Meta McKinney

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 second place winner in the Student Category.

Meta McKinney

Location: Arlington Heights, Illinois (suburb of Chicago)

Favorite embroidery or textile medium:

  • Embroidery: Found/reclaimed objects—pieces and parts from vintage jewelry to objects found in nature
  • Textile: Silk organza and/or Belgian linen

Congratulations, Meta, on your win! Please describe your Hand & Lock entry for us: According to Aristotle, the Golden Mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. My piece explores this pull between extremes. The top of my dress exemplifies excess. It has color, form, structure and texture. It is bold and sumptuous, balanced and unbalanced all at the same time. In comparison, the lower half of my dress is a simple silhouette with subtle tone on tone color variation. It gives the impression of being light and carefree while having been painstakingly made from pieces and parts of existing special garments through a process using water-soluble stabilizers.

Meta McKinney
Meta McKinney

The Golden Mean was also explored by the Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci. He wrote about the Golden Mean from a mathematical point of view that related to a numerical series found frequently in the natural world. In this sequence, each number is equal to the sum of the preceding two. This sequence is found in nature, and is easily seen in flowers. I purposely chose flower shapes for the silk organza flowers on my dress that demonstrate this mathematical definition of the Golden Mean. The direct use of a very balanced, structured floral pattern juxtaposed next to the softer and more flowing beaded flowers felt like a more modern take on an otherwise romantic motif.

My piece delights in the exploration of the space between simplicity and sumptuousness, the link between past and present and the question of proportion and ratio in regards to beauty and harmony.

What made you want to enter this competition? I am lucky to have Beata Kania as my fashion embroidery instructor! She has entered and won the open competition twice and she encouraged me, and other classmates, to enter the competition. I like working on projects that take time and thought so this particular competition fit the way that I like to work.

Meta McKinney, Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery, competition dress
Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery competition dress by Meta McKinney. Model: Stephanie Crick. Photography: Jutta Klee. Hair & Make Up Artist: Stephie Hoyle.

What motivated your choice for your entry? After reading the design brief supplied by Hand & Lock and spending a lot of time looking at the resources they recommended, ideas started to gel in my head into what you see now as my finished dress. I liked the simplicity of the silhouette and how it allows the embroidery to stand out.

Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry? I made the fabric using water soluble fabric, silk organza and lots of different reclaimed textiles. The fabric is made up of pieces and parts of tablecloths, sweaters, dresses and other found textile items.

Oh, wow! Will you tell us more about how you did this? I spent a lot of time collecting vintage textile pieces from thrift stores. I also deconstructed old sweaters and looked for other interesting reclaimed textiles in my white/cream colored color palette to add to my piece. I had friends give me pieces and parts of old clothes that I was able to add and my sister even gave me her wedding dress. There is sentimental value to my piece – a history that I think about when I look at it. The placement of the pieces and parts was simply what appealed to me aesthetically.

The water-soluble product that I used was Sulky Heat-Away Clear Film. I was able to buy a 25-yard bolt of it that was almost 20 inches wide. I used a layer of silk organza as my base and then layered my pieces and parts on top of that and then put the layer of water-soluble fabric over that. I then had to pin all the layers together with a lot of pins in order to hold everything together. From there, I went to my sewing machine and stitched and stitched and stitched.

Meta McKinney, Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery competition dress
Meta’s dress, made from reclaimed textiles and water-soluble stabilizer. Model: Stephanie Crick. Photography: Jutta Klee. Hair & Make Up Artist: Stephie Hoyle.

How sturdy or delicate was the final fabric? The final fabric is quite sturdy but I love how it has a lightness to it at the same time.

Would you use this fabric-making process again? I definitely would use this process again! I would like to explore other ways of using the water-soluble fabric to create something completely different.

Okay, back to the competition. Who was your mentor, and how did s/he help with your project? I was lucky to have Diana Springall assigned to me as my mentor by Hand & Lock. We emailed back and forth a couple of times. She was very supportive and kind and offered me her opinion on placement of the embroidered flowers around the neckline. I met Diana in person at the awards event and am planning on visiting with her when I am back in London this coming June. Beata Kania was also a mentor and my instructor throughout the creation process.

Meta McKinney's Dress Fabric, Hand & Lock 2014 Prize for Embroidery
Take a look at this fabric! This image doesn’t do it justice, but I hope it gives you a sense of it.

