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 2019 brief, “Fool the Senses,” invited entrants to consider the texture and feel of embroidery. Projects focused on embellishments with sumptuous surfaces that intrigued and surprised as they to deceived, confused, and fooled the senses. Organizers encouraged artists to recycle and re-purpose old materials, re-imagining and transforming them into something new.
London’s Bishopsgate Institute hosted the final judging and award ceremony, showcasing 24 finalists’ masterpieces organized into four categories: textile works by students and textile works non-students, fashion by students and fashion by non-students. A separate display featured notable works pre-selected for associate awards by Hand & Lock’s partners.
Today we’ll meet the winner of The Worshipful Company of Broderers Award, Jung Byun.
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:
I first came across the Hand and Lock prize on social media when a former graduate of the RSN programme, Elena Thornton, was awarded first prize in 2017. At the time, I had just started my first year on the future tutor course at the same institute, the RSN/Royal School of Needlework.
These prize winners showed incredible pieces of work which demonstrated various hand embroidery techniques and this motivated me to make something as ambitious during my course of future tutors.
However, I was only in my third year, so when I was able to prepare my graduation piece, I decided to prepare something to demonstrate my skills and my style to enter the prize, as I could express my idea in different media and skills.
I decided on the theme of a mirror for my final graduation piece to explore the idea of illusion and reality – in theory, the mirror is a lens through which we are able to view the ‘realest’ version of ourselves. However, depending on this mirror and the environment, this view of reality from the reflection of the mirror can be distorted and manipulated, thus affecting the way that we may view our own senses of ‘reality’. In this way, it is an interesting dichotomy of illusion and reality.
The mirror was also a reflection of the journey that I experienced in finding my identity here in the UK.
Like most immigrants, my whole family seem to feel that we do not belong to a particular culture. We feel that we belong to different aspects of each culture that we belong to. Since I moved to the UK in 2000, I have felt that there has been a shift in the ideas and concepts that I base my artwork on.
Whereas before, I had only had the perspective of belonging to a particular culture (Korean), I now feel that I am able to experience many cultures and incorporate these into my artistic ideas, by making a universal motif but in a unique design.
That is why the motif I chose to make a mirror was a peacock . Peacocks are regarded as a symbol of royalty in many countries and even in ancient Greece, the flesh of a peafowl did not decay after death; thus becoming a symbol of immortality. The Eye pattern in a peacock’s tail feathers symbolize the all-seeing Christian God and church. The peacock motif was revived in the renaissance iconography that unified Hera and Juno and on which European painters focused on.
The peacock is also regarded as a royal bird in Korea and this bird was only allowed to be used in the queen’s clothing and the royal household in traditional Korean embroidery.
I loved their colourful tails and opulent body feathers very much and used the silk shading technique to showcase the peacock’s vibrant colouring. The numerous eyes of the peacock’s tail represent the way animals also distort the predator’s sense of reality, similar to a mirror. My daughter used to tell me the bird has too many eyes on the tail when she was younger.
The two sides of the mirror are also able to show more than two techniques of the skills of hand embroidery perfectly. Therefore using the stylised design of a peacock, I wanted to apply stumpworks and Goldwork technique on the other side of the mirror.
I thought that a mirror would be a dimensional piece to show that embroidery could be used in every item and the application of embroidery would make that item an art form itself.
To show both sides of the embroidery application, I used a turn table to show the back and front of the mirror.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
Yes, there are, which I can now reveal.
For making the shape of the mirror, I had to rely on laser cutting. Using two layers of wood frame and one layer of mirror in between them, the three layers in total made a good dimensional effect.
However, after putting the three layers together using stitches, I found that the hand-made thick cord to disguise the stitching area was very hard to tuck inside. So, instead of tucking in the ends, I made a flower made of cord for decoration.
Tell us about your background and how it led you to where you are.
It is hard for me to know where to begin explaining my background. I suppose I should start by saying that I had had quite a variety of careers before I started the hand embroidery course in the Royal School of Needlework Future Tutor course.
I studied textile and clothing at a prestigious university back in South Korea. After graduation, I worked in a fashion-trend-forecasting company and worked in various projects there. It was similar to pioneering work back then, and I had to plan everything from scratch with my colleagues to give all the necessary information to meet the leading fashion and textile companies’ demands. I was a market researcher, fashion forecaster, as well as a fashion consultant. Although the work was really demanding, I felt blessed to have access to such expensive resources without worrying about the cost. I also travelled all over Europe for the global market research and fashion forecasting event like Premiere Vision.
Because of my past career, I am still very aware of the fashion trends as well as trends in current affairs.
After getting married to my husband and moving to a textile city in South Korea from Seoul, I was sent to make a central government planning organization in the city where the textile industries were the main economic source.
When I came to the UK because of my husband’s studying to work as a doctor in this country, I also worked as a fashion newspaper reporter and wrote articles about fashion industries in the UK.
I was once involved in organic children’s wear trading and exported organic clothing to Korea for a while.
