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 third-place winner in the Fashion Open Category.
Name: Hannah Mansfield
Location: Bristol, UK
Describe your Hand & Lock entry:
My Hand & Lock Prize entry was a celebration of bees. The final piece was a jumpsuit which was based on a beekeeper’s suit. The base of the jumpsuit was made from four layers of organza which was hand dyed in three different honey toned colours. This was embroidered all over with a honeycomb pattern created with tambour embroidery and beading and cut away in sections to reveal the different colours. Falling from the shoulders was a layer of white tulle which was embroidered with bees created with goldwork and Swarovski crystals. This represented a bee keepers veil with all the bees caught up in it. To secure the tulle around the waist, I made a honeycomb belt embroidered with bees, including the queen bee surrounded by her worker bees. In addition, I embroidered a wide brimmed hat with honeycomb and made a honeycomb eye mask to match.
What made you want to enter this competition?
I studied textile design at university and had wanted to enter the prize since visiting the Hand & Lock studio in the second year of my course.Throughout my course I never really had the chance to solely focus on my hand embroidery skills and I knew that if I was going to enter the prize I wanted to create the best entry that I could. So once I had graduated I had more time to work completely with hand embroidery and was able to develop my skills, so it was the perfect time to enter. I also thought it could make a good start to my career, and that is exactly how it turned out!
What motivated your choice for your entry?
I was trying to think of different, less obvious ways that the theme of celebration could be interpreted, and I started thinking about animals and how it could be a celebration of endangered species and a way of using their markings and patterns in embroidery to turn them into precious, coveted creatures. So I started with turning the animal skins into embroidery and then halfway through I decided to change the focus of the project to celebrate undervalued insects, especially bees, after making a sample of goldwork insects including a bee. I made the final garment a celebration of bees in sparkling coloured gemstones and precious metal threads.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
No secrets. I did manage to keep my entry secret until the prize giving evening though. In total, I spent about a year working on all the different parts of my entry. I hadn’t made any of my entry in advance so it was quite a mad two months of making the jumpsuit after I had got through to the finalist stage.
When and how did you learn embroidery, and what impression did it make on you?
There wasn’t really a definitive time that I learnt embroidery; it sort of happened gradually over the years. As a child I was always making things and some of this included just basic embroidery. I always retained an interest in embroidery and eventually tried out many different techniques, some of which I taught myself and some which I learnt from others. During the last half of university I really decided to focus on hand embroidery and took a day class in goldwork and two day classes in tambour beading.
What was your first embroidery project?
I can’t actually remember! It was probably something like a cross stitch kit.
Tell us about your background and how it led you to where you are.
I’ve never been able to sit down and do nothing, so during my childhood and teen years I tried out so many different crafts and techniques. I went to university to study textile design and eventually settled on hand embroidery as my specialism. Once I graduated, I became more skilled in goldwork and tambour beading and I decided to make these techniques my two specialisms. I now work as a freelance embroiderer and divide my time between working on my own projects, private commissions and managing my online shop.
What’s been the biggest surprise of your career and the projects you’ve undertaken?
Winning third place in the Hand & Lock Prize! I never even expected I would get selected as a finalist after the first round. One of the biggest projects I have worked on was for John Smedley, not really because of its size or difficulty, it was only embellishing three jumpers with crystals, but to work for a company of that size when I was still an intern for someone else was a big deal. Those three jumpers were the official start of my freelance career.
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?
It’s about working with centuries old techniques and trying to create something original and exciting with them to make your mark within the world of embroidery. It’s incredible now to have the online audience that I did not have before the Hand & Lock Prize and I think it’s important to share my knowledge with others. I share a lot of my working process on Instagram and try to answer questions from people interested in learning embroidery. I think that the interest in skills such as embroidery are only going to increase in the future, especially as the world becomes increasingly technologically advanced, I can already see an emphasis being placed on the value of hand skills that cannot be replicated by machine.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I am currently working on a few projects of my own alongside private commissions. The biggest of these projects is a continuation of the 3D goldwork flowers that I made earlier this year. I am creating four floral pieces which are based around the four seasons and will each be displayed in bell jars. I am currently still working on the first in the series which includes spring flowers such as primroses, daffodils and snakes head fritillaries. I’ve already spent 70 hours working on it and it’s only half finished! It’s going to be a long running project that will probably not be finished for a year or more.
Where else can we see your work?
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to expand his/her embroidery skills?
Practice! If you want to become really good at a particular technique you just need to work at it. At first I thought I would never be able to master tambour beading but it just takes perseverance. Be patient with yourself and try lots of different techniques to find the ones that suit you best. Also remember you don’t have to follow the rules, a lot of embroidery techniques are centuries old but the best embroiderers can adapt a technique to suit their own distinctive style.
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? Seeing as I already use a lot of it, I will have to say gold.
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? A pair of hands, one with a tambour hook and one with a needle.
You’re asked to create a garment for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? A little embroidered neckerchief for a cat.
Favorite book you’ve read recently: Women in Clothes by Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, and Sheila Heti.
You must include something live in your next garment. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? The next insects I want to embroider are butterflies so I would embroider garment with goldwork butterflies and have real ones fluttering all over it.
If you were not an artist, what would you be? As I am coeliac and often gluten free food isn’t that great, I would be some sort of chef or baker and would work at making the best gluten free foods possible.
You must turn a song into a garment. What’s the song, and what’s the garment? The song would be “Saviour” by Prince, and it would be a dress embroidered with two intertwining tree branches and a rose with two petals falling from it. From the bottom of the dress there would be a wave rising, all embroidered in beads and crystals with two sparkling drops of water high above the top of the wave.
A place you’d like to visit: Provence.
A celebrity wears one of your garments to an awards show, and you receive fame, fortune, good health, fitness, and gluten-free cake for life. Who is the celebrity and what does s/he wear? Lana Del Rey, wearing a dress covered with embroidered cherry blossom. It would be all goldwork and would incorporate some flat areas of embroidery as well as some 3D flowers and leaves. It would be a very romantic style with lots of billowing chiffon.
We’re hosting a show of “performance embroidery.” Describe your piece in the event. I’m guessing performance embroidery means something worn by a dancer or similar? So I would love to embroider something for an ice skater, it would be an all over suit encrusted with goldwork insects made with Swarovski crystal bodies.
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.