Every year, Hand & Lock organizes a competition for the prestigious Prize for Embroidery to promote the use of hand embroidery and to discover emerging embroidery talent. The 2017 brief invited entrants to ‘celebrate, let go, to let loose and indulge in childlike freedom, to celebrate history, global culture, sense of place, sense of identity, and to celebrate embroidery and life.’
London’s Bishopsgate Institute displayed entries from 32 finalists and hosted the final judging of the 2017 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery.
Today we’ll meet the second-place winner in the Fashion Open Category.
Name: Ali Rauf
Location: Geelong, Australia
Describe your Hand & Lock entry:
Mirrors are synonymous with reflection, and for the 250th anniversary of Hand & Lock, my intention was quite literally to reflect on 250 magical years of embroidery tradition, while also paying homage to my wonderful country of residence, Australia. To help reflect on these memories, I crafted a floor-length coat covered entirely in mirror embroidery. Thousands of strategically placed mirrors are fastened in place by pure silk thread. The effect created by the mirrors mimics the gently rippling bay of the Sydney harbor beneath a sky of celebratory fireworks. The coat, which weighs 15 lbs, is worn atop a gown which features embroidered turquoise, pom-poms and tassels, all in a scattered pattern that invokes the playfulness of fireworks.
What made you want to enter this competition?
Since moving to Australia 8 years ago, I’ve learned of the high demand for fast fashion and disposable garments. I think this is truly a shame as fashion should be about so much more than passing trends, and the workmanship of the individual should never be lost or forgotten. I always strive to create pieces that have as much of an impact the first time they are worn as they do in 5 or 10 years’ time. Couture embroidery is one of the most powerful ways of making a design personal, meaningful and unforgettable.
What motivated your choice for your entry?
The iconic architecture of the Sydney Opera House, and Australian beach culture. The mirror coat’s vibrant, high contrast color palette is a reflection of the gown’s fireworks, first seen in the sky, then reflected as smooth brush strokes in the water below.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
No secrets, but transporting the 22-lbs entry from Australia was no easy task!
When and how did you learn embroidery, and what impression did it make on you?
My mother used to learn various crafts, including embroidery, from the local tribe ladies. I watched on keenly, mesmerized by the way they could take the simplest – often cheapest – of materials and transform them into exciting works of art.
I spent a huge portion of my childhood sketching and painting, and I saw embroidery as just another way I could transform a plain surface into something with color, texture and dimension.
What was your first embroidery project?
Sewing tiny gold beads onto a scrunchie.
You grew up in different places around the world. Where, exactly, and how has living in these places influenced your career? And how many languages do you speak?
I was born in Saudi Arabia and raised primarily in Pakistan, and I studied in the US briefly before settling in Australia where I’ve lived for 8 years. I come from a military family, so my early years were spent traveling all over the place. Being exposed to various cultures, coupled with my inquisitive nature, helped me to develop an appreciation for traditional and unique hand crafts.
In terms of language, unfortunately I can’t boast any grade school French or Spanish, but I do speak Urdu and English fluently, and a bit of Arabic.
What’s been the biggest surprise of your career and the projects you’ve undertaken?
Winning Designer of the Year 2016 at the Australian Fashion Awards was a real shock and probably the highlight of my career thus far. It also served as a bit of encouragement to keep going in the direction I was with my fashion, and it felt amazing to be recognized and appreciated by people in the industry.
My job in The Funk Files is to interview “pioneers on the embroidery frontier.” That’s you! What is the embroidery frontier, and what does it mean to be a pioneer here?
I’ve spoken before about my commitment to hand crafts and keeping the artisan spirit alive. Embroidery is a traditional art form, but that doesn’t mean it can’t exist in a modern sphere, and I’m proud to be part of the younger generation reinvigorating some of the beautiful traditions of the past. My work is highly referential and I draw from many different cultures, but I always try to find interesting ways of presenting my inspirations.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
The project I’m probably most excited about right now is a mechanically animated fascinator I’m in the process of finishing up. It will be entered in the Melbourne Cup Millinery Award later this year, and I’m hoping the judges will be ready for it. There will be some thread embroidery featured, and it will be wild, but I won’t give too much else away!
Where else can we see your work?
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to expand his/her embroidery skills?
Find exactly what aesthetic appeals to you and see how far you can take it with your own creativity. Have patience and be kind to yourself when learning new techniques.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
If you could embroider with just one color thread for the next three years, what would it be? Yellow for at least the next 10 years.
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? A lock and key.
You’re asked to create a garment for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? A scarf or a cowl neck for a giraffe – lots of textile to work with.
Favorite book you’ve read recently: In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.
You must include something edible in your next garment. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? Gum balls. Aside from being addictive, they’re colorful and would look striking as beads on any leather garment.
If you were not an artist, what would you be? A depressed neurosurgeon.
You must turn a song into a garment. What’s the song, and what’s the garment? ‘Song to the Siren’, by This Mortal Coil. I would turn the song into a dress, and the embroidery would be mermaid-inspired, with individual chain scales covering the train.
Favorite place you’ve visited: Palawan in the Philppines.
A celebrity wears one of your garments to an awards show, and you receive fame, fortune, good health, fitness, and cake for life. Who is the celebrity and what does s/he wear? The Queen of Jordan. Her style is elegant and immaculate, and she’s risk-taking royalty.
We’re hosting a show of “performance embroidery.” Describe your piece in the event. It will be very similar to the Hand & Lock entry, featuring over the top shisha-stitch embroidery, but instead of silk, the piece will use optical fiber so the entire garment can illuminate in an array of colors.
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.