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 2017 brief invited entrants to ‘celebrate, let go, to let loose and indulge in childlike freedom, to celebrate history, global culture, sense of place, sense of identity, and to celebrate embroidery and life.’
London’s Bishopsgate Institute displayed entries from 32 finalists and hosted the final judging of the 2017 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery.
Today we’ll meet the second-place winner in the Textile Open Category.
Name: Sally Wilson
Location: Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
Describe your Hand & Lock entry:
CELEBRATION—Animaux de Fete (Party Animals)
The piece celebrates the exuberance of nature.
As with most celebrations, the piece begins with the pop of a champagne cork and plume of champagne exploding upwards to form the tree of life. Nestled in its midst are a bird, a bee collecting nectar from the tree’s blossom, a worm feasting on the tree’s fruit whilst an animal’s skull lays hidden in the tree’s deep tangled roots.
As the champagne reaches its greatest breadth a beautifully tiered cake emerges decorated with Royal icing surrounding the ‘Animaux de Fete’ coat of arms and the Hand & Lock insignia. The Party Animals burst free from the top of the cake; a Gadwall duck and hamster in partying mood, bathed in the glow of the candle lights.
The piece is created in a large arc to emulate the cycle of life, in the same manner, that the tree of life signifies birth, life and death. Droplets of bejeweled champagne drop down towards the champagne bottle and a small drunken mouse.
The surface is embellished with hand and machine embroidery, crochet, smocking and appliquéd recycled fabrics. It is finished with a variety of beads and vintage findings.
What made you want to enter this competition?
The Hand & Lock Prize is the pinnacle achievement for hand embroidery and textiles. I felt it was a real challenge and would test my own skills and development.
What motivated your choice for your entry?
I was overwhelmed when I won the Hand & Lock Prize in 2016, but it was intensive and time consuming; I had therefore, decided not to enter the Prize in 2017.
I changed my mind after reading the 2017 brief ‘Celebrations’. I was immediately excited by the possibilities and could not stop thinking about relevant ideas. I wanted to create something which truly signified the celebration of Hand & Lock’s 250th Anniversary; hence the exploding champagne bottle and tiered cake.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
I initially designed a piece which was approximately 2 feet tall (in order to limit the time spent creating it—about 3 months of work). The sculpture grew to over 5 feet and eventually took 11 months to complete!
How many times have you entered this competition?
I have only entered the Prize twice—I was drawn to it when Hand & Lock introduced the ‘Textile Art’ category. Prior to this I felt I was not qualified to produce a piece for the ‘Fashion’ category—maybe a future project?
This is at least your second Hand & Lock win. (See our chat after Sally’s first win.) Are there other competition wins I don’t know about?
I enjoy exploring a range of materials and techniques, but the Hand & Lock Prize was the first competition I had entered which required hand stitching (I had to learn very quickly and had very sore fingers!).
I had previously won the Madeira/Stitch Prize and achieved the Category Prize for ‘Machine Embroidery’ (free stitch) and one of my large sculptures was a Finalist in the Pfaff International Art Embroidery Challenge.
I have been shortlisted for the John Ruskin Prize and also the National Open Art Competition for drawing. Late last year I won the President’s award from the Society of Graphic Fine Art.
How was your participation this year different from last year?
The ‘Celebrations’ piece grew quite organically but I faced issues with its design and composition: I did not feel that these challenges were fully resolved. The ‘Shoebill’ [from the 2016 competition] in contrast, developed more fluidly and worked compositionally from the early stages of its construction.
What impact does winning this award have on you?
The Hand & Lock Prize is a massive accolade; it is one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had the privilege to be a part of and feel very lucky to be one of the chosen few.
It validates all that I do and has made me more aware of what I am capable of creating—the possibilities are endless!
One of the best experiences of this year was meeting my Mentor, Diana Springall. She is a force to be reckoned with within the textile industry and I felt incredibly inspired by her enthusiasm and knowledge.
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?
Reading that is like receiving the ultimate birthday gift!
