An image gallery for my new work "Show Your Working" can be seen HERE
It sounds odd, given what I do for a living, but showing my work in the literal sense can be a really strange experience. When I show work for sale at a makers' fair, I am standing right there and get instant, person to person feedback, positive and negative. It's similar when I post on social media but it's much less intimate and negative feedback is very rare. Submitting work for exhibition is another thing altogether.
Since becoming a member of the Embroiderers' Guild, I've submitted several pieces for exhibition and mostly I am not there to see how they are received. They go off without me on a little tour with EG for most of the year and my relationship with the thing that I poured my heart and soul into making changes completely. In a previous blog post I talked about my strained relationship with "Contours of the Century", well that work came back to me a couple of weeks ago and absence has suprisingly made the heart grow much fonder! I can now look at the work I couldn't wait to see the back of with pride and we're friends again.
"Repaired Earth" which I loved way more than "Contours" has gone slightly viral and seeing it infinitely repeated in A5 on the cover of every single Regional Yearbook is a very peculiar feeling indeed.
I guess the thing is, no matter my own feelings about the work that I make, I have no clue what it is saying to other people. I understand from watching endless documentaries and talking to artists that I know that this feeling is actually something to be confidently embraced, setting your work free to make its own way in the world is all part of the process, arguably the whole point.
Previously I have made pieces with a political message and the subject matter has added pressure to my worries on how they will be received. I talk a lot about the climate crisis, feminism and animal rights and a decent amount of people roll their eyes in response. I ignore them of course but the fact that my work is having a very specific conversation inevitably places a limit on who is likely to engage with it. Imposter syndrome raises its head constantly, with barbed comments on my abilities as an embroiderer, my crudentials to comment on serious issues, my creativity as an artist and so on.
With the Embroiderers' Guild Members' Challenge 2019/20 I've done something different. The prompt "My Favourite Things" first got me thinking a lot about my mental health, favourite things make people feel good so there is probably a decent conversation to be had about that.
It took me a while to reach the rather obvious conclusion that I didn't have to look very far to find my favourite things as they are all around me. My favourite things are on my desk and in my hands, they are my work and a massive part of every day. Sewing holds my entire life together, it is what earns my wages, it cares for my family, it makes me happy, brings me pride and self confidence, it is the cornerstone of much of my social life, it is how I express myself. Sewing is also a familiar, shared experience that most people can relate to. Even if someone has never picked up a needle, everyone knows what sewing stuff looks like and will most likely have a memory associated with it.
So I made "Show Your Working" and submitted it with this description :
On the wall of my loft studio, beneath the window with the best view, I have a printer’s tray displaying all of my favourite sewing notions. Some of the things have been there for years, others don’t stay very long at all. Always in front of me as I work, the tray is an ever changing mood board, inspiring my work and reminding me why I love what I do. It seemed exactly right to recreate the tray of my favourite things by doing my favourite thing and “Show Your Working” does just that.
I worked on some of the sections individually and meticulously before bringing the whole thing together in the frame with the colours I got from a very small piece of fabric that I loved. Some of the elements are real and others recreated in stitch. I worried a little that it was all a bit too obvious, the images too universal, the composition cliche...but then I decided that I didn't care. These things make me happy because they are familiar and I hope the work makes other stitchers feel the same way. I won't see "Show Your Working" for nearly a year now unless I visit it at a show and I think I will miss this one.