The Funk Files – Meet Martha Blackburn


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 and to discover emerging embroidery talent. The 2020 brief, “The Poetics of Colour,” invited entrants to use colour as a fundamental component of the design process, employing inventive embroidery and textures that enhance and enrich or contradict and counter the colour choices.

Today we’ll meet the first-place winner in the Student Textile Art Category, Martha Blackburn.

Location: Lancashire, England

School(s) (include what year or the year you graduated):
Future Tutor Programme, Royal School of Needlework, 2017-2020
BA (Hons) Textiles in Practice, Manchester School of Art, 2013 – 2016

Martha Blackburn discusses her embroidery
Meet Martha Blackburn

The Competition

Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:

I really liked the brief, ‘The poetics of colour’, and I chose to interpret the brief in a slightly different way. I wanted to consider subtle tones, such as light and shade within my designs. Portraiture has been a central focus of my own work for many years and my Hand and Lock entries are an attempt to present a simple reflection of a moment in human experience. The portraits are intensified by the use of a limited colour palette and a single line.

Embroidered portraits by Martha Blackburn, first-place winner, Student Textile category, Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery
Embroidered portraits by Martha Blackburn, first-place winner, Student Textile category, Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery

Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?

They were stitched using size 12 needles and conservation threads.

Embroidered portraits by Martha Blackburn, first-place winner, Student Textile category, Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery
Embroidered portraits by Martha Blackburn, first-place winner, Student Textile category, Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery

Past

When and how did you first discover embriodery, and what impression did it make on you?

I first discovered embroidery when I was around 10 years old through a cross stitch kit that was given to me. I really enjoyed doing it and I still have the piece!

Embroidered portraits by Martha Blackburn
Embroidered portraits by Martha Blackburn

Present

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?

Being a pioneer, for me, is about continually trying to promote embroidery as a fine art medium in its own right, getting it the recognition it rightly deserves. I am also really interested in the interrelationship between photography, drawing and hand-embroidery. As well as looking at contemporary art and craft, I am interested in how they can be continually informed by traditional and historical methods.  

Embroidered portrait by Martha Blackburn
Embroidered portrait by Martha Blackburn

Future

What projects are on the horizon for you?

I am currently working on a series of drawings, in the hope they might become embroideries! I have been experimenting with some silk shading and gold-work techniques.

Where else can we see your work?

Instagram: @martha_teresa_designs

Portrait embroidery, Martha Blackburn
Portrait embroidery, Martha Blackburn

Tip

What one piece of advice would you offer someone who wants to create art?

My advice would be to start with imagery, colours, textures and ideas that speak to you. Get those ideas down on paper and allow them to inform and direct you.

Embroidered portrait, Martha Blackburn
Embroidered portrait, Martha Blackburn

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

A book you’ve enjoyed recently: The Case for Working with your Hands by Matthew Crawford.

You must include something edible in your next piece. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? Liquorish: cut them into fine strips and couch them down onto a nice golden silk!

If you were not an artist, what would you be? There is nothing else I would want to be!!

You are making lunch for the artist of your choice—and she/he/ze will love it. Who is the artist, and what are you making for lunch? Henry Moore: Pie and mushy peas, a Northern classic, because, I know that being from Yorkshire, he would appreciate this!

Do you save the best for last? Absolutely, that way there’s always something to look forward to!

Blackwork embroidery shading, by Martha Blackburn
Blackwork embroidery shading, by Martha Blackburn

You must turn a song into an embroidery. What is the song and what do you create?  Fleetwood Mac ‘Landslide’; there is some beautiful imagery of natural landscapes and human emotions.

You must create a garment or accessory for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? Fire bird: Silk shade beautiful feathers into a head piece.

You can shop for free at one store. What store do you choose? Cath Kidston: I absolutely love the bright, floral designs.

A celebrity wears something youve made to an awards show, and you receive fame, fortune, good health, fitness, and cake for life. Who is the celebrity and what does she/he/ze wear? I would make a beautiful gold work and silk shaded dress for Kate Middleton because she always looks classy and elegant!

What was the best gift youve ever gotten? My first embroidery cross stitch kit because who knows maybe I would never have to come to discover a love for hand embroidery without ever having been given my first kit.

Eye shading, blackwork embroidery, Martha Blackburn
Eye shading, blackwork embroidery, Martha Blackburn

Thank you, Martha!

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Is This The Most Helpful Cross Stitch Book? It Could Be! #bookreview #crossstitch

Jen Funk Weber

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.

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