When and how did you learn embroidery? I have enjoyed working with my hands ever since I can remember. I learned to knit at about age 7. I did simple weaving and rug hooking at a young age too. It was as a teen that I discovered cross stitch, needle point and sewing. It wasn’t until I took my first couture embroidery class with Beata Kania at Harper College 2 years ago, that I really learned advanced embroidery techniques. I have learned so much from her.

What was your first embroidery project? My first official embroidery project at school was done the summer of 2012 and was inspired by the art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

What has been your biggest embroidery disaster to date or your strangest embroidery? I enjoy using found objects in my embroidery projects. One of my last class projects was a knit top that I embroidered with driftwood. It is definitely not a disaster but it could be considered a strange embroidery medium.

You’re a textile student, right? Where do you go to school, and what is your particular course of study? I am a student at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. The school is in a suburb of Chicago. I am an alternative student, in that I am older and already have an undergraduate and graduate degree and have returned to school to pursue a new career. I am studying Fashion Design.

What made you want to pursue embroidery and textiles in school? I really enjoy slow, process work. I have a lot of patience and like the process of working on a project in steps over a period of time. I have always enjoyed hand work. I spent a lot of my life teaching myself different artistic crafts and things and when we moved to the Chicago area 3 years ago, I discovered I was finally in an area where I could get some formal training and education.

To date, what’s been your favorite class? Most definitely, Couture Embroidery.

A corset richly embellished with embroidery.
Meta’s first student embroidery project: a corset inspired by the art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Photo by Kayoua Xiong.

As you study embroidery, what has surprised you? I guess that the biggest surprise would be how much money I have and want to invest in my projects! I wish that I had unending access to whatever embroidery supplies I wanted! I guess that’s not reality though.

Ha! I would guess every reader here can relate to that!

What in your life influences and shapes your embroidery? It sounds over reaching but truly, the world around me that I encounter everyday if my eyes are open, brings me surprises and inspiration all the time. My life is full, with 4 kids and 2 dogs and I think that my ability to multi-task and focus because of this chaos, helps my art. I studied art history in my undergraduate studies and have always been drawn and inspired by art. The outdoors and nature catches my breath and amazes me constantly.

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 like to combine with embroidery? Every fall/winter I am drawn back to knitting. I have not added any embroidery to my knit projects to date but I think that will happen soon. I also enjoy drawing and recently had a drawing that I did made into fabric to use as a lining in a coat. I would love to learn more about weaving and think that the combination of weaving with embroidery would be fabulous.

What would you like your embroidery to do in the world and for the world? I would hope that my pieces entertain those that look at them. I hope that people can appreciate and understand the work. It would be lovely for my work to be inspiring to others…to inspire someone to create their own art. I hope that my work is good to the world we live in. I like to use reclaimed items in my work because it’s good to reuse and recycle and I feel a need to protect the world we live in.

What would you like to be doing five years from now? Ten? Such a good question and one that I have been grappling with this past year! I would love to be able to get an internship at Hand & Lock! I hope to still be learning and creating in all the years ahead of me. I would enjoy working with an established designer that is interested in adding embroidery details to their work. The big goal is to continue to learn and grow and keep on creating.

Driftwood embellishment on a knit top
Meta McKinney embellished this knit top with driftwood. Photo by Dennis Larance. Model: Kim Noel.

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

Would you rather stitch with spaghetti or industrial chain link? Industrial chain link

Favorite thread: Heavy cotton button thread

If you could embroider with just one color thread for the rest of your life, what would it be? Right now, I would have to say indigo blue

Favorite embroidery tool that isn’t a needle, hoop, or scissors: Containers to help me organize my stuff! Ohmydog, I love this answer! I need more of these tools.

Name something edible that you can embroider: Kale

If your embroidery were cataloged with books, what genre would it be (romance, mystery, horror, history, psychology, something else)? Funny question because my graduate degree is in Library and Information Science! I think that I am drawn to answer history but it’s a hard question for me to answer. My competition dress would be romance.

What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? A mask.

What’s your embroidery code name? Meta – the benefit of having an unusual name.

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? Look around and take in my surroundings. I imagine that there’s a lot to see and explore on that 3rd floor…boxes to go through, photos to look at, remnants of the lives of those that live and have lived in that house. I would spend a lot of time taking in all that is there. I imagine that I would find a significant something that I am drawn to and then create a piece that I would hope incorporates the object itself, its history and what it inspires in me.

Well done, Meta! It’s been a treat chatting with you. We wish you well as you continue your studies, and we look forward to seeing more of your designs in the future.