Thank you for your kind words—to be honest, I don’t feel like a pioneer but rather an artist who is trying to be original and create unique pieces.
Gaining recognition and publicity for textile art work is very challenging and the amount of rejection emails I have received in the last few years has, at times, chipped away at my confidence.
I do feel the Hand & Lock Prize will give my work more credence and ultimately help textiles to be taken seriously. I would love to help textiles to be put on the map as a creditable and valid art medium in art gallery settings. Ultimately I would love to have an exhibition of my extensive collection of pieces in a large gallery setting—such as the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield or one of the Galleries at YSP.
Where else can we see your work?
Due to the intensive work put into the Hand & Lock pieces over the last two years, other areas of my work have been neglected. This year, I hope to re-establish this by creating work for the NOA competition, the John Ruskin Prize and the SGFA Annual show.
My work can also be viewed via the Embroiderers Guild as I also give talks to regional groups and occasionally to Art group ATM’s where I show examples of my work and discuss my methods and processes; and how my work was affected and changed due to a Traumatic Brain Injury.
Will you enter the 2018 Hand & Lock competition?
No, I have considered it but to be honest I struggled with the theme ‘Material Alchemy meets Modern Morality’. I also felt it was time to explore other avenues of my work for a while, particularly my drawing- which is integral to all I create.
What single goal would you most like to accomplish in the coming year? (Art-related or otherwise.)
I have already partially succeeded with my main goal which was to revamp my website which had sadly been neglected recently.
My other main aim is to spend more time with my family and friends.
Sorry, that’s two goals; I never could follow the rules!
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about entering the Hand & Lock competition?
I have learnt that if is not essential to be a slave to the theme (which I have tended to be!). It is definitely open to interpretation and should not limit your creativity—it should be the spark to create a bonfire!
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
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? I have anxiety when meeting new people (part of the TBI effect) and so my gut reaction would be my mate, Dave Bradbury, who is a very talented artist and stone mason. I’d take him and his lovely wife, Sue, for a beer then fish and chips from the local chippie (with lots of creative chat in between).
You’re asked to create a garment or accessory for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? I would create a mechanical automata flying machine for a small animal to operate—perhaps a hamster who could operate it by running in a wheel within its cavity.
Or a ‘Dog with a Satnav’….
Not the most creative garment to design but definitely the most useful!
My Mum has a lovely but aging Border cross Lakeland terrier who is half deaf (we don’t know if this is selective hearing) and half blind. A beeping/flashing ‘satnav’ vest would help to locate her when she goes awol.
A place you’d like to visit: Eventually I would love to visit Australia and New Zealand as I have some very good friends I would like to visit.
If embroidery were an Olympic sport, what would it look like? It would be a cross between the ‘Bird-man’ Competition and Eddie the Eagle, where skiers wear mad textile inventions/costumes and try to ‘fly’ as far as possible off a ridiculously high ski jump.
Something you’d like to learn: Many years ago I tried metal casting and creating cast moulds. I would love to get to grips with these techniques again to use in my artwork.
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? It would have to be someone who had an excellent sense of humour—maybe Peter Kaye. I’d make him a suit that celebrated his home town of Bolton.
Favorite shoes to wear: Heeled Dr Martens or Mountain Horse stable Jodhpur boots—excellent metal workshop wear!
We’re sending a collection of art into space with the hope that aliens will someday discover it. You’re asked to contribute something that represents this time on our planet. What do you make? I would create a menagerie of three dimensional animals to show the real beauty of our planet.
A studio is remaking a movie, and they want you to design a piece of art for a set. What is the movie, what’s the set, and what do you create? It would have to be ‘The Addams Family’. In the interior of the house, I would create a mixture of strange creatures emerging from the wall surfaces.
If your art were cataloged with books, what genre would it be (romance, mystery, horror, history, psychology, something else)? Definitely Ecological Biology—the study of how organisms interact with their environments. I was brought up on a small-holding with lots of birds and animals and have continued to be inspired by the natural world. It is a great source of inspiration for my work.
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.