Every year, Hand & Lock organizes a competition for the prestigious Prize for Embroidery to promote the use of hand embroidery in couture. The 2014 brief was Floral: Pattern and Geometry. Twelve finalists were selected from nearly a thousand photographic entries. Each finalist was then paired with an industry specialist who mentored him/her throughout the design, development, and execution process.
On October 12, 2014, finished garments arrived at the Hand & Lock studios. On Friday, the 7th of November, London’s Bishopsgate Institute hosted the final of the 2014 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery. Today we’ll meet the first-place winner in the Open Category.
Congratulations on your win, Julia! Tell us a little about yourself and how you spend your time: I am originally from the U.K. but have been living in Amsterdam for the last six years. Obviously a major pastime of mine is cycling especially through the quaint old streets of the city. As well as making art I am involved in teaching art and crafts to children. I also love to cook, listen to music, do yoga, watch films and learn languages.
Favorite embroidery or textile medium: I am fascinated by many kinds of textiles and embroidery and continue to explore different mediums. I would like to try silk painting and then embellish it with embroidery. I suppose that my work would be regarded as decorative.
Describe your Hand & Lock entry: The gold work design on my garment takes inspiration from the dandelion clock, focusing on pattern and geometry found within the flower while capturing the movement and dynamics of the seeds in flight. I have also incorporated mandala patterns into the motif, exploring art in contemporary culture.
Looking at various plants and vegetation, the design of the skirt was influenced by Roman Broccoli, particularly its spirals, spots and spikes. The embellishment on the peaks of the skirt includes over 5000 French knots from metallic thread to create the fine detail and heirloom look that I desired. The knots were highly concentrated resembling gems which gradually decreased to nothing lending to the theme of scattered seeds.
My interest in origami is also evident in my piece. I wanted to explore the creative possibilities of fabric and after extensive research and experimentation I created origami from cloth. Originating as two single pieces of fabric the skirt has only two seams and the form is created only by pleats and folds. The form again incorporates the shapes of the Broccoli.
I enriched my garment further with ancient Sailor’s and Chinese knots as well as hand embroidered buttons and tatted lace loops. Through my piece I hope to illustrate the timeless beauty of embroidery and embellishment crafts that are still relevant and exciting in fashion and art today. This being one of the main reasons for this fantastic competition.
Two seams on the skirt?! Can you elaborate? I do origami, so I can imagine the folding, but still . . . two seams! >By two seams I mean that the skirt is only structurally held into shape on the left and right side of the skirt. The 3d form is created entirely from folds; it’s one stretch of fabric.
I started out with two precisely measured rectangles of fabric. I then processed them, pleated them and folded them into shape.
The origami pattern that I used makes the fabric act like an accordion. The fabric can fold tightly flat to 10 cm by 50 cm (if I remember the measurements correctly).
When the fabric is folded out it has a 3D form. To make the skirt, I sewed the two pieces of fabric together on one side to make one seam. The other side is closed with handmade buttons and handmade lace loops. The skirt is also attached to the corset, around the waist, again with buttons and loops.
What made you want to enter this competition? Originally I was taken by the interesting brief and that inspired me to take part. Essentially I wanted to develop my skills and explore the medium further. Participating in the competition has been an incredible experience from beginning to end. I am delighted to have been awarded the 1st prize for the Open Category. The Hand & Lock Embroidery Prize is one of the leading awards of its kind and I am thrilled to have been chosen as a winner from such a talented group of international participants.
What motivated your choice for your entry? The main inspiration for my entry was the Dandelion clock and other vegetation such as Roman Broccolli. Over time my entry evolved organically to incorporate traditional and ancient craft techniques such as origami, gold work, needlelace, knotting and button making to create a modern look.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry? I don’t think I have any secrets really, all the techniques I used are pretty evident when seen up close to the eye.
