Sarah Greaves’ series of work, ‘Embroidered Graffiti’ is the kind that makes you take a second look and wonder, “how’d she do that?” At first glance, the typography is elegant cursive that sits comfortably on the objects as if written on with the lightest touch. Look closely and you will see that the words have had to be forced through the material, which include complete wooden doors, metal, and the chassis of a toaster.
We were intrigued by her unique approach to her work and wanted to know how she came up with the idea of mixing textiles, woodwork and metal work.
Read our interview with Sarah to find out how her laborious and physically demanding process includes power tools, broken drill bits, and nose bleeds.
How did you develop the idea of embroidering unconventional objects?
My grandmother taught me to embroider from young age so I have always been interested in embroidery. It was back in 2004 when I was creating an installation piece with stitches that flowed from fabric onto a wooden chair that I decided to start drilling the hard surface and actually embroidering into the wood.
I came back to this process in 2007 when I embroidered my first door and its grown from there to include all sort of odd objects, even the kitchen sink.
Have you always had an interest in textiles and experimental techniques or is it something that just came up as a solution to what you needed?
I have always loved textiles, 3D and making. My practice allows me to create very delicate work but still use power tools and work with different materials. I like that people cannot always understand how it has been created and I love the ridiculousness of embroidering such large and unyielding objects. The process is very repetitive and laborious and the effort involved represents the effort it can take to express yourself and be heard.
Please tell us a little more about what your ‘Embroidered Graffiti’ entails, particularly the techniques you use.
I will either be inspired by a certain object or have a theme or concept in mind, so for example with the Toaster I knew that I wanted to look at the diet industry and the way we label certain foods, the toaster was the perfect object to explore that idea. I then think about the text, plan it out, mark out every drill hole for the stitches, transfer these drill points onto the objet and then start drilling. It is very time consuming and I break a lot of drill bits, they are generally only 1.5 mm and can snap really easily.
After I have drilled out all the holes, I sew the embroidery by hand, this is difficult on a solid object as you have to physically turn the object over or walk around it to see where the next hole is for the needle. I use traditional embroidery silks unless I want thicker text as in ‘The End’ door. That piece was created on stage as part of a theatre show/ live art event.
When the show ended I pretended to stab myself with the oversized needle and dropped to the floor, turning on the lights embroidered into the door.
What have been some of the more difficult materials to embroider?
Metal is the hardest material to drill through but one of the easiest to sew as it tends to be thinner and the needle follows the hole more easily. Embroidering the sink and the fridge involved industrial cutting oil, a lot of drill bits and a lot of patience. The fiberglass bath was relatively easy to drill but the fine dust created is nasty stuff.
I always wear a proper chemical mask when I’m drilling but I was rippng some wood off the back without a mask on and lots of the dust had collected underneath; the sudden cloud of fibre glass dust gave me a nose bleed. That really is suffering for your art.
Embroidering the banana was very messy and not advisable.
What kind of ideas do you feel your work expresses?
My practice pushes the limits of embroidery and reframes the location and voice of the graffiti artist. The embroidered text is delicate and ‘feminine’ while the process demands the use of ‘masculine’ tools such as drills and clamps. Visceral, intangible thoughts become permanently graffitied onto these familiar domestic objects.
My work explores themes of gender stereotypes, how we relate to our bodies and the public and private self. Fridges doors and sinks become canvases for hidden thoughts.
Where do you get your ideas for your work?
In terms of concept I am influenced by articles in the news and political debate. A lot of my previous work has been autobiographical and I am really interested in the ideas of the self, our internal monologues and the way in which we relate to ourselves and others. I want each collection to explore something new either technically or conceptually to keep me challenged and inspired.
Do you have an idea at the moment about where you’d like to take your work?
I will hopefully be doing a residency Armenia this September to research how needlework, embroidery and ‘treasured objects’ embody the rich histories of Armenia and its diaspora. It will explore my own Armenian heritage and inspire an installation piece and smaller works to be exhibited in the Basement of Shoreditch Town Hall in London and the Armenian Church in Manchester next year.
I next have work exhibited at BEARSPACE Gallery in London. 20th October – 17th November 2012.
© Sarah Greaves, 2012