Two years ago, we met Suzanne Treacy, second-place winner in the 2016 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery, Textile Art Student Category. Today, we’re going to revisit Suzanne and see what she’s been up to since that competition.
It’s been almost three years since you won second place in the Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery, Textile Art Student Category. What have you been doing and what have you learned since your 2016 win?
The past 3 years have flown by! After I completed the first year of the HND that I was studying at the time of winning a prize in the Hand & Lock competition, I decided to take a year out for practical family reasons. I had every intention of returning in September 2017 so that I could study for a BA once I’d completed the HND. I then discovered that by completing the first year of the HND I had accrued enough UCAS points to go into the second year of the BA (Hons) degree as a direct entry student. I was thrilled to be offered a place at my first choice, The Northern School of Art (formerly CCAD) in Hartlepool. I was so impressed by their degree show the previous year that I already knew where I wanted to study for my degree. I have learned so many techniques, methods and processes that it’s hard to pinpoint just a few things but I have also learned a great deal about myself. I now know what I can do once I am determined and that I won’t give up when I want something badly enough. My tenacity and determination helped me achieve a first class honours degree and I couldn’t be more pleased. I have also learned that I really like researching and studying, in fact, so much so that I’m planning to do a Master’s degree next year.
During the past two years, I have exhibited my designs at Premiere Vision in Paris, Decosit in Brussels and New Designers, London and exhibiting at trade shows has provided me with invaluable experience. I have met so many interesting people in the textiles industry and learned so much as a result.
I’m also currently learning corsetry and if I am one day good enough, I hope to become a corsetière after I’ve completed my next degree.
Tell us about your final major project for your BA degree.
My final major project was inspired by Medieval art and Synaesthesia and for my final collection, I produced a collection of mainly digital designs some of which were hand-embroidered and embellished. I was fortunate to secure several illustrious sponsorships for my final collection and I was given many very useful, high quality and beautiful products which fit well with my aesthetic and the products that were donated were used for much sampling as well as for my final collection. I owe my fabulous sponsors another mention here and thank them all again for their support:
- Merchant & Mills
- Toye, Kenning & Spencer
- DeVere Yarns
- Golden Hinde
- The Silk Route
- Tracy A. Franklin
As is often the case, things didn’t go to plan, and I had 3 operations on my eyes during my final year of my degree, so doing detailed work was very limited. Despite this and the obvious resultant delays, I finally achieved what I set out to do but via a different route. Although I was unable to achieve the amount of hand-created and embellished final pieces that I’d originally planned, I was very proud of my final collection and was selected to exhibit at New Designers at The Design Centre in Islington, London in June 2019, another highlight of 2019 for me.
I enjoyed researching for this so much that I linked this with my dissertation and it will be published as an article shortly at Northern Perspectives. Please note: I posted the wrong link originally. My apologies to Suzanne and Northern Perspectives.
How has winning the Hand & Lock Prize altered or influenced your studies and/or career?
It certainly helped me gain confidence and after the Prize, I absolutely knew that I wanted to pursue my studies in the textiles world and then hopefully have a career that will combine my passion for textiles and embellishment.
On Age and Starting Anew
You went back to school as your husband retired, albeit early. What was that like? Did you ever run across other students your age?
There were several mature students on my degree course and I certainly wasn’t the oldest. In fact, there were many mature students across the whole campus. Educational institutions are now specifically catering for mature students and The Northern School of Art has undertaken research specifically to cater for mature students as they recognise that there can be issues. My personal experience there was a very positive one.
It was not a coincidence that I started my degree after my husband retired. The reason for my year off was because one of us needed to be at home for when our son returned from school each day as that was hard to juggle. We agreed that I should take the year out and when he retired the following year, he could then take over running the house, leaving me to concentrate on my studies. This worked well especially as I live 55 miles from Hartlepool so I decided to stay overnight there a couple of nights a week when my study schedule required. In fact, I couldn’t have achieved what I did without my husband’s help and support. My son was also getting to an age where he wanted to be more independent so the timing worked for all of us.
How do you think your school experience differed from that of younger students?
As a mature student, I felt that life experience definitely helped me. I did initially worry that I was out of the swing of things having left school so many years ago, but I honestly didn’t feel out of place due to my age and I felt that I fitted in right away. I think that if I’d been studying for a degree when I was 18, I wouldn’t have had the confidence that I now have as a more mature student. When I was younger, I didn’t believe that I could do it and it was only when I started to receive my grades when doing the HND that I realized that I could.
I imagine that a significant difference between a young student and a mature student is that, at my age, I know that this is likely to be my only chance to study for a degree so I gave it my all, worked as hard as I possibly could and made sure that I achieved what I set out to do. I doubt that I personally would have been that determined when I was 18.
