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 third-place winner in the Textile Art Student Category.
Name: Shonaegh Stewart
School: London College of Fashion, I’m graduating this July!
Describe your Hand & Lock entry:
The best way to describe my entry for the Hand & Lock 2017 Prize would be a ‘beautiful mess’. My main influences were all the different and busy elements of my life contrasting and pulling me in different directions (represented with the variety of embroidery materials and techniques) but I’m always held together and grounded by my roots and my family, represented with my clan tartan (Lindsay Tartan), it was also a real celebration of my Scottish heritage.
What made you want to enter this competition?
I can remember really early on in my first year of university when I first heard about Hand & Lock, and then their annual international embroidery competition, and I thought, wow! I just want to intern with them. I just wanted to experience working for such a prestigious embroidery company. Never in a million years, at that point, could I have imagined winning 3rd place in my second year at university!
What motivated your choice for your entry?
I’m a really self motivated person and I love trying new things and exploring combinations of textures. I really wanted to push that with this piece. I have never done anything so dense on this scale before, so it was also an exciting challenge for myself.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
I don’t think I have any secrets as such, but I completed my piece over the summer of 2017 which was also the summer I got married (busy time!), so my frame travelled everywhere with me, backwards and forwards between London and the North East. I was definitely making the most of every moment, but I did get a few funny looks on the train with my big frame over my shoulder!
When and how did you first learn embroidery, sewing, etc., and what impression did it make on you?
It’s hard for me to define the exact moment, but my Gran was a massive influence. She is an amazing artist and was always working on a project, whether it was a painting, knitting, making jewellery, or even curtains! My dad was in the Army so when he had to go away my Gran would always come and stay for long periods of time to help out my Mum, and I used to love it because we would always have our own craft projects going on. She was so clever and always had something planned for us to do together.
What was your first embroidery, costume, or textile project?
Ooooh…it must have been with my Gran, I can’t remember how old I was exactly, but no older than eight. My Gran and I got the bus into my little market home town and bought fabric, buttons, and yarn and spent the day making little fabric rag dolls. I felt so proud of our creations!
To date, what’s been your favorite course of study or project?
It is probably my most recent project, ‘Virtual Reality’ which focuses on our disconnection from the natural world in this digital age. As this was my final project at university, I really went outside of my comfort zone and tried to work in a way I haven’t before, and it seems to have paid off.
In April, I also had the opportunity to be a part of the amazing team that created the embroidery for the current BBC World Cup advert, it was such an honour and a privilege to work alongside such talented embroiderers and digitisers at The London Embroidery Studio.
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, thank you! I think the ‘embroidery frontier’ merges with being a pioneer, pushing the boundaries of textiles, techniques and materials. How far can it be pushed? Only we can explore this to see how far we can go! I’m so happy to see embroidery so mainstream within the fashion industry at the moment, it’s a beautiful craft that can be applied in so many ways.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I’m really looking forward to having some time to work on some fun and playful pieces for myself without the pressure of university and academic guidance. I also have a couple of orders for interior art style pieces based on my Hand & Lock Prize entry which I’m looking forward to getting stuck into.
Where else can we see your work?
You can come to London College of Fashion (Lime Grove Site) form Saturday 30th of June – Wednesday 4th July to see the LCFBA18 graduate collections, including my own! I have also been involved in an exciting project for the Victoria & Albert Museum for an exhibition at Here East in Stratford on Sunday 22nd July to celebrate one-hundred years since women won the right to vote in the UK.
What advice would you offer someone looking to expand his/her embroidery frontiers?
Just say yes to every opportunity and never give up. Embroidery is a skill that requires a lot of time, patience and PRACTICE. Although it’s a tough industry, do your best not to doubt yourself and your abilities. If you put enough time and effort into something you will succeed. I’m still learning new things every day.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
You’re creating an elegant accessory for an animal. What is the animal, and what is the accessory? Some funky leg warmers for a goat! A little juxtaposition with elegant embroidery and tacky 80s leg warmers…
If you could work with just one color for the next three years, what would it be? Something a bit mad like neon pink!
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? I would probably choose something like a gorilla head because I just love animals, and the natural world always seems to have some sort of influence in my work.
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? It would have to be Roberta Einer, and I would make some veggie hot dogs with fried onions and sweet potato fries…
Something you’d like to learn: I would love to learn a skill such as pattern cutting or upholstery to combine with my embroidery skills to create products.
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? Maybe something really cool and subverted like 8 Mile, with loads of crazy embroidered and embellished jackets.
You must include something live in your next project. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? I love the use of fashion films, so maybe being really clever and creating textiles that work with different visuals so I could project onto the pieces.
I’ve asked the “live” question before, but you are the first to interpret “live” this way. I love it—and I think you’re onto something brilliant! This is one reason why I love these interviews and the rapid-fire questions, in particular.
If you were not an artist/designer, what would you be? A police officer, since I was about 2 years old I thought it’s where my career would go until I found textiles, but it’s still an interest that’s never left me.
A book you’ve read recently and especially liked: Reading is something I used to love but has definitely been put on the back burner recently; although, I’m excited to get stuck into an interesting thriller on my summer holiday this year.
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? A fully embroidered shear body suit for Beyoncé, without a doubt!
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.