I was exposed to the powerful and very personal work of Caroline Walshe when she submitted her work to an exhibit that I was curating. Her work and personal story towards the work truly moved me and the simplicity of her approach towards the thread and needle was refreshing to see.
So I was honored to get to ask her some questions to get to know more about her and her work.
Where do you live? Does this affect your work?
I live in rural Roscommon, in Ireland. I love both the quietness and the loudness of living in the countryside, the closeness to nature — the life and the death of it. There can be complete stillness or deafening birdsong. You can walk outside your door and be confronted by a beautiful flower in bloom or a dead bat. Sometimes I feel like a taxonomist — collecting feathers, rocks or dead creatures and frequently using them in my work.
How did you begin to embroider?
I don’t remember beginning embroidery as such. My grandmother taught me to sew on a machine — I’ve never learned formally and have picked up all the skills I have through practice. Learning to use a machine was like having a door opened for me. Suddenly things that took me ages to do by hand could be done in minutes on a machine. I tend to work fast, and enjoy the speed of machine stitching, it feels as if it helps keep my work fresh.
What is your art background?
I studied sculpture in college. I’m very glad I did it, but probably the most valuable learning I have done has been from other people. I have a big interest in heritage crafts — I love the history behind embroidery — its something people have been doing for a long time. I love seeing other people work and learning new techniques from them. It took me some years to realise that there is no single “right” way to do something.
I myself love embroidery for it no rules attitude- you juts work with the needle and thread however you want!
Describe your studio and studio practice.
My studio is a beautiful room facing into the woods. It’s a bit dark, but gets the afternoon sun and green dappled light. When I am working on a piece I am totally involved in it. I love the intensity of working like this, it is like a kind of meditation – the breathing changes, the concentration narrows just to what you are making – it is a very special thing.
So special, I also often compare working on my pieces to meditation and reflection.
How has your work evolved since you first began working with embroidery?
My work has evolved in many directions, but always through making. Using my hands is central to my work. In college I created installations with large crocheted forms, in my work in street theatre I sewed puppets and made taxidermied roadkill sculptures, and recently I’ve been working in embroidery for my latest show.
Can you talk about how the work is autobiographical?
Can you talk about the experience of embroidery and art making as cathartic?
Can you talk about the challenges of working with such an intimate subject matter?
My work is frequently autobiographical. It is about my life, my experience, my joys and my hardships. The work in GOODBYE I LOVE YOU was made after the death of a close friend by suicide, and explores the difficulty I found expressing the feelings I was left with after such a profoundly complicated death.
I think embroidery in particular is a very cathartic medium for expression. For the work about suicide it seemed to be the most apt means of expression. The end result is quite a beautiful object, yet it is suffused with really horrific images and text. I think the juxtaposition of these things works really well, and in a way gives embroidery a new life —from something seen as “nice” and “pretty”, and really fairly inconsequential, it has been changed and transformed, and is now the medium for some gritty, grim, and very real issues.
The work documents my own search for meaning throughout the time after my friend’s death, and my search for a place to express what I was left with. It was very difficult to know how much of the work to make public, if any, and I constantly questioned myself over why anyone would want to see it. But at the end of the day, it is the stuff of life and the stuff of death, and that, really, is where my interests lie — in exploring the world, looking at it, looking at the horrible bits as well as the beautiful bits. And there is so much beauty in the gaps between the horror.
What is the next direction or step for your work?
I would like to make more work about living with chronic pain. I’ve been making embroidered work about life on prescription drugs for pain, and knitting giant pills. It makes me laugh. I’ve also started designing knitting patterns. The last one was for a knitted bomb. I like the idea of making weapons out of wool, subverting the tools of violence through humour.
What else do you spend your time doing? hobbies? family? jobs? activities? Do any of these inform your work?
Everything about my life informs my work. I love the world, I love living, I love the very realness of life outside and inside my front door. Living with animals also means you are confronted by death, by the blood and guts and gore of what it is to be a live animal, or a dead one. I am reminded constantly that we are living creatures too, both a fragile and a very strong thing, made of the same stuff as everything else.
Where can we see your work?
You can see more of my work on my blog.
I also have an exhibition up in Sligo, Ireland, at the ArtMart Studios from 14-19 June called GOODBYE I LOVE YOU. A link to details about the exhibition is here.
Thank you so much to Caroline for sharing her work and story with us. Her honest simplicity is inspiring.
Until next time keep stitching.
Joetta Maue is a full time artist primarily using photography and fibers. Her most recent work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the art and craft blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributing to the online journal Hello Craft. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, baby son, two cats, a goldfish.