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 2018 brief invited entrants to “celebrate culture, gender and individual heritage in the global atmosphere of transformation.” They were asked to make their work “stand for something bigger than itself conveying a meaningful message relevant to the transient state of the world today.”
London’s Bishopsgate Institute hosted the final judging and award ceremony for the 2018 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery. Today we’ll meet the third-place winner in the Textile Open Category.
Name: Mandish Kalsi
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and what motivated it:
I had been living in India at the time and was constantly disheartened by the pollution and disregard for the environment as well as the treatment of women. I had a hard time to get my head around these issues that were highlighted so much more in Delhi than my home city of Sydney. So I wanted to create a piece that addressed these issues.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
It’s the most challenging project I’ve taken on. I struggled quite a bit to get it finished. I had a very specific vision, and the materials I chose were rather hard to work with. I definitely underestimated it all, and it was quite last minute, to be honest, but I was very happy with myself for getting it done.
Tell us about your background and how it led you to where you are.
I grew up in Sydney and did a double bachelor’s in Fashion design and International Studies at UTS. After my studies I chose to go live in India and learn more about traditional textiles, during that whole journey I finally realised I wanted to keep working with artisans and sustainable design. I began my own label for textile jewellery and accessories that highlights artisan techniques that are dying out and working with upcycled fashion.
When and how did you learn embroidery, and what was your first embroidery project?
My mum used to do a lot of cross stitching when I was young and she would give me little projects to do for the holidays, that sparked the interest for embroidery, and I would teach myself different techniques through blogs and books. My first proper embroidery project was a pair of cushions I made for my textiles class at school.
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?
I think that for a majority of people embroidery is irrelevant so at the moment for all embroidery artists it’s a big task to make the art relevant again and find ways to make it more and more contemporary. That may be finding innovative materials or re-inventing age-old techniques.
Where else can we see your work?
I have a label called Mandysh, that began with embroidered jewellery. The range has now grown to include other accessories like scarves and purses. You can see the range online at www.mandysh.com.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I’m continually working on my brand and developing new designs, but I try and keep that more commercial. Ideally I’d like to be able to work on bigger, more artistic pieces but it’s been difficult to take the time to do so.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to expand his/her embroidery skills?
I would say to try and work with new materials. I personally find I learn more and become more creative working with odd and difficult materials.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? A tree.
You must include something live in your next piece. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? Flower petals, and I would probably encase them, maybe using resin and stitching them down.
You travel. What is one place you especially enjoyed visiting, and what is one place you haven’t been to yet, but would love to see? I absolutely adored Guatemala and really hope to go back one day. I haven’t been to Japan but it’s at the top of my list.
If you were not an artist, what would you be? An architect.
You are making lunch for the artist of your choice—and s/he will love it. Who is the artist, and what are you making for lunch? Issey Miyake and I’d probably make Vietnamese rice paper rolls. I have no idea what he would like, but that’s probably the most exciting thing I can make.
You must create a garment or accessory for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? Winter shawls for dogs.
Favorite material to work with: Mirrors.
A studio is remaking a movie, and they want you to design the costumes. What is the movie, and what is your favorite costume in it? Memoirs of a Geisha and all of Sayuri’s kimonos.
We’re hosting a show of “performance embroidery.” Describe your piece in the event. A big piece involving lots of mirrors of different sizes, and I would have it moving somehow so that they have moving reflections.
A celebrity wears something you’ve made to an awards show, and you receive fame, fortune, good health, fitness, and cake for life. Who is the celebrity and what does s/he wear? Emma Watson, and I would love for her to wear my H&L entry.
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.