Alchemy is the “magical process of transformation, creation, or combination” – These are the exact words I would use to describe the work of renowned Textile Artist Tessa Perlow.
Tessa Perlow is an embroidery artist based in Philadelphia and New Jersey. She works with repurposed textiles and second-hand garments as a base for hand embroidery and beading. Her work focuses on themes of magic, nature, and love.
I have been following Tessa’s work for a number of years and have found great inspiration in her illustrative embroidery style; this played a huge role in my own embroidery journey and art education. It was an absolute joy to interview Tessa and learn more about her own inspirations and process.
How did your technique evolve?
My technique evolved over many years starting with a love of sewing and embellishing clothes with fabric manipulation. After graduating from the fashion institute of technology, I began experimenting with embroidery and beading on repurposed clothes, garments I would make as well as art pieces in my spare time.
I think my technique is still evolving as I continue to pursue art. I’m interested in applying hand embroidery to sculptures I create as well as creating clothing as art. I’ve also become more comfortable with the technical aspect of my craft where I feel like I can make larger pieces or take the time to work on conceptual collections that would have intimidated me when I was just beginning to learn the craft.
Becoming comfortable with your craft takes time. Committing to larger pieces can be daunting, hand embroidery is time-consuming and it can be nerve-wracking to ensure you’re happy enough with your design to commit the hours.
Watching Tessa document her process over on Youtube has been incredibly inspiring for me as a fellow embroiderer. Watching Tessa work so at one with her technique demonstrates the levels of work that can be achieved once you feel that level of solace in your own skills.
Where do you think your creativity is taking you?
I don’t really think too much about where my creativity is taking me. I suppose I can only hope that as I give creativity and imagination attention in my life that inspiration will keep coming to me. I also hope that my work will be able to sustain my living in a more comfortable way so that I can focus on being very creative and not having to think too much about what pieces are most likely to sell.
What other artists inspire you?
I love many artists like Hilma af Klint, David Hockney, Hieronymus Bosch, Niki de Saint-Phalle. A lot of the work that’s inspired me was made by artists that aren’t necessarily recognized for their work, for example, antique embroideries from the Victorian era and earlier embellishments on historical garments.
What is your favourite tool to use in your practice?
That’s a tough question. I like all of the tools I use but I guess I’d say beading needles. Prior to using them, I’d just try to find very small needles and it was always a struggle. They make beading so much more enjoyable.
Can you share one creative tip with our readers?
A creative tip I would share is to make research a part of your artistic practice.
I think all of us have topics we are interested in knowing more about and even if they might not seem related to what you are working on creatively it’s important to take time to read or watch a film; break away from what you’re doing. I think in those moments some of the best ideas come out.
As Tessa emphasises, using research as a key tool in an artistic journey is a crucial step in understanding your subject matter.
Tessa’s work holds a strong narrative because her study of the natural and spiritual world comes through in her designs. Through the work you can see beyond what “is” and begin to see the natural landscape and world around you filled with imagined alchemy and love, straight from the eyes of the artist.
You can see in the work, every expressive stitch. This adds movement and dimension to the pieces that bring the work a whole life of its own, capturing the energy that can only be created by slow crafts such as hand embroidery.
Tessa Perlow, quite rightly, has a huge social media following on Instagram and has recently begun creating online video tutorials on Youtube. For more wonderful examples and to purchase her artwork, head to Tessa’s website.