Maria Hera

The Funk Files: Embroidery Frontiers

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.

Maria Hera

Tell us a little about yourself and how you spend your time. I have been developing a love for all different textures of yarns and for handcrafted work since I was a little girl because I had the best teachers in the world: my mother and my grandmother. I knitted my first item when I was about 7 years old and I couldn’t abandon this passion ever since. In April 2005 I opened my studio which specialises in the design and production of bespoke and ready-to-wear clothing. In the same year I began a Fashion Design course at School of Arts (Alba Iulia, Romania). Later on, between 2007-2010, I studied Fashion Design at the University of Arts and Design in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. “Alternative Handmade”, my graduating collection, received The Perwoll-Henkel Award and was also shown at Europe Future Fashion (July 2011) in Split, Croatia.

In the last 2 years of University I worked as a fashion designer for a knitwear factory in Romania.

I’m always attending different courses and workshops—the latest one was a Fashion Design and Marketing course at Central Saint Martins.

What’s your favorite embroidery or textile medium? I could say that my favourite medium has always something to do with yarns. In my designs I usually combine crochet, hand knitting, weaving with different types of needlework. I love to innovate and create new shapes and patterns by mending varied textures and colours.

Describe your Hand & Lock entry. The final dress named ”Natural Harmony”, is part of the ”Interlaced Rhythm” Collection. The collection is about my other passion for music, as I’m an amateur guitar player and singer too. It’s a research based on the effect of sounds and rhythm upon humans.

Maria Hera 2014 Prize for Embroidery
Hand & Lock 2014 Prize for Embroidery competition dress by Maria Hera. Model: Stephanie Crick. Photography: Jutta Klee. Hair & Make Up Artist: Stephie Hoyle.

I define ”Natural Harmony” as a musical and artistic statement, and an attempt to mark the bond between nature and humans through rhythm. I used two main motifs: Flower of Life (considered as the basic pattern of existence and symbol of sacred geometry) and Treble Clef (the bond, since it identifies the note on the staff from which all the other notes are referenced).

The main technique I chose for making the final garment is a different type of needlework called Romanian Point Lace or Macrame. It is a combination between drawing, embroidery and crochet, using decorative stitches to create assorted shapes. I also added a few tatting elements for the most accurate templates. The designs used as a base for the patterns are my own drawings inspired by floral geometric harmonies and a sketchy self portrait.

What made you want to enter this competition? The floral theme of the competition is very close to my heart. I’ve always been exploring the natural patterns in my designs. This was the perfect opportunity to include floral patterns into my music-inspired collection.
I was also very impressed by Hand & Lock work and experience. I was sure that such a talented team will appreciate my designs and will give me the right feedback for my work. I trusted my intuition and I was right! I still feel so lucky that I discovered the competition in the last 2 days for entry!

Oh, wow! You entered in the nick of time.

Detail of Maria Hera's prize-winning dress.
Detail of Maria’s “Natural Harmony” dress.

What motivated your choice for your entry? I found the perfect connection between rhythm and floral patterns: the flower of life – one of the main motifs in the final dress. Even if the contest is over, I still feel fascinated and inspired to reinvent this universal pattern and include it in my next collection.

An important role for my choice were also the textile trends in fashion defined by Philippa Watkins at the H&L Festival of Embroidery. My participation in the Talk was a very inspired treat that I offered myself for my birthday!

Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry? Perhaps there are many little secrets, but there’s a special one for me that I’d like to share: the winning dress includes my first Romanian Point Lace/Macrame sample. It’s a silky heart shape pattern sewn at the bottom of the dress. I think of it as my lucky charm.

I could also mention that the underneath dress should have been embroidered, but I wasn’t entirely pleased with how the stitched details looked. I guess I needed more time to make it “perfect”. I am still improving my embroidery skills.

Those are great secrets; thanks for sharing them!

Who was your mentor, and how did s/he help with your project? Andy Kenny was my mentor. He gave the best advice for some very important details and encouraged me through and through. You could say he gave my dress its final touch, the sprinkles on the cupcake. I am very grateful for all the suggestions and encouragement.

