Left wing detail, by Sally Wilson

Sally Wilson | Goldwork Embroidery

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. This year, sponsors added Textile Art categories to the traditional Fashion categories. The 2016 brief challenges participants to create quality design that consumers will cherish for years and that will stand the test of time.

On Thursday, November 3rd, London’s Bishopsgate Institute hosted the final of the 2016 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery.

Today we’ll meet the first-place winner in the Textile art Open Category.

Sally Wilson, 2016 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery Winner
Meet Sally Wilson

Name: Sally Wilson

Location: Holmfirth, West Yorkshire & Chiswick, West London

Website: sallywilson.co.uk

Describe your Hand & Lock entry:

The Hand & Lock prize brief was to create a design which would “stand the test of time” whilst “celebrating the history” of something special. I started to investigate animals and birds which were endangered and came upon the magnificent if not bizarrely featured African Shoebill (Balaeniceps Rex—”King of the Swamps”) and felt it was a perfect candidate due to its fascinating life and history.


Shoebill I, by Sally Wilson
Shoebill I, by Sally Wilson


Shoebill II, by Sally Wilson
Shoebill II, by Sally Wilson


I designed a cloak befitting the Shoebills “royal” status and to disguise it from predators whilst it feeds on the swamp edges where crocodiles are prevalent; the cloak is patterned to imitate the aquatic reptile and hence, create a protective shield.

The back of the cloak is embellished with a coat of arms which celebrates its life; the catfish represents its main food source; the Sudanese flag, its domain; and the whale represents its alternative title, “whale of the land”. The left wing of the cloak denotes the wildlife of Sudan. The right wing represents the hippopotamus which drives fish towards the Shoebill, acting as an unlikely ally.


Shoebill coat, by Sally Wilson
Shoebill coat, by Sally Wilson


Coat of arms detail, by Sally Wilson
Coat of arms detail, by Sally Wilson


Left wing detail, by Sally Wilson
Left wing detail, by Sally Wilson


Right wing detail, by Sally Wilson
Right wing detail, by Sally Wilson


I constructed the Shoebill using a welded steel armature (150H x 120L x 50D cm) covered with white fabric feathers, to represent its invisibility to predators. The cloak was created using layered fabric, embellishments, hand embroidery and free machine stitch.

The piece took approximately eleven months to complete, with over 30,800m of machine thread, 350m of Perle cotton and Lame metallic thread and embellished with over 1500 metal findings and 150g of beads.

What made you want to enter this competition?

The Hand and Lock prize was an excellent opportunity to test my improving dexterity.

In 2005, I had a life-changing accident which resulted in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) with ongoing neurological issues and a severely broken left wrist; unfortunately, I am left-handed.

After two years of recovery and rehabilitation, I began to explore art again. However, the loss of feeling in my hand left me unable to work with traditional methods. I began exploring “drawing” using free machine embroidery on a basic sewing machine. As my fingers have regained some feeling, my work has diversified to re-incorporate my love of mixed-media/welding.


Shepherds flock roam, by Sally Wilson
Shepherds flock roam, by Sally Wilson


What motivated your choice for your entry?

I entered the Hand and Lock prize as I was excited to discover that a new category had been included this year – the ‘Open Textile Art’ which I felt I was capable of doing justice to.

Who was your mentor, and how did s/he help with your project?

Sam Roddick was my Mentor. One of the main areas she helped me with was the beak of the Shoebill. Unfortunately, with only a few weeks until the completion deadline her ideas of a ceramic or metal beak were not feasible. However, it encouraged me to create a beak decoration which definitely worked and enhanced the piece.

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

None of the embroidery is computerised. I work on a very basic Bernina 1005 with a darning foot and basically ‘paint’ with threads.

And the second secret is…this piece nearly broke me!

The TBI had an enormous impact on my daily life and I continue to learn how to manage ongoing health issues of concentration, fatigue, memory and fragmented thinking. At certain stages I became overwhelmed by the enormity of the project and its sheer scale. This was intensified further by the fact that I have never produced such extensive hand-stitch work.

Third and finally…I had already decided that my entry would not be short-listed for the Hand & Lock and had started to work out how I could make it into two separate pieces for other events. I was astounded and very excited when the confirmation e-mail arrived.


Fishing line, by Sally Wilson
Fishing line, by Sally Wilson


Tell us about your education background and how it led you to where you are.

I gained a 1st class Honours Degree in Sculpture at Loughborough College of Art & Design. I basically spent three years welding and forging which was fantastic. I became a teacher of Art at Huddersfield New College in 1989. Three years later, I became Head of Art at the same college (for a further thirteen years) before sustaining the TBI which ended my teaching career.

In 1999 I enrolled on a basic City & Guilds Embroidery course to develop my textiles skills.

You work in a wide range of mediums. Do you have a favorite? Are there mediums you haven’t yet used but want to try? If so, what?