Before I applied to the RSN, I worked as an assistant teacher in a weekend Korean school for nursery-aged kids and I realized that I love teaching and helping people.
As a former addict to quilting, my first encounter with the Royal School of Needlework happened in the stitch show in one of the exhibition stalls and I just knew I wanted to learn artistic hand embroidery.
When and how did you learn embroidery, and what what was your first project?
I made my first hand embroidery piece when I was around 14 years old. My sister (who is 2 years older than me) was very busy with her school work so my mum asked me to give her a hand with my sister’s hand embroidery assignment, not expecting much. I always loved drawing and painting, so mimicking the needle painting seemed to be ok to me. Surprisingly, my sister received a good grade for this assignment. Since then, my parents thought I had a talent in making clothing and stitching and they supported me when I decided to study a career in fashion.
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? And what’s been the biggest surprise of your career and the projects you’ve undertaken?
Thank you so much. I am flattered by that comment.
My biggest surprise of my career is having a Hand &Lock prize and achieved a distinction on my RSN future tutor course. It’s surely my biggest achievement so far in my hand embroiderer career.
I feel the embroidery frontier should be someone who can deliver new and innovative concepts using hand embroidery.
I am not quite sure I can deliver new concepts, but I am enjoying making hanging wall murals using new techniques these days.
This is the project which I initiated it and I asked one of my collegues to join me to make a series together.
This Kew Garden wall hanging is one where I used a traditional Korean quilting technique, known as ‘bojagi’.
My theme of work is ‘Bringing nature indoors’.
We require nature more during this difficult lockdown period, when people need to self-isolate and feel cut off from the rest of our world. This is especially true for those who are too vulnerable to go out, and are unable to enjoy going out to a national park or local garden park. So I wanted to make a portable textile garden.
My concept of the Kew Garden is Coexisting and sharing through the medium of a sheer screen.
The textile screen which I would like to use is going to bring the light in from the outside and the patchwork of the fabric pieces represents a combination of our own diverse culture.
These factors show every culture in the UK, which affect each other and our ability to coexist through the sheer screen.
The appliqué on top of the patchwork shows that natural Beauty is still the most predominant force amongst all this diversity and difficulty.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I am currently making silk organza scarves with hand embroidery detail. The material I source is one of the finest silks in Korea.
I love fashion very much and scarves are one of my favourite items so I am very excited to make them.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, I feel the world has changed and is still changing a lot. I am preparing an online platform to deliver hand embroidery lessons to a wider audience globally and in a more approachable and accessible way.
It is going to be free for a while but will be delivered with a membership later.
Where else can we see your work?
My website and Instagram.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to expand his/her embroidery skills?
Like I did, sometimes people worry too much about technical skill. But there are thousands of hand embroidery pieces to deliver a message with non-perfect skills. You do not have to show excellent skills to express creativity or to touch the hearts of people. Embroidery is a medium through which one can express their message and their artistic concepts.
Your work can change around your identity but your concepts do not have to change.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
You can work with just one color for the next year—beads, thread, fabrics, everything. What color do you choose?
I always love using the colour gold. There are different tones in gold so I can play with the different tones of gold without any problem.
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life?
Waves. I love waves very much. It indicates constant movement and power. I admire big waves very much.
We’re sending a collection of art into space with the hope that aliens will someday discover it. You’re asked to contribute a piece of embroidery. What do you make and why?
I would make a 3D figure of a human body. I have always thought that the human body is the most beautiful art piece. I would like to show them that Life is an art piece.
A book you enjoyed recently:
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a story about an immigrant who lived in Korea and Japan during Japan’s colonization period of Korea.
Oh, I loved Pachinko, too!
You must include something edible in your next piece. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it?
I would love to use marshmallows to create a sweet, happy, soft and tactile piece.
We have suffered a lot in not being able to experience physical touch during this pandemic, in not being able to touch or hug the people we love for a while.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
I love planning and changing things very much. I might have been an event organizer or a gallery curator.
You must create a textile for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create?
I would love to make a rhino horn cover or decorating textile. Whenever I see a rhino, I am so fascinated by those enormous horns. I would decorate with a goldwork-covered textile to give them more pride in their horn.
A place you’d like to visit:
I love to see wild animals very much. Although I am scared of insects, I would love to visit the Galapagos islands one day.
Describe your dream commission. What and for whom is it?
I would make haute couture handbags for haute couture designers.
A lovely frill and delicate fabric hand embroidered handbag would be perfect for the elaborate and luxurious clothing. Somehow I feel leather bags with haute couture do not match. I love leather but sometimes it looks a bit too stiff.
A studio is remaking a movie, and they want you to create a prop. What is the movie, and what prop are you creating?
A SF movie like Avatar, I would like to make a new form of plants with decorative threads and beads, spangles and metalwork in a colourful scheme with organic form.
Thank you, Jung! Your ideas are fresh and creative, and I look forward to your future projects. Please stay in touch.