Meredith Woolnough: I am always trying to move forward with my work and develop new pieces that push the limits of my materials and techniques.
Interviewed by Jiin Kim
1) How long have you been making art? Where or how did you begin?
I first developed my embroidery technique when I was studying Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales. During my honor year, in 2006, I decided to work exclusively with the process of freehand machine embroidery onto a water-soluble fabric and it was during this year that I fell in love with the process. Since then I have continued to work with this technique and I am constantly pushing its limits and finding new ways to work with it.
2) Tell us about your artwork.
I work with a unique embroidery technique where I draw with a sewing machine on a water-soluble fabric that allows me to create sculptural, lace like artworks. It is embroidery that is liberated from its base cloth.
3) Describe your creative process.
I use a domestic sewing machine that is set up in a way that I have complete control of the stitches – so I can basically draw with my sewing machine. I stitch with polyester threads onto a base fabric that is later melted away to leave only the stitched drawing.
4) Are there specific themes or inspirations that your art tends to focus on?
I draw inspiration from the shapes and patterns found in the natural world. From the tiny veins in a leaf, the pattern on a seashell or the structure of a coral branch, I find these forms to be beautiful and fascinating. I am interested in the interconnectedness between structures – the way things grow and function is so similar across all species.
5) Where do you gain your inspiration?
Wherever possible I like to go out into the field to observe, collect and draw. It is from these observations and drawings that my designs develop. I am a keen scuba diver so this is where I get a lot of my underwater inspiration. When it’s not possible to physically observe my chosen subjects in the field I will do extensive research into the plant or creature via books and Internet searches.
6) Are you attracted to work with other medium, say paint or sculpture or else? Or even use your technique to non-realistic shapes or different medium like metal wires or gigantic pieces?
There are many other mediums that I am drawn to and would like to explore, but I never seem to have the time to develop them. I do a fair bit of drawing and painting for my own pleasure and as initial studies for my embroidered designs but these don’t make their way into my professional work. Some of the artists that I find most inspirational work in metal – but this is a medium that I have never explored personally. Perhaps there will come a time when I will be over embroidery and want to work with something else, but for now I am still developing new ways to work with my embroidery technique and I find it very satisfying creatively.
7) Do you have future plans or projects coming up?
I am always trying to move forward with my work and develop new pieces that push the limits of my materials and techniques.
8) Do you aim to create a certain emotional tone in your artwork?
Many people have told me that my work delights and confuses them at the same time. They find the work captivating and beautiful but they can’t always figure out what it is made from or how it is made.
It’s a good feeling to know that my work creates such a sense of wonder in people.
9) Is there a reason that most of your artworks and images are of nature?
I have always found natural forms to be interesting and inspiring and that is probably why my work is dominated by nature themed pieces. I have explored other subjects in my work, traditional lace patterns and written text to name a few but that is not what I am best known for.
10) Are you working on any projects currently?
At present I am catching up on some commissioned pieces I have from various clients all over the world. I seem to be doing more and more commissioned work these days and I love the collaborative process of working directly with a client to create a special piece for them.
11) On your blog, you very eagerly and enthusiastically share the work of other embroidery artists you admire. Is there a collaboration between you and others possible sometimes?
Most of the other artists that I admire live overseas and I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing their work in the flesh, let alone meeting them in person. Working as an artist is usually a very solitary existence and I haven’t ever collaborated with other artists because my artwork is a very personal thing. In saying that I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity of collaboration if the right project came up.
12) Your “sea spiral” is quite remarkable. How difficult was it and how happy are you with the final result?
The ‘Sea Spiral’ was actually a bit of a happy accident. It was originally designed to be a hanging sculpture inspired by a colorful Christmas tree worm that I had seen on a dive. I planned to make a long spiraling piece that mimicked the fine fronds and spiraled shape of the worm’s crowns. Unfortunately the hanging piece didn’t have the impact that I wanted so it went into the reject pile that I have in the studio. After about 6 month’s I was having a quiet day in the studio so
I got the piece out and started to play with it, twisting the individual fronds and pinning them onto a board. This simple twist transformed the piece into a lovely three-dimensional shape that resembled a shell and I was delighted with the result.
13) Is it leading you into a different direction, say 3D or bigger pieces or more sea creatures?
I am always looking for new directions and ways push the limits of embroidery. The problem is that I generally have more ideas than I have time to attempt them and many ideas never get past the pages of my sketchbook. I am currently working on some larger, installation based pieces that are pinned directly onto the gallery wall. It’s great to work on a larger scale; all the hours at the sewing machine pay off in the end.