As a needleworker, I design and make sewing and embroidery projects for magazines. One of the magazines does quite a spread on its contributors, asking a dozen or more interview questions for each project published. One of the most difficult questions I have had to answer is: what is your style?
When I first encountered the question, I panicked because I didn't necessarily think that particular project completely reflected my style as much as I was inspired to create something specific for the magazine. But I analyzed the piece and called it "low-tech functional art." As time went on, I realized a lot of my work could be classified within that strange label.
May I backtrack a bit? I am a nomadic working/paid needleworker. I have moved every three years on average in my life and in the last five years (since meeting Mr. True Love and marrying him in Australia), we've moved about every seven months. The only thing he ever asked of me? Do what I love to do.
The dream was not well-supported by our reality. It was unsettling to have to keep packing up my workspace. Over time my frustrations led to some amazing discoveries about being a working nomad and creating a studio that could be packed up on short notice, moved without implosion (its or mine), and set up and used immediately upon arrival. The process of fine-tuning was eye-opening.
I traded attempts to sell finished products for designing small sewing patterns, finally settling on designing embroidery patterns, contracting with magazines, and teaching embroidery on my blog. My stash actually grew smaller to accommodate the more specific supply needs. The efficiency seemed to curtail the range of projects I could attempt. It focused me to delve more deeply into my goals and methods. I traded free-spirited wild abandon for the mad scientist's obsession and dedication.
My world got a little smaller, but my work got much more interesting.
Compartmentalization solved my need to juggle the trifecta of designing - teaching - art. With the month's deadlines completed in the first week, I could then focus on tutorials and patterns for my blog readers, then for the rest of the month create the fiber art experiments that tickled me. It gave me a predictable rhythm that was also flexible. I could plan and even if we suddenly had to move, I could finish what I was doing, pack up, and be ready to reopen when we moved into the new place. (I even designed my own travel pincushion.)
And what does this process have to do with my style? One thing I drew from when I was trying to make my love of stitchery fit into my mobile reality was the specific skills I had learned as a child. I had learned to embroider and sew from the rag bag and the sewing basket - yes, literally my grandmother's basket full of pins, needles, and buttons. There were no fusibles, plastics, and ready-mades.
It was basic. Not a craft store consumer sport. Accomplished for the purpose of decorative giving and/or using. It was story-rich and personal.
Low-tech. Functional. Art.
The projects vary and may use new quilting fabric provided by the publisher or maybe old linen repurposed from a vintage piece, but the style is still based on a lifetime of using simple tools, practicing handwork skills, and needing to accomplish the task even in an unpredictable environment.
Perhaps I am hopelessly nomadic. I was trained by grandmothers and great-aunties to be creative with often no more than needle and thread and the clothes on your back.
Honestly, I'm so over adventure. But this entire experience inspired possibility and resourcefulness. I now share doable projects with others who do not have a studio and massive stash so their hands can hold something that doesn't beep, buzz, or ring. I teach the satisfaction of using few tools, the richness that can be brought forth from just needle and thread. Weekly I receive emails from those who did not realize they could create artful stitchery on a very low budget or with no sewing room of their own and, more often than not, no previous experience. They now make gifts and try visible mending and embroider hoop art for their walls or heirloom cloth dolls for their children.
By choice, I have no cell phone, no mobile device, and my studio fits into a medium-sized suitcase. Even if I get to settle in one place, handwork will continue to carry me to new––simply, artfully, joyfully. In a world of change, the creative constant is definitely a comfort, a delightful entertainment, and quite possibly a necessity.
Allison Dey Malacaria, CEO (Chief Embroidery Office) of SweaterDoll, teaches embroidery and sewing locally and on her blog, publishes sewing and embroidery projects in magazines in Australia and the US, and designs embroidery patterns that encourage put-the-world-down-and-create-something time. Her work can be seen on her blog and in her Craftsy and Etsy shops. Her latest magazines projects are to be found in the pages of Homespun and Handmade Australia magazines.