Who was your mentor, and how did s/he help with your project? Carol Alayne who is a bespoke tailor. She was always on the other end of the phone to offer advice and feedback. As I am not a dressmaker she advised me particularly with the tailoring of my garment. Some of the elements were very challenging such as the pleated origami skirt.
When and how did you learn embroidery? Since I was a young girl I have had a keen interest in embroidery and used to spend many a rainy day on my summer holidays stitching away in the family caravan. My introduction to work with a needle came from both my mother and grandmother. Through them unfolded a fascinating world of embroidery, bobbin lace, dress-making and crochet. I went on to pursue this fundamental foundation in textiles more formally at college where I was encouraged to explore a wide range of textile design and in particular surface decoration and machine embroidery. I am an extremely tactile person, therefore I have a natural affinity with materials. Textile design provides a perfect platform for me to express myself. I find the behaviour of materials fascinating, particularly the way in which they interact with each other and part of the attraction is in manipulating these properties.
What was your first embroidery project? I believe it was a hummingbird, when I was a young girl.
What has been your biggest embroidery disaster to date or your strangest embroidery? Whilst at college my work was predominantly politically influenced. I was working on a hanging and I recall I was melting plastic soldiers for effect and one fell onto my hand, ouch!
Ah, yes, melted plastic figures are a common embroidery problem . . . for no one but you! That’s a great story.
What in your life influences and shapes your embroidery? Nature plays a huge influence and my overall surroundings including weather, colours, architecture and music.
I like to marry embroidery with other crafts and use embroidery in places where you don’t normally see it. What non-embroidery skills do you bring to the table that you might like to combine with embroidery? I also love to combine different craft techniques. I used some traditional knotting and weaving techniques in my entry as well as origami techniques. I am fascinated by combining embroidery with various mediums and techniques to compliment and accentuate art pieces.
What would you like your embroidery to do in the world and for the world? I would like my work to be emotive. Through my work I intend to express my interpretation of life and the world we live in.
What would you like to be doing five years from now? Ten? I would love to explore more kinds of embroidery, develop my techniques and to collaborate with some of the masters. The use of embellishment and fabric manipulation in fashion and costume is really exciting and I would love to be involved in this area. I would also love to work on interior pieces such as contemporary panels and hangings.
Where can we find more of your work? (any shows, websites, social media sites, etc.) I have a presence on social media including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. My upcoming website www.juliatitchfield.com will be available soon. I am looking to exhibit my latest work this summer if you would like to see more!
I know I would; I’m following you on Facebook.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
Would you rather stitch with bicycle chain or licorice laces? Why? A bicycle chain. I think it would offer me many possibilities to experiment and perhaps on a very large scale.
Favorite thread: I found a lovely black and gold Japanese thread whilst working on my entry for the Hand and Lock Prize. It’s a type of metallic thread which I mainly used for couching. It has a wonderful soft, malleable structure and a fine finish.
If you could embroider with just one color thread for the rest of your life, what would it be? That’s a tricky one! Perhaps a neutral colour such as beige or hessian. Then I could use the background fabric to bring colour into the design.
Favorite embroidery tool that isn’t a needle, hoop, or scissors: That would have to be my antique magnifying glass. It made the world of difference to me when doing all the French Knots on my entry!
Name something edible that you can embroider: Vegetable and fruits skins. Perhaps dried before and after embroidering to see the different effects.
If your embroidery were catalogued with books, what genre would it be (romance, mystery, horror, history, psychology, something else)? Fantasy
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? An ocean
What’s your embroidery code name? I don’t have one yet.
You’re being held captive on the third story of an old farm house. All you have are your embroidery supplies. What do you do? Perhaps I could pick the lock or braid myself a rope to escape out of the window. Or is that a fairy tale I’m thinking of?!
Having seen your knot work, I think a rope would be both possible and practical. Well done, Julia! It’s been a blast talking with you. I look forward to seeing what you do next.
All right, MrX readers, there are a ton of details and embellishments in Julia’s project. Which is your favorite, or which would you most like to try yourself? I’m going with the origami.
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.