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 Fashion category, Sheila Ramsay.
Location: Toronto, Canada
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:
I was inspired by the prescriptive side of 60s fashion and the milkweed fluff I grew up playing with. I brought these together to transform a conventional shape and pattern into something that is still luxurious, while being made of innovative and sustainable materials.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
The beautiful lustrous fluffs along the garment edges, and making up my medallions are actually from the milkweed plant. It’s a weed here in Canada. I grew up playing with the fluff as a child. I used it in its natural form, minus the seed, on the garment. All of it is painstakingly couched down. It’s very fine and light, which made it quite difficult to do!
When and how did you learn embroidery, and what impression did it make on you?
I grew up loving all fibrous crafts, sewing, knitting, counted needlework. I’ve had a needlework project on the go for as long as I can remember. I truly started embroidery at a higher level when I attended the Royal School of Needlework in the summer of 2018. Since then I can’t get enough!
What was your first embroidery project?
Probably a small counted cross stitch? Haha, I can’t remember!
Tell us about your background and how it led you to the National Ballet of Canada and winner of the Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery.
After high school, I did a degree in fashion design here in Toronto. We did a lot of work placements and I never felt like it was a good fit. I eventually realized that costume would be more my style, and so I went for it. I cold called every wardrobe I could get a hold of and was given a chance to volunteer. Once I got to know people and they my skills, I started working in many of the theatres in the city. That brought me to a contract at the ballet and three years ago I started in a full position. During my time at the ballet I began to dive more into embroidery in my own time. It gave me more of a chance to explore my creativity and the fine handwork I love. They’ve always been supportive of my embroidery pursuits and it was no different working on the prize. Being surrounded by such creative and talented people has been so wonderful.
What’s been the biggest surprise of your career and the projects you’ve undertaken?
Haha, working with milkweed! Whose idea was that? All kidding aside, I’m so glad I took that on. It was impossible, irritating and finnicky (it even gave me black eyes from allergies at one point!), but it’s so pretty it was all worth it 🙂
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?
Oh my goodness, wow! That’s so kind of you to say! Thank you. To me, the embroidery frontier is continuous exploration. Embroidery is such a wonderful craft – it’s steeped in tradition and technique, but leaves so much room for creativity and experimentation. I think being a pioneer means being unafraid of messing up, being willing to pivot when something doesn’t come out as planned, and being open to being inspired by anything and everything. Creativity and art is all in the process, you’ll never know where it will end when you begin. Remaining open to trusting the process is key.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I’m working on embroidering a wedding dress at the moment (commission), as well as new patterns and kits on my etsy site. Hopefully some courses soon!
Where else can we see your work?
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to expand his/her embroidery skills?
Don’t worry about everything being perfect! It’s organic, it’s hand made, it’s beautiful. <3
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
If you could embroider with just one color thread for the next three years, what would it be? Black – I feel like this is the least likely to grow old, lol!
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? Tree of life with roots
You’re asked to create a garment for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? A penguin and a sweater
Favorite book you’ve read recently: The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
You must include something live in your next garment. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? Probably more plants, living jacket?
If you were not an artist, what would you be? A women’s empowerment coach
A place you’d like to visit: Croatia
A celebrity wears one of your garments 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? Jennifer Lawrence, maybe the feeling good dress?
We’re hosting a show of “performance embroidery.” Describe your piece in the event. Luxurious dress, all about connection to nature, a fold is lifted and birds fly, it roots into the ground and moss grows up it. It incorporates movement and growth and death all in one. Don’t ask me what technology can achieve this…
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.