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 second-place winner in the Open Fashion Category, Masha Reprintseva.
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:
I understand that interviews and confessions have different audiences. People fancy seeing and listening to marvelous stories of brilliant success. They are less interested in troubles and thorny ways.
A “closed door” appeared to be my motivation. It triggered the decision to submit the work for the competition. “Thistle” started like a bespoke order, extremely inspirational. The claim was to make a dress like nothing else on Earth – to mix the visual esthetics with a meaningful background, symbolism, and, etc. I did.
It took me six thousand working hours (about fourteen months) to accomplish one square metre of embroidery stitched by hand with one strand, lots of tambour beading, goldwork and stumpwork and tailoring of a full piece with a huge volume of hand stitching inside and outside. Everything seemed perfect till we came to the finishing point. I met a sort of devaluation of my skills by the client and her disappearing right after, which I associate with a closed door. This case gave a huge hook to my self-esteem and just the perception of all previously done works, and all other creative works on my to-do list. Such situations have already occurred, but I did not expect that with “Thistle” I might have experienced this again.
I almost believed that all that I do, think or make was a sort of rubbish and I should have never stepped in the way of design, but to continue my research work in linguistics, languages and psychology as I was trained to, while another part of me has always found a refuge in creation.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
As I feel it now, I had some difficulties but they have nothing to do with technical parts. Some find it uneasy to create the concept and to highlight it in the work.
I always plan every project that I process. I write a sort of statement, do the samples and mood board, moulage, and search for the best artistic expression – as it should be in the professional sphere. For me, it is the best way to succeed.
The submission process was complicated psychologically because when you have almost believed that you are not worthy, it might be hard to piece your self-esteem together and reboot. I am extremely thankful to my mentor Hazel McDonald, she is my lucky star and an amazing woman, who enlightened me and let me know that my work was worthy and competitive.
The story of my competition entry is about rebooting and prioritising myself. It is a magical push that made me realise how I had neglected myself before.
Tell us about your background and how it led you to where you are.
Craft and making, embroidery and stitching pierces the history of my family. We keep heirlooms such as embroidery, laceworks and loom-weaved pieces created in the 19th century by my great-great-grandmothers. All the females among ancestors kept the traditions of needlelace, bobbin lace, embroidery, crocheting, weaving, sewing. My mom brought me up in a creative atmosphere. As I see it now, creative work for her is the same therapy as it is for me. I remember my childhood and the times when mom sewed. By her side, I did it too. She gave me simple tasks and it was quite funny practice. Father did not share our love of creation and wanted me to become “hyperactive” in other spheres. He tried to realise his “plan” of making a scientific figure of me.
In our home, there was a high concentration of academic air because both of my parents are doctors of science, so in such an atmosphere “officially” it is impossible to escape the inherited scenario, sneak away and go where you want, but eventually, I did it.
Embroidery and sewing always took me to another universe when I was tired from the academic surroundings.
During my first year of university studies in 2004-2005, accidentally I found a part-time job in an atelier. At first, it was not connected with tailoring or anything concerning sewing. The owner of the atelier wanted her son to have some private classes of English and French and found me. We had our lessons in her studio, and I was so much inspired by the atmosphere of the atelier, the smell of sartorial tools and the whole mood. I could not resist asking her to teach me some tailoring tricks as a barter. I enlarged my knowledge during a couple of years there and, I am thankful for many things I learnt in the “front line” of the craft. I made silk flowers (quite like the pieces from the Maison LEMARIÉ in Paris) and embroidered a lot. By the way, the first person who opened me to the secrets of silk flower-making was my grandmother. I saved her hand-crafted antique tools and today, from time to time, use them.
In the atelier, I processed the first embroidered gown, and I leant through errors and such a real experience, and it became my treasured practical background.
On having become quite handy to process everything myself: design, pattern making (drawing or draping), cutting, tailoring, etc. I decided to dress up my mom and friends, and fellow students in our language faculty. I applied in my creations everything I had learnt. They were lucky to wear my experiments. I adore the classical approach of tailoring with lots of technical hand stitching that is always hidden from the eyes but it is the key thing that makes the fitting of
a dress or a costume perfect. This approach is different from the current fast-consuming, fast-fusing, fast-sewing, fast-throwing away ideology. It is sustainable, thoughtful and serves for producing timeless clothes.
There came graduation time, and as anyone in my shoes would be, I was anxious about plans for the future, without any prospects, but being under the pressure of my father, I continued as a postgraduate student, writing a dissertation work. I succeeded and accomplished it well.
But stitching and creating was my secret refuge again. At the periods when I felt complicated, creative work saved me from the emotional catastrophe.
Moreover, creating appeared a “master key” to my scientific supervisor, in whom I found one more creative soul-mate. These two parts—scientific and creative—were always the antagonists and misbalanced me sometimes. At some point, I understood that I needed to dig into this issue and entered the Master course of psychology and met another revelation. I understood much about humans. I enlarged my awareness about children and youth psychology ( I taught them languages at language school) and, even for those so special ones who parents call “complicated” I found special “keys” through various crafts at the lessons, which made the learning easier and helped me to be on the same wavelength with students. And I have understood many things about myself and bringing up children in an environment that helps them develop their natural talents. Motherhood too made me realise a lot, and I am thankful for that!
