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 2020 brief, “The Poetics of Colour,” invited entrants to use colour as a fundamental component of the design process, employing inventive embroidery and textures that enhance and enrich or contradict and counter the colour choices.
Today we’ll meet the third-place winner in the Open Fashion Category, Eva van den Top.
Location: Arnhem, The Netherlands
Website will be launched in 2022
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:
I made a floor length tulle dress, a basic style and colour. The embroidery adds a big splash of the brightest pinks and warmest oranges found in nature. On a background of chiffon fabric pieces, I embroidered a fantasy bird and some abstract flowers. I intended to make a piece with a lot to see and discover again and again. So, I used a lot of different materials and techniques.
I designed the dress when I was in quarantine. During that period I could only travel in my mind to the most exquisite places I could imagine, with the prettiest birds and most colourful butterflies. The longer the lockdown lasted, the more exuberance I added to my design. My way of escapism from the forced isolation. Normally my go-to colours are blacks and neutrals. This time I went totally overboard with the colour scheme. Nature is a wonderful inspiration to soothe the wandering mind.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
Assuming that the blood, sweat and tears don’t count as a secret : no.
Tell us about your background and how it led you to where you are.
I was always drawn to anything textile. My grandmother taught me embroidery, knitting and crochet, and I experimented a lot combining those. I made patchwork and applique/mixed technique pillows and knitted sweaters from a very young age. When working on one thing, I always got new ideas for other things. Leaving a lot of items unfinished in favour of a better idea to work on. I studied fashion design in Rotterdam, which brought more structure to the process and tons of new approaches for projects. I had the time of my life, working day and night on assignments and hunting for materials.
After a few years of working in all kinds of disciplines in the business, I chose a ‘steadier’ environment and worked in management assisting jobs for about 20 years. Until some people inspired me to follow my dream and I started making one-of-a-kind interior accessories. I sold pillows and blankets to people in faraway destinations such as Korea, Singapore and Helsinki. So great and grateful to be able to do that.
About four years ago I picked up embroidery again, learned some new techniques and focused on clothing. In 2018 I came across a picture of The Prize online and imagined how great it would be to enter the competition one day. The lockdown speeded things up and I entered, got shortlisted and won 3rd prize. All to my total amazement. It was a year of many highlights .
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?
A pioneer? I wouldn’t call myself that ever. But thank you!
I love the ‘slow movement’ that is currently happening in favour of traditional techniques and crafts. Nothing good in life comes in big quantities and is produced fast. More humility towards the earth would do everyone good. When I buy something handmade, I have chosen it very carefully and I treasure it more and longer. It’s the beauty and authenticity of something with a heart and soul put into it.
I get many nice reactions on my work, but embroidery is still looked upon as a hobby for a house mother. People have no idea of the time-consuming nature of it. And that it takes time and effort to learn. The Netherlands has a heritage in handwork, but artists today must deal with continually smaller budgets. Embroidery plays a major part in collections, but the embroiderers are paid nothing at all, or maybe travel expenses if they are lucky. When on the other hand embroidery exhibitions are very popular and visited by many.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I am lucky to have a few commissions. It is really great to design for someone and be able to work out that design from start to finished product. And the ultimate is when the client has so much faith that I don’t have to lay out a fixed plan in advance, but I get to improvise the embroidery along the way. My works in progress are a dress, a jacket, a bag and interior items.
I am also working out ideas for my own brand. Very likely it will be a combination of embroidery, dressmaking, knitting, and basically anything textile. It will be one of a kind, or ‘very few of a kind’ items, with a lot of detail and layering and my handwriting all over it. I hope to launch my website next year. A lot to do, and a lot of decisions to make, before it can be put online. But my general goal is to bring some necessary softness to the world.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to be an artist?
To be honest, I can use some advice myself every now and then . Clothing is a very polluting and post-colonial slavery business. Not only in the far east. I have done some assembling jobs myself that paid less than minimum wages. Sometimes it is hard for me to just put that aside and continue making pretty things.
On another note, I really enjoy and value the work of other artists. Museums are my most comfortable place away from home. For contemplation, consolation, inspiration, dedication. I enjoy original approaches and love to find out about the stories behind the works. I think creating pretty things is a good way of communicating a message. So, if my work can do the same for someone else, it might be the perfect chance to create awareness on society topics and responsible choices. Also, I very much enjoyed seeing others being inspired when they saw my dress at the Embroidered arts exhibition in London last November. If my work can give that little push for someone to exploit their creative boundaries, I’m very grateful.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? Ideally an activist. Realistically a secretary.
Would you rather embroider with cooked spaghetti or a bicycle chain? Hmm! Both sound great! I haven’t really explored materials that are less conventional in embroidery. I would choose cooked spaghetti and imagine placing the embroidery in an installation or cinematic Peter Greenaway scene where the cooked spaghetti can actually be eaten.
You’re asked to create a garment for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? Most animals we put garments on do not look so happy. Although I think it looks adorable, I would rather make something for someone who looks happy in it .
Color gurus are naming a new color for you. What is it called, and what does it look like? It is called ‘Lovemore’ and it is a very sunny light-orange. I am in my orange era, I think.
What is one of the best gifts you’ve ever received? Vouchers for quality time with the giver.
We’re sending a capsule into space, hoping it might be found by aliens. You’re asked to make something to include in it. What do you make and why? I would pack some materials and tools and hope to enthusiast some alien’s creativity to do his own thing.
A book you’ve enjoyed recently: Het geheim van de Gucci koffer (the Secret of the Gucci Suitcase), a great story by Pauline Terreehorst, a Dutch writer and publicist on film and fashion.
You get to make lunch for a famous person (she/he/zie will love it!). Who is the person, and what are you serving for lunch? Why not for all of my Dutch fashion design heroes together: Mattijs van Bergen, Ronald van der Kemp, Viktor & Rolf, Claes Iversen and Jan Taminiau. That would be interesting! I would make some different salads and serve lots of fruits and bubbles.
Do you listen to anything while you work, or do you prefer silence? A bit of everything. From news radio to music to podcasts to audio books to hands free phone calls to silence. Being on my ‘embroidery island’, for weeks sometimes, with very little contact to the rest of the world, it is great to experience something outside of the 15cm field of vision of my embroidery frame.
You’re creating a garment inspired by a favorite place. What place do you choose, and what is the garment? Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Not for religious reasons. I was really impressed with this cathedral when I saw it for the first time at age 13, and I went back this year. I was fueled with energy and inspiration. I would make a long wool coat with very detailed embroidery, based on the mosaics, ornaments and architecture I have seen there. Or an entire collection?! I am already wandering off…
Thank you, Eva!