When and how did you learn embroidery? We had craft classes at school where I learnt knitting and embroidery. But like I said before I inherited the passion for threads from my mum and grandma. With their help and support I managed to improve my skills. Actually I never stopped learning. This kind of art requires a lot of hard work; sometimes I’d even take my work with me at parties and get-togethers.

What was your first embroidery project? It was a hand embroidered floral motif on a table cloth which I still have and use from time to time.

What has been your biggest embroidery disaster or strangest project? I tend to learn while making mistakes, so I don’t consider any of my designs a disaster. But come to think about it, I did have some experiences that one might call a disaster. But that’s the danger when you love animals and like to have them around you. They think most of the things are toys…

Oh, yes. Pet/craft disasters . . . I’ve had a few of those, too.

What in your life influences and shapes your embroidery? I can’t talk only about embroidery, because I’m using varied textile techniques in my designs.

I am inspired by everything that surrounds me, filtrated through my passions and feelings. The music that I listen to and play, the books that I read…even a single word from a poem can make me create something new. People and life in general are a stupendous source of inspiration. I guess the list is very long…

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 combine with embroidery? I’ve already combined embroidery with macramé, knitting, crochet, hand-woven fabrics, prints and even photography. I think a hand-embroidered detail looks great on everything.

What would you like your embroidery to do in the world and for the world? In my opinion the garments and accessories say so many things about a person—my aim is to inspire people to be original and express their uniqueness, even if this means being some kind of Lady Gaga. I’d like the garment designed by myself to be like a recommendation letter for the one wearing it.

What would you like to be doing with your embroidery five years from now? Ten? I am referring again to my designs in general. I hope I’ll be able to create and work with the same passion for the rest of my life. If you do what you love, you’re not actually working, you’re living your dream. Hopefully I’ll be able to develop my bespoke.

I also believe I am ripe enough to be part of a team, it makes more sense to work as part of a healthy organism, just like an embroidered flower of life.

Maria Hera's Knitwear
Maria Hera’s Knitwear

Where can we find more of your work? (any shows, websites, social media sites, etc.) My new website for bespoke garments and accessories will be ready soon. Until then I have a permanent exhibition at Oxo Tower Wharf. There is my facebook page and my two Etsy shops, MariaHera and SoundsInBloom.

Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)

Would you rather stitch with bicycle chain or spaghetti? Why? Spaghetti for me, please! They are flexible and squeezable enough, allowing me to create a perfect round shape.

Favorite thread: All natural fibres.

If you could embroider with just one color thread for the rest of your life, what would it be? Orange: it’s the colour of dawn and sunset; as red as love and as yellow as a blooming dandelion. (I love this answer!)

Favorite embroidery tool that isn’t a needle, hoop, or scissors: Pencil – because almost every new design starts from a scratched idea and this is the part that I love most.

Name something edible that you can embroider: I can imagine an interesting embroidered design on nuts and chestnuts for a collarette.

If your embroidery were cataloged with books, what genre would it be (history, thriller, children’s, mystery, romance, etc.)? Romance and mystery.

Maria Hera dress on the catwalk
Maria Hera Embroidered Dress

What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? The combination of two motifs: flower of life and treble clef.

What’s your embroidery code name? From now on I’ll use the name of my next collection: Interlaced rhythm.

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? I would recreate the landscape seen through the window in the morning and afternoon, then in the evening and night. Afterwards, I’d interlace my way to freedom, like a stitched Rapunzel.

Well done, Maria! Thanks for chatting with us.

All right, MrX readers. I love how Maria explores the combination of the flower of life and the treble clef in her designs and inspiration. What two motifs might you combine to explore designs that express your personal interests?

I would combine animal tracks and hats. Hmm . . . really? Animal tracks (including human tracks) have been a favorite motif for a long time, but the addition of hats is, frankly, off the top of my head. Sounds disastrously odd right now, but who knows?