At the beginning of 2020, I resigned from language school after eleven years of immersive work there. I felt professional burnout and decided to stop because some thoughts that I went the wrong way came and I took them seriously.
Eventually, I prioritised the side which was my long-time passion.
So, here I am!
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?
Well, I have never thought about how it is to be a pioneer. I have never perceived myself in that way (haha, I got used to being sort of an outsider, because at school I experienced bullying for wearing tailored clothes and visiting art classes) and this feeling still has some influence on me, a sort of unpleasant “tingling” in the back.
I have never thought of myself as a “pioneer” because I see them as fast-living “products” (as far as I remember it from the Soviet past). As real pioneers, they grow up rapidly, some of them step up to another level becoming flagmen, billionaires, big commerce, some leave this race.
I do not like racing and I do not even try to make my work look like someone else’s (pioneer’s) work, having more conscious regard. My priority is to underline functionality, historical background, and the power of craft and the idea itself and philosophy. I just want to make my work authentic, recognisable. I want to explain myself through my creations. I just want to be real, without playing any parts.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
Always I have several projects on the go. Such rhythm gives me stability. When I get tired from one I switch to another. Always I have lots of stitching all time it is my normal way of living. It is my zen!
What one piece of advice would you offer a budding artist?
Just believe you are worthy, no matter what you do or make! Write it down, repeat it like a mantra and do not let anyone disturb your belief.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? A surgeon. Medicine drives me crazy, it is so fascinating to read about the human body and discover its functions. By the way, being a good surgeon means being good at stitching!
Would you rather embroider with cooked spaghetti or a bicycle chain? I have experience embroidering plastic mesh with cooked spaghetti – my daughter and I did it as a part of a Montessori activity some ago.
So, bicycle chain, please! (Hah!)
You’re asked to create a garment for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? To dress an animal in a garment for me means to compare yourself to Mother Nature, to compete with nature in the activity that you are doomed to fail. Nature is wiser and more creative than human beings. I wouldn’t even try.
Color gurus are naming a new color for you. What is it called, and what does it look like? All the best has already been invented. In our might is just to mix these colours gingerly, opening the familiar combinations supported by some clever idea in the background.
Let each play its perfect part in one symphony.
What is one of the best gifts you’ve ever received? Each new day is a gift. My daughter is a gift. My husband is a gift. My nearest and dearest are my gems. To be loved and to love in return is precious.
Life is a marvelous gift my mom gave me and I am extremely thankful for that!
We’re sending a capsule into space, hoping it might be found by aliens. You’re asked to make something to include in it. What do you make and why? A needle and a thread. After a thousand years, it has all chances to become a lateral thinking puzzle.
A book you’ve enjoyed recently: Winston Churchill’s Painting as a Pastime.
Recently, I just needed some brilliant mind to spend time with, to talk, and Winston dropped in for a cup of tea with lemon. He refused to have anything stronger. He sat in front of me all night long, speaking in his traditional manner (with a bit of philosophic sarcasm and juicy English pun), sipping tea. We had a thoughtful talk and he, from the depth of his heart, explained some truths, which I was blind to notice before.
All the time I have something to read. Now I am avidly reading Roland Barthes’s The Fashion System. I find symbolism, phenomenology and philosophy of garments fascinating, but Roland is so nerdish, refuses tea or anything else and smokes too much! Hah!
You get to make lunch for a famous person (she/he/zie will love it!). Who is the person, and what are you serving for lunch? I would prioritise a long walk in Osborn Garden with Queen Victoria instead of having lunch with her. I adore the contribution she made in art, design and textile manufacture, in the whole philosophy of applied art in the 19th century, which changed the world of art and craft. I am sure the conversation would be pleasant for both of us in many aspects.
Do you listen to anything while you work, or do you prefer silence? It all depends… the mood I have and the mood I create in the embroidery frame. Silence, rain behind the window, my daughter making her special kind of music, or Chopin, or Sir Elton, or Thom York, anything is welcome.
You’re creating a garment inspired by a favorite place. What place do you choose, and what is the garment? The inner part of me. And, it won’t be a piece of clothes, it is more likely to be a redesigned mindset.
These days I am creating a piece that speaks much of this “place”, about an alternative ego hidden from the public.
Such features as emotional complications, anxiety, mental disorders, and other psychological conditions are quite common for many around, but people are too afraid of public stigmatization and stay lonely with their troubles, neglecting themselves and hiding their unease instead of asking for help and solving psychological troubles or at least naming them.
Through the making of this piece, I support and accept myself, furthermore, I give my hand to those who feel the same, to let them understand that they are not alone, that any emotional troubles can become tools for creation – a sort of remedy.
Just make yourself a priority again. Experiencing the trouble of self-realization, anxiety of becoming who you want to be, just remember that any artist first was an amateur, the true way is always thorny and bumpy, but it is the only way where you may become yourself.
Thank you, Masha!