What do you plan to do with your new degree?
I initially wanted to study for a degree just because I wanted to as opposed to using it to further my career. I do, however, believe that it will help me should I decide to become employed again at some point in the future. It has, of course, given me a huge sense of achievement too.
I am currently learning corsetry which I’m enjoying immensely; although, it’s not necessary to have a degree to have a career in corsetry, of course. Next September, I will be going back to study a Master’s degree in Design History, again at The Northern School of Art. After I graduate with an MA, if I am good enough and EU trade with the UK is favourable, I intend to design and make corsets using my own textile designs. I would not, of course, be able to do this without having studied textile design and learned all that I did, so my BA will prove invaluable at that point.
I have to ask: why corsetry?
My real interest in corsetry started when I was learning leather craft in 2015. Vegetable tanned leather is easy to mould and the female form has beautiful curves so I made a leather one moulding it over a vintage mannequin.
I have always been a maker of things and even though my degree is in textiles and surface design which is my passion, I decided that I wanted to utilise my textile design and embellishment skills with my desire to create and corsetry seems the perfect vehicle. My corsets will be unique because they will be made using my own textile designs printed onto luxury fabrics and/or hand embellished and will also have been designed, drafted and constructed by me by hand.
Who wears corsets?
Even though corsets are now considered a niche product, they are worn for fashion, boudoir, burlesque, shapewear, medical support, drag, stage & screen, waist training/tight lacing, fetish, re-enactment, body modification and wedding dresses and/or a wedding trousseau. I was told recently that a lot of the products used in corsetry today were originally used in the medical field.
Does anyone wear them in real life?
Absolutely! I don’t have any particular statistics but social media evidences this: Anyone interested in wearing or making corsets can easily find something suitable there.
In August, I attended the Oxford Conference of Corsetry at Jesus College, Oxford and learned that there is a whole world of corsetry out there that I didn’t know existed. I met many corset makers and learned a lot about corsetry, both modern and historical. This amazing event made me even more excited about a career in corsetry; although, I did also learn some realities too which is very important when considering going into business.
As well as learning the skills to make corsets, I am currently studying the history of corsetry for a potential research subject for my Master’s degree that I start next year. The various debates about what a corset can do for and to the body continue and this is something that fascinates me.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to expand his/her embroidery skills?
Practice, practice, practice although I also truly believe that expanding your knowledge of other disciplines helps too and attending exhibitions and galleries is essential to remain culturally aware.
What advice would you give someone contemplating a return to school as a mature student?
If you have a desire and the means, do it! There’s no time like the present. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to study as a mature student, grab it with both hands. I have not only achieved a BA, I have made new friends, I have learned a huge amount about myself and I have had opportunities that I certainly wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
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? Karen Nicol – Coquilles Saint-Jacques, baked camembert with fresh baguette and crudités washed down with a glass of chilled Chablis followed by gold leaf macarons for dessert! My menu is inspired by Karen’s fabulous embroidered map of Paris.
Do you prefer silence or background noise when you work? That depends on what I’m doing: Silence for academic writing and background music for embroidery, embellishment and creative endeavours.
You must include something live in your next project. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? I would create a wildlife ‘catwalk’ of each and every near extinct species to highlight their plight. I would film the animals in their natural habitat, if possible, together with pieces of edible art that would be placed nearby for the animals to eat. The film would illustrate to the world that these beautiful and very precious creatures will not be around for much longer if we don’t act urgently and collectively to save them and our planet.
Salty or sweet? Salty.
If you were not an artist/designer, what would you be? A corsetiere.
You’re invited to send a piece of art into space with the hope that it will one day be found and studied by aliens. What do you send? A 3D, heavily embroidered and embellished gold billed platypus….The only mammal that lays eggs instead of giving birth to live young…How fascinating!
Favorite article of clothing: Jeans
Your work is commissioned for an ad. What company would you like to commission it, and what does your work advertise? National Geographic – How we can help tackle the world’s plastic waste crisis.
A studio is remaking a movie, and they want you to create a prop. What is the movie, and what prop are you creating? Federico Fellini’s Roma (1972) – I would recreate the lectern that The Pope stood behind at the Vatican fashion show in the movie. I would dress it using my own textile designs reminiscent of stained glass windows using hand dyed and silk devoré heavily encrusted with Swarovski crystals and goldwork.
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? My competitor has to use 1,000 items of clothing from a recycling bank, a stone taken from the central tower of Durham Cathedral during its recent renovations and a film of the quickly diminishing rainforests.
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.