Sara Hadlow Prize Project

Sara Hadlow | 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 in fashion and to discover emerging embroidery talent. The 2015 brief was about the individual design identities of Countries.

On Thursday, the 5th of November, London’s Bishopsgate Institute hosted the final of the 2015 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery.

Today we’ll meet the third-place winner in the Open Category.

Name: Sara Louise Hadlow

Location: The Black Country, West Midlands (orlryteyows)

School: Aston Business School 1996

Describe your Hand & Lock entry:

I wanted to show that beautiful things can be created from items usually thrown away. The brief demanded an update of a nation’s traditional embroidery technique, and my entry started with a very British crewel work tree-of-life that I took from the seventeenth century into a twenty-first century techno-punk outfit that can move from the board room in the morning through to an evening of fun with interchangeable and reusable embellishment.

I reinvented a Paul Smith men’s suit from a charity shop, a Jermyn Street bowler that had seen better days and integrated old tights, an old christmas jumper, and the mother board from my defunct laptop amid a myriad of other “junk”. The only new materials are the blue crewel wools which I needed to achieve the shading. This enabled me to develop my take on the cyclical nature of life where we can reinvent and build on the past as well as a more philosophical reflection on this century’s demand for the new and shiny. I wanted to build in an understated sophisticated wit that I feel personifies Britishness. So the keys ‘H&L’ are incorporated into the bottom of the jacket, the hat embellishment includes nods to deities associated with knowledge and wisdom, including Odin’s eye at the back of the head. I’ll leave you to spot the others. All the embellishment is completed by hand, and I have no idea how many hours went into it, but I did nothing but go to work, sleep a little, and sew for a good six months.


Sara Hadlow Prize Project
Sara Hadlow Prize Project


What made you want to enter this competition?

I am self taught and come from a long line of stitchers but have no formal education in textiles and a grade 1 CSE in needlework. To begin with, I was intimidated about entering such a prestigious competition, thinking I was not good enough as all the entries seemed to come from people with a background in textiles and formal education in the field. Putting myself forward took a lot of guts: my sewing is part of my identify, and to be honest, I was really scared, but I also wanted to find out if I was any good or just kidding myself, so girded my loins, took a deep breath and jumped….

What motivated your choice for your entry?

To be honest this was a test run. I thought I would stick to what I know for my first attempt and find out what the competition was all about then really “go for it” in the following year. I work as an administrator in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham, and in the hallway outside my office are some Second World War “make-do and mend” posters that inspired the theme of recycle, reuse and renew—also a very twenty-first century necessity. By taking this approach I was also able to use the quality of materials I wanted at a price I could afford!

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

Alice Kettle was an utterly brilliant and inspiring mentor. When we met up, I had reached a plateau and was dissatisfied with the work but was unsure how to resolve it. After a trip from Brum to Manchester, I came back brimming with ideas and confidence. I can’t thank Alice enough for her guidance and support.

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

I don’t have access to sophisticated facilities or even have a dedicated sewing room. I created my entry sitting cross legged on the sofa of my terrace house. Just me, ebay and a needle.


Sara Hadlow Prize Project back
Sara Hadlow Hand & Lock Prize Project, back


When and how did you learn embroidery, sewing, etc., and what impression did it make on you?

I learnt embroidery from my Mum, and she learnt from hers. It’s just part of my DNA, and I can’t imagine life without it. We Sykpe whilst we are both stitching, so it’s a sort of modern-day virtual sewing bee. I love taking something cheap or old and, after treating it with a little love, turning heads.

What made you want to pursue fashion and textiles in school?

This is where I went wrong. In school I studied marketing and business studies, so instead of pursuing that Phd in textiles, I have an MBA with distinction! I took an administration role with a 50% pay cut so that I had time and energy after work to find out if I could do something with my sewing skills.

That doesn’t sound “wrong” to me! There’s an “Open” category for good reason.

What was your first embroidery or textile project?

