Interview with Samantha Fahey

Arteries - exploring embroidered expressions with Arlee Barr

Fibristos and Fibristas, I’d like to introduce to you an artist whom not many have heard of or seen: she’s a grey presence on the web, popping in once in awhile to leave a comment or share an experience. With no blog, no Flickr, no Facebook, Samantha Fahey is an incredibly detail oriented embroiderer I met online, immediately falling in love with her lucid depictions of the macroscopic and solitary.

Samantha Fahey - Untitled
Samantha Fahey – Untitled

You explore very intense small sections of the world–what keeps you interested in this?
I try to see the beauty of the world that I live in: I don’t live beside a beautiful forest, by the sea or near the mountains, so I concentrate on the small, overlooked things that are available to me within a concrete working-class town. Everyone can appreciate the weed growing through a crack in the pavement, spider’s webs after rain, or the colour of the sunset, even if it is over the industrial estate. But whilst I look at these small details, I try to place them in a larger context i.e. sewing bees, I’m adding ideas about community and free will; sewing autumn leaves I’m incorporating ideas on disintegration and rebirth. I’m in love with the tiny overlooked things around us: snails and bees and weeds, sewing alone cross legged somewhere, a demented pixie.

Do you have “studio sessions” or are you a stitcher on the fly?
Six years ago I decided to get off the path I was on. I left a well paid job at a University and started on this new adventure. I can create/stitch/draw whenever the mood takes me, but like everyone else, I still have to fit in the gardening/DIY/housework and i have to feed my husband every day or he would starve! That’s not to say that some days I don’t play truant from my own “list”, thinking “just one more stitch and then I’ll….” In fact, sometimes it still feels kind of ‘naughty’ that I can play to such a large extent in my life.

Samantha Fahey - Snail Love in progress
Samantha Fahey – Snail Love in progress

How do you develop your work? Sketch, photo, sample?
Anything can start the fire of an idea: a doodle, a photo, a colour combination, a sample. I must admit to being a bit of a geek and doing research on what’s got me excited about moth wings or spider silk. Nature is my constant source of inspiration and I can see a million possibilities in one foot of garden, so I’ll be out there on my hands and knees sketching for a while yet! All these things pile up on the desk until the work begins to take shape in my head. Some are just outlines before I start sewing, and  I make the colours and patterns up as I go along; others are worked out in much more detail. The occasional piece decides for itself in which direction I’m going, and no amount of tugging on the reins makes any difference.

I also have a design wall, where half formed ideas face me as I sew, this can sometimes lead to wonderful cross pollination of subjects and connections.

Samantha Fahey -Samples book

Do certain images appeal more than others? Are they stories or symbols, or are they representational of your interior world?
My pieces are based in reality but are then abstracted and enlarged to include my interior world as well. I put together connections and patterns that help to explain my reality. I suppose I pick images that give me joy or are a celebration of a time and a place, though i can definitely appreciate others who choose perhaps more dark or sad subject matters. With all my pieces nature plays a starring role.

What does embroidery do for you?
I hand stitch everything, not because I’m anti-machine, but because i love the peace of hand stitching, the utter slow mindfulness of the process. For me, when the needle pierces the fabric, creating a small pop as it comes out the other side, and then the soft whoosh as you pull the thread through, is like breathing slowly. It brings me  tranquillity in a very urban environment…police helicopters circling, put in another stitch…..and breathe. Hand stitching makes me smile, and creating art deepens the appreciation of what i have around me, grounding me thoroughly in the here and now. Sometimes i think I’m making my life as I want it to be with each stitch, as much as I’m creating pieces of work.

Samantha Fahey - Samples book detail

Was embroidery a progression from something else?
I’ve always used my hands to create, for the house when we couldn’t afford it, presents for family and friends when I wanted to say I love you, but I’ve had precious little embroidery training and i didn’t have a lovely long line of strong women to pass on their sewing skills to me. I’ve learnt from books, trial and error, and lots and lots of unpicking!

Do you have work that is more favoured personally?
I don’t have favourite pieces, I have favourite bits on many pieces. I’m far, far from the stage yet where I’m 100% happy with everything I do. That’s a good thing, keeping you moving forward  and making every piece a discovery.
One piece that i go back to again and again, inspiring new work each time, is a book I made about things in my garden. No bigger than 3cm, each couple of pages deals with a different subject. To other people it may not seem too thrilling, and there’s not oodles of embroidery in it, but the sketches, notes and stitch samples I made as i went along provide masses of ideas.

Samantha Fahey - Hearts Are Complicated

What are you exploring next?

I made a heart piece recently, a different subject matter for me, and though a challenge at times, as the stitching is very dense, I enjoyed trying different texture ideas in one ‘over the top’ piece. To run your fingers over the nodules and veins is a sculptural experience in places. A lot of this work will be taken forward and used in pieces to come….snails and the universe next!

I’m sure at some point we will be hearing or seeing more of Samantha!  More of her work is featured in the upcoming July/August issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.


Arlee Barr is a Canadian artist, working primarily with textiles. She describes herself as “curious, eccentric and just a little opinionated“. Surrealist in thought, Fauvist at heart, Arlee likes the eclectic, explorative and absurd. Sprinkled around the interwebs, she can be found hanging around her fantastic blog and shop.