Drawing forms the basis of all I create. However, I do love exploring and incorporating mixed media particularly welded steel and free machine stitch. I don’t really consider the mediums (I choose to use) as separate “entities” but rather materials which are blended to create exciting variations of textures, colours and form.

I will utilise anything at my disposal and have, over the last few years, incorporated ceramics, graffito on glass and LEDs amongst others. My next project will include nails and other hardware with textiles and welded steel—which could be interesting?!

I am always looking for new ways to diversify and challenge myself. One project I would love to do is create a sculpture or relief which could be cast in aluminium or iron. A friend of mine owns the industrial casting firm which cast some of Antony Gormley’s early figures and he has bugged me for years to create something to cast at his foundry.


Indian Bollywood, by Sally Wilson
Indian Bollywood, by Sally Wilson


When and how did you learn embroidery , and what was your first embroidery project?

Since childhood I have always sewn bits and pieces and it is something I love doing but I am pretty shoddy at it! Part of my problem is that I like immediate results and hand stitching is slow and laborious, but the results can be stunning. I am definitely not neat and my dexterity fluctuates from day to day… but I am a determined, stubborn person who NEVER gives up…… the Hand & Lock project was my first embroidery project!

What’s been the biggest surprise of your career and the projects you’ve undertaken?

Definitely the Hand & Lock Prize. I had considered entering it on a number of occasions but felt it was way beyond my capabilities.

I was totally overwhelmed by receiving this massive accolade, particularly as it was a project which required techniques that were very much out of my comfort zone.

What projects are on the horizon for you?

I did say, after the Hand & Lock prize, that I would take a well earned break, but creativity does not sleep. My thoughts and imagination work 24/7 and often keep me awake at night and my sleep patterns in turmoil.

I would love to enter the National Open Art competition again this year. I am also in the process of completing a large drawn/graphical piece for the Society of Graphic Fine Artists exhibition “Bankside 2017”.

Unbelievably, I am still considering a piece for the Hand & Lock 2017 as the brief is so inspiring, but…..


Blighty, by Sally Wilson
Blighty, by Sally Wilson


Where else can we see your work?

Small prints of my work are on display at the Mezze bar/restaurant in Holmfirth. I also display regularly at the RSMA and SWA exhibitions at the Mall galleries when selected.

I frequently enter the National Open Art competition and have had four pieces exhibited in the Annual exhibition in the last few years.

Describe your dream commission. What and for whom is it?

I love producing my own pieces rather than being blinkered or restricted by the requirements of others, which is a very selfish view but one which comes from producing commercial work over the years to “make ends meet”.

Rather than a one-off commission I would love to have an exhibition of my growing collection of diverse work in a reputable location. My ultimate dream would be Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Barbara Hepworth gallery, Wakefield or the V & A, London. I can dream, can’t I?


W1, by Sally Wilson
W1, by Sally Wilson


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


You can work with just one color for the next year. What color do you choose? Funnily enough I have just started a large piece which is primarily in Creamy whites. Sounds boring but I love tone and shading and it is proving very fruitful so far. Restricting colour choices is a great way to challenge the imagination and push creativity and the results are often more dynamic.

What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? A recluse…. Or maybe a Staffordshire-bull terrier—great temperament until you’ve bugged them, then beware!

A book you’ve recently enjoyed: I don’t read very much anymore as my short-term memory is poor. I spend hours having to remember the continuing storyline and who the characters are and books can take months to complete.

However, I have just dug out Nick Bantock’s pop-up children’s book, There was an Old Lady, to inspire me for a new piece.

You must include something edible in your next sculpture. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? Sweets! I would incorporate a massive array of sweets on the surface of the piece and would use them to ‘paint/mosaic’ with. What an interesting idea!

If you were not an artist, what would you be? A bed tester—when I can actually get to sleep, I can sleep for England!

Landscape, Let Us Travel, side view, by Sally Wilson
Landscape, Let Us Travel, side view, by Sally Wilson


You must turn a song into a sculpture. What’s the song, and what’s the sculpture? I would choose a song by the Arctic Monkeys—I love their music. I’m not sure which one but it would represent the chaos and vitality of a Yorkshire night out.

You’re writing a novel, and the hero is a textile artist. What’s the plot problem s/he must overcome? Sleep deprivation and creative madness—a little bit like Groundhog Day. The artist tries to overcome her ever-present creative madness to gain the key to a successful night’s sleep.

Favorite beverage: Lindeman’s Kriek, very strong coffee or fizzy water.

We’re hosting a show of “performance embroidery.” Describe your piece in the event. It would be an extravagant bejewelled ‘tent’ covered with an illustrated visual diary of the character’s life and events.

Early riser or night owl? Night owl


Glimpses of China, by Sally Wilson
Glimpses of China, by Sally Wilson


Share The Love

Want More of the good stuff?