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 2019 brief, “Fool the Senses,” invited entrants to consider the texture and feel of embroidery. Projects focused on embellishments with sumptuous surfaces that intrigued and surprised as they to deceived, confused, and fooled the senses. Organizers encouraged artists to recycle and re-purpose old materials, re-imagining and transforming them into something new.
London’s Bishopsgate Institute hosted the final judging and award ceremony, showcasing 24 finalists’ masterpieces organized into four categories: textile works by students and textile works non-students, fashion by students and fashion by non-students. A separate display featured notable works pre-selected for associate awards by Hand & Lock’s partners.
Today we’ll meet the first-place winner in the Open Textile Art category, Hannah Mansfield.
Location: Bristol, UK
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:
My 2019 Hand & Lock Prize entry is comprised of four goldwork flower sculptures displayed in glass domes. Each sculpture represents a different season of the year through the flowers it contains. I have a fascination with the seasons and I love the variety of flowers that appear throughout the year. So I decided to pick the flowers that, for me, symbolise the changing seasons here in the UK.
In response to the brief I looked closely at the delicate textures of the petals and leaves of the flowers I had chosen and tried to imitate these textures with goldwork wires. I chose to use only gold and silver coloured wires to put the focus on texture rather than colour. With metal goldwork wires I was aiming to create flowers that appeared almost as delicate as their real life counterparts. To further this juxtaposition of using metals to create delicate flowers I used a self made fabric of organza and gold and silver leaf for the undersides of the petals. With the high shine this fabric created it gave the impression of a hard and rigid metal but it is actually fine and flexible.
To display the sculptures I sourced domes that were handmade with recycled glass and sustainable mango wood bases. I was inspired by floral still life paintings and Victorian dried flower arrangements in bell jars to create an everlasting floral still life in goldwork.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
I don’t think I have any secrets about my entry but I can tell you that a common misconception is that I have embroidered the flowers with beads. Goldwork wires do look a lot like beads, especially when they are cut into small pieces and some of the wires are also hollow like beads. But they are made of fine coils of wire that are flexible and come in about 20-30cm lengths that you can cut to size and apply in many different ways.
This is your second Hand & Lock win. Wow! I am so impressed! What have you been doing and what have you learned since your 2017 win?
Thank you! Since the 2017 prize I have been working as a freelance embroiderer which involves creating embroidery for private clients and working on personal projects such as my 2019 prize entry which I started in early 2018. I also launched an online shop which I create small hand embroidered products for.
I actually first tested the idea that developed in my 2019 entry right after the 2017 prize, I wanted to try doing something really different to my 2017 entry and experiment with using goldwork in a way I had never done before. So I tested out making fully three dimensional goldwork flowers for the first time in the Winter of 2017.
Since my first entry I have focused a lot more on the technique of goldwork and have learnt new ways of using it and applying it to different designs. Most of my commissions in the last two years have included goldwork in some form.
How did this experience differ from your previous one?
The main difference is that this time I entered the textile art category and in 2017 I entered the fashion category. Also when I entered in 2017 I was interning for a fashion designer so I had quite a lot of input and feedback about my entry, this time I had no outside input (except from when I was assigned my mentor, Georgina Bellamy, for the Prize) and no one except from my family had even seen my entry.
The 2019 prize was a much bigger event than the 2017 prize which was only a prize giving evening. The two day exhibition that was held this time was a brilliant opportunity to meet and talk to more people about my work and also to get to know the other finalists.
What is currently challenging you in your career?
The limits of time are always a challenge for me. There are so many ideas, especially regarding new goldwork flower pieces, that I would like to create but the nature of embroideries like these are that they take an incredibly long time, so prioritising the best ideas is essential. Hopefully I will eventually get around to creating everything that I want to although I am sure more ideas will pop up as I do!
What is your dream commission?
At the moment my dream commission would be creating a different goldwork flower sculpture for each room of a luxury hotel. It would be a bonus if they’d let me do an artist residency in their hotel whilst I made them!
Will you enter the Hand & Lock competition again?
Probably not for the foreseeable future but I’d never say never! Entering the prize has been such an enjoyable experience and a brilliant way to develop work that I might not otherwise get the chance to create. The briefs are often tempting, I think the 2020 brief looks like a really interesting one.
Where can we see more of your work?
My Instagram (@theperpetualmaker) is a great way to keep up to date with what I am currently working on, or you can check out my website where you will find lots of photos of my work and my online shop. I’m also starting up my Twitter account again this year, so you can find me there too.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about entering the competition?
Try to approach the brief in a way that is a little different to the obvious and work something that you love into your entry, this could be a particular technique that you specialise in or a subject matter that particularly interests you. This way your entry will hopefully be unique and show your passion for embroidery.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
Favorite tool in your arsenal: Very sharp curved embroidery scissors.
We’re sending a collection of art into space with the hope that aliens will someday discover it. You’re asked to contribute a piece of embroidery. What do you make? Something incorporating goldwork insects to show part of the wildlife on Earth.
Something you’d like to learn: Glass blowing. I’m intrigued to know how people make such intricate creations with it.
You must include something edible in your next garment. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? Marzipan fruits would look great nestled amongst goldwork flowers.
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? Lunch would be a Caprese salad followed by a vegetable tagliatelle. The artist would be Sofia Coppola.
Do you prefer silence or background noise when you work? Always background noise, it helps me focus on what I am doing. I mostly listen to podcasts and sometimes music.
Your work is commissioned for an ad. What company would you like to commission it, and what does your work advertise? Grom, to advertise Italian gelato.
A studio is remaking a movie, and they want you to create a prop. What is the movie, and what prop are you creating? The movie is Midnight in Paris, I would create a framed piece of embroidery to replace the record Gil picks up at the flea market.
Salty or sweet? Sweet!
You’re in competition with another textile artist in a colosseum-style battle. You must choose three mediums that your competitor has to use in a piece of work. What do you choose? They would have to use a metallic thread of which only short lengths can be used at a time, plus goldwork couching so they’d have to plunge all the ends and goldwork plate, which is very hard to apply neatly!
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.