Last week was the exhibition that accompanies the Hand and Lock Prize for Embroidery, which is a seriously lavish celebration of embroidery talent. There are several categories to the prize, including Fashion and Textile, with Open and Student levels. Whether you love all the individual exhibition pieces or not, there is no denying that the Prize attracts a veritable cornucopia of talent and is the ultimate ‘up yours’ to anyone who doesn’t think embroidery can be art.
The Exhibition came with a series of events and talks, from goldwork taster sessions to talks on portfolios and fashion and Hand and Lock had moved some of the contents of their shop into the premise temporarily. I have to confess that apparently if you show me 30 jars of shiny bullion in all the colours I will be compelled to buy some… It was interesting to see some of it in person having seen many of their designs over their years online and I just love their use of sumptuous velvet in everything. They know how to put all my favourite things together. Speaking of which, anyone know any good velvet suppliers that stock a variety of pile lengths? It’s one of those materials I’m always afraid to buy online…
I was pleasantly surprised by just how much there was to see in the exhibition as some of these smaller events can be very lovely but when you’re done in under an hour it can feel somewhat underwhelming. The exhibition was split over four floors and grouped by category, with plenty of steep stairs between.
So much of the work was absolutely beautiful. I was surprised by how little ‘weird and wonderful’ there was but there were plenty of pieces that were making homage to social media in some way. I left with the distinct impression that apparently fashion students spend all their time on the internet. A lot of the embroidery was just fabulous from a technical perspective and I did enjoy a lot of the very classic designs. Lucy Martin’s lovely ‘The Preciousness of Life’ collection was perfect for this – absolutely exquisite stumpwork portrayed in a very inventive way. They are beautiful pieces.
Other floral highlights were Yu-Chu Chang’s ‘The Colour of Taiwan’ done in Xiang silk embroidery thread. I guess these are a type of flat silk thread from looking at the finish but these are just beautiful. I have only had the pleasure of going to Taiwan once, but the natural flora and fauna are stunning and I do think these piece really captures the vivid cheer of much of the landscape incredibly well.
There were dresses, there was smocking and beading galore… There was fantastic glitz and glamour and a really interesting geometric piece that caught my eye by Justyna Wołodkiewicz that if you were going to think ‘cool and modern’ with embroidery, this would probably be it. I love her fun sense of colour and she can make even pastel shades feel bold but the construction of the pieces on display were really very interesting and felt very ‘fresh’.
I feel honestly that most of what I saw really deserves a blog post on its own Karen Nicol’s ‘Leap of Faith’ just felt like mixed media at its finest. The world needs more giant silk fish too. I’m not sure the photo does the huge scale of this canvas justice. Have a dig around on Hand and Lock’s website for more photos of fantastic things. I was just walking around in awe of the talent and so jealous that someone had found the time to devote to these wonderfully lavish masterpieces. So many inspirational things.
As part of the exhibition, I had also booked onto a talk to see Jenny King discuss her portfolio and techniques for machine embroidery. It turns out she’s something of an Irish machine embroidery genius, which she uses for a lot of her work, but it was very interesting to hear her talk through her process, how they do the fringing, work with clients etc. Her work is stunning and I did leave the talk wondering if I needed to go find myself and Irish machine or whether it would be possible to recreate some of these effects freehand on a standard machine. I don’t know a huge amount about Irish machine but I think the key difference is their basic stitch is a zigzag that looks like a satin stitch and you can control with width of the stitch using a knee bar, making it possible to create complex shapes of flat shading freehand.
The setting of the exhibition was also an interesting venue. Describing itself as a ‘raw, industrial space’, The Bargehouse is a restored, derelict building that is doing a fantastic job of still trying to look derelict. I’d love to say it feels atmospheric, but it is one of those buildings that just feels like it is trying so hard to be edgy that it comes across as a bit limp. I like the bare brickwork everywhere but you can just imagine the planning meeting where someone came up with this genius idea of leaving it ‘untouched’ and the whole project somehow costing more than a proper restoration.
Overall, it was a lovely event. I did think the exhibition could have benefitted from better signposting as there were a number of us wandering around looking quite lost trying to work out if we had seen everything. Some of the lighting choices for items were a bit strange too – I don’t know if this was from concern about direct light damage on the textiles or just another attempt to look edgy and cool. I think the pieces spoke well enough for themselves though.