This week we learn basics of tapestry and listen to Nick Cave with Isabella Hill, the textile artist who created the original embroidery for our Spring Summer 17 pieces - a collection inspired by Mexico City and its vibrant culture.
Creatures Features: Tell us about yourself - Where are you from? Where do you currently live? What are your favorite things to do?
Isabella Hill: I've spent my whole life in the city of San Francisco, besides seven roller coaster years in New York. I live alone with my cat Miu Miu. I like shopping at thrift stores, drinking tequila, eating in restaurants, watching period pieces, reading thrillers, and Facetiming people.
CF: How did you become interested in embroidery? Who taught you?
IH: Everyone on my mother's side of the family worked somehow with textiles. My grandfather was the photographer behind the book Native Funk and Flash, which has kind of a cult following amongst crafters and admirers of hippie art. My mother was a weaver and designer. A lot of the clothes that she wears could be considered works of art. I was exposed from birth to the concept of clothing as a form of personal creative expression. My grandmother taught me how to sew, but as far as embroidery goes, I'm still making it up as I go along.
CF: What is you day job?
IH: I'm a preschool teacher. I'm encouraging my students to take up sewing so I can put them to work!
CF: What is your usual studio practice and work space like?
IH: My studio is also my studio apartment. It's usually very crowded with works in progress, textiles and clothing. The walls and shelves are crammed with books, art, and portraits of people that inspire me. I generally don't do a lot of planning before starting a project. I have a vague idea of what I'm going to do, and then I add details and context as I go. I'm usually binge watching a crappy TV show while I sew.
CF: Has the recent political climate affected your work?
IH: I was actually in the middle of a big deadline when I heard the election results. I stopped mid stitch and didn't start again for three days. Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my energy designing clothes and embroidering cute designs when there is so much suffering and injustice happening around me. On the other hand, I've been able to use proceeds from my work to support organizations like Standing Rock and the ACLU.
My own creations deal a lot with the historical concept of the American West. In light of recent political events, I've become more mindful of how this history is told and my own place in it. The West as we know it was primarily built by Asians, Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans. It was populated by people who were willing to risk their lives for freedom from the established conventions of the East. I try to represent this diversity and independent spirit in my work. I hope to show a romantic version of cowboy culture that challenges the generally accepted white washed and sanitized Hollywood version of the Wild West.
CF: What was your inspiration for the designs you created for the collection?
IH: Jade told me the the collection was inspired by Mexico City. She cited Frida Kahlo, Luis Barragan, and traditional Mexican embroidery as influences. As I began researching Mexican art, I was immediately drawn to folk art, especially the imagery used in retablos (devotional paintings) and Milagros (religious charms). The hearts, eyes, flowers, and devils are all motifs that I revisit again and again in my own work. Frida was also influenced by traditional Mexican art and clothing combined with surrealist elements. I worked with these ideas in my own style to create my pieces for the collection.
CF: What other embroidery or work do you do? i.e. other projects, do you have your own line or stuff you sell?
IH: I have my own line called Landbreakers that features my designs on vintage clothing. I've just begun the process of designing some basic jackets, pants and dresses, which will be customizable with embroidery. I'm also working on a tarot deck with the Kingsboro Press. I found some old portraits my grandfather took of his naked hippie friends representing different cards from the Major Arcana. We are finishing his project and publishing it as a deck.
CF: Who are your favorite artists?
IH: I'm mostly inspired by designers who incorporate artistic practices into their work. I admire the way Claire Barrow, Dilara Findikoglu and Sonya Sombreuil bridge the gap between art and craft. Jean Paul Gaultier and Elsa Schiaparelli fall into this category as well.
Folk costumes, outsider art, vernacular photography and song lyrics are the driving forces behind most of my work.
CF: What music do you listen to while you embroider?
IH: Nick Cave and Dolly Parton (illustration)
CF: What book are you reading right now?
IH: The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. It's a moody lesbian road trip through 1950's America.
CF: Draw yourself as a mythical creature.
IH: A sleepy sphinx.
Click here to shop Isabella's picks.