn embroidery and/or sewing and what impression did it make on you?
My earliest memory of sewing was going round to my grandparents’ house and sitting for hours playing with my nanny’s sewing box. I learned how to sew on her old Singer sewing machine, the one that you used to have to wind by hand, and where she used to make all of my dancing costumes.
What made you want to pursue embroidery/fashion/textiles in school?
I have always been really creative and liked the haptic quality of stitch.
I took textiles as one of my GCSEs; however, didn’t pursue it to A level as it was too technical for my liking. I wanted to be a bit more creative with stitch, which I was able to do during my art lessons. I’m not one to follow the technically correct route.
What was your first embroidery or textile project?
The first textile project I can think of was making an apron. It was only in calico, but it was the first thing I had made from scratch, and I got to embroider my name on it using the digital embroidery machine for the first time. Anyone with an unusual name will be able to relate to the excitement of having something with your name on it!
What’s been your biggest embroidery disaster to date?
Rather unexcitingly, it is just the usual breaking numerous machine needles, getting them jammed on delicate fabric subsequently ripping it, as well as sewing sections of fabric together resulting in me having to sit and unpick them all for a rather long time.
What’s been your favorite course of study?
My degree in textiles, I have learnt so much about both the industry and where my practice and me sit in the market.
What has surprised you about the field?
I have discovered my love of colour. This was an area I was extremely cautious with, but I have really learned to have fun with it and experiment with various colour palettes.
What non-embroidery, non-sewing skills do you bring to the table that you might like to combine with embroidery, textiles, and fashion?
I love to paint. I find it such a freeing and therapeutic process. I am also really interested in producing topical work about subjects that are engaging and easily relatable to today’s society. I enjoy documenting the often overlooked and unseen details of everyday life, capturing and highlighting these observations and applying them to design.
Describe one of your favorite projects. Why did you undertake it, and what did you learn from it?
One of my favourite projects was my dissertation where I researched “How can Stitch be used as a tool for Social Empowerment?” Despite being quite dyslexic, I love to research and became fascinated at the importance that stitch has had in our society and the role that it plays today. I have specifically become interested in the use of stitch for psychological and physical well-being, inspired by the work of Sughar Empowerment Society, Jenni Duttons Dementia Darnings, and Ellis Developments to name but a few.
A quote from Glenn Adamson that I found very fitting was “that we might be able to understand craft not as a negative symptom of traumatic experience but as a positive working through, much like the act of psychoanalysis itself”. (2013, p.210)
Describe your ideal career.
My practice is informed and contextualised through current thinking and concern for our society and wellbeing, so I would love to research the link between creativity and creative processes to support positive wellbeing further.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I want to look at coding through design and how information is visually processed, especially in relation to dyslexia.
Where else can we see your work?
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
Name three of your favorite materials to work with:
Stitching into papers and plastics
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? A star. I love stars!
You’re asked to create a garment or accessory for an animal. What is the garment or accessory, and what is the animal? A customised embroidered collar for a black Labrador called Grayson (I really want a puppy).
Do you listen to music while you work, and, if so, what is it? When I am working creatively I listen to music all the time, though I have to work in total silence when I’m writing/reading. I listen to Radio 6 every day, but I also love listening to Ted Talks as I find these absolutely fascinating. They have recently got me though a twelve-hour stint of embroidering a meter long drop of fabric!
You must include something edible in your next project. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? My latest project Edible Stitch, explored today’s food culture, which has seen the rise of super foods, clean eating and a nutritionally rich diet, all in order to support health and well-being.
Infused both with concept and creative process the project utilises naturally dyed yarns, fabric and binders, as a means of exploring these edible materials.
Food has been used in many forms: as a pigment to print with; seeds as natural embellishment as well as utilising edible food powders fused together to form a collection of handmade embellishments and embroidered compositions that have been taken from the natural structures found within food.
Something that I would be interested in is looking at alcohol as I have recently come across photographs of alcohol under the microscope which created the most beautiful patterns and colours.
If you were not a designer, what would you be? A nurse, I like caring for people.
You’ve been selected to participate in a show that combines textile art with performance art. Describe your piece for the show. I would create long drops of fabric that would hang intermittently across the stage to form a backdrop for a contemporary dance performance. I would use the process of devour to alter the density of the fabrics, which would then be worked back onto with embroidery. The suspended fabrics would be affected by the movements on stage and flow correspondingly.
Name an artist you admire and why: Grayson Perry, for how effectively he raises awareness of social issues through his work.
You’re writing a novel, and the hero is an embroiderer. What’s the plot problem s/he must overcome? It would be of an embroidering surgeon who could stitch up peoples’ injuries in the most beautiful way. Similar to the old Japanese technique of fixing broken pottery with gold dust.
You must design a flavor with needle and thread. Describe the flavor and what it looks like. Raspberry Ice cream, I would use the brightest colour threads really sporadically as I would be very excited about eating it all!
Jen Funk Weber is Queen of Funk & Weber Designs, a cross stitch and counted-thread embroidery designer and teacher dedicated to stitchy explorations and adventures.