In all honesty, I think it’s this competition entry.


Sara Hadlow Prize Project back detail
Sara Hadlow Hand & Lock Prize Project, back detail


To date, what’s been your favorite course of study?

To date, what’s been your favorite course of study? I went on a weekend shoe-making course run by a lovely Australian lady who runs a business called “I Can Make Shoes”. I want to make one-off hand-embellished shoes to match my hats and bags.

What has surprised you?

How infrequently different artistic disciplines collaborate.

What non-embroidery, non-sewing skills do you bring to the table that you might like to combine with embroidery, textiles, and fashion?

I love painting, so the idea of taking a plain fabric, painting and then embellishing is a key theme for me. I also love the idea of taking a piece of creative writing and using this as a base for embellishment. Mainly though, I know how to run a business so all that business studies stuff has some use after all.

Yes! It really does!


Sara Hadlow Prize Project
Sara Hadlow Prize Project


Describe your ideal career.

I make and sell gorgeousness that people love and wear and treasure.

What projects are on the horizon for you?

As a result of the competition, I am about to start a distance learning textile degree. I now realise that my understanding of textiles is a flickering candle-lit shadow and that there is so much more for me to see learn and understand beyond my own little cave of knowledge. Then I’ll have another go at the competition and see if I can win!!

Where else can we see your work?

I plan to set up an Etsy shop and sell my recycled hats, but in the mean time, if anyone wants to commission work, my business is called Artemisia (after Artemisia Gentileschi), and I can be reached at artemisiahats (AT) gmail (DOT) com.


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


Favorite embroidery or textile medium : Wool

Design a thread. It’s the only one you can use for the next three years. Of what is it made, and what color is it? Unbleached paper so that I can paint it, coat it, weave it, mache it, recycle it and start all over again.

What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? The Pembrokeshire coast line: a right old jumble of layers, but somehow it works.

You’re asked to create a garment or accessory for an animal. What is the garment or accessory, and what is the animal? Woolly waistcoats for all British birds that do not migrate.

Brilliant! And welcome, I’m sure!


Sara Hadlow Hand & Lock Prize Hat 01
Sara Hadlow Hand & Lock Prize Hat


Favorite dessert: Mmmm, cheese and biccies please!

You must include something live in your next project. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? It would be fun to weave a base fabric by training a hedge, and then embroidering on to this base with plastic bags and broken pots.

Ohmygosh, I love this idea! I’ve had similar ideas. One of us really needs to do this.

If you were not a designer, what would you be? I’d be in the first violins of the CBSO.

A studio is remaking a movie, and they want you to design the costumes. What is the movie, and what is your favorite costume in it? 2001 A Space Odyssey. It’s such a shame astronauts have to wear such plain and dull outfits.

You’re writing a novel, and the hero is an embroiderer. What’s the plot problem s/he must overcome? It’s set during the Renaissance, and my hero’s great-great-something-ma, whilst on a buying trip to Florence, discovers a fiendish plot to steal and destroy a Botticelli painting. She pinches the artwork herself and embroiders in code into a shawl where she has hidden her loot as it is too dangerous for her to smuggle it out of Italy. Unfortunately, both shawl and the lady are lost at sea during a freak storm. Fortunately, whilst in Florence, the doomed lady is immortalised along with her shawl by the genius of Artemisia and the secrets live on in paint….

Switch to the modern day and my hero is relining her work box handed down from generation to generation. In the base she finds a letter outlining the story of her long lost great-great-something-ma. A little research (with plot twists of course) uncovers the location of the portrait, and she has to break into the closely guarded mansion of an oil oligarch who now owns the masterpiece so that she can recreate the original embroidered shawl and thus uncover the Botticelli artwork thought to have been destroyed in the bonfire of the vanities….

Hmm, I may have thought too hard about this but I’d love to read that book!

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? I’ve got a bit of a crush. It’s got to be a hat that he already owns and I transform. (grin)


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