Transitions in the natural world inspire embroidery designer Beth Hoyes as she draws parallels between creatures and humans who grow through many changes during their lives. Her work examines the natural world on a macro level, reflecting her experience as an art therapist. She zooms in on the individual elements that merge to create a unique and awe-inspiring whole.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I was one of those kids who was always doodling, painting and drawing on everything. One of my favorite and earliest art memories is lying on my belly, drawing pictures of animals with my brother on my Grandparents carpet. They had this room with a lovely soft warm light and I always remember the grandfather clock they had ticking away in the background.
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What inspires you to create?
Nature in all its forms. I’ve always loved making, drawing and stitching animals, plants and creatures.
I feel like nature is such a wide and varied theme to work with. I’m always fascinated by the diversity of creatures and plants out there. It’s so soothing working with nature shapes and patterns. I think there’s so much we can learn from nature. With the increasing disconnect in contemporary living, trying to reconnect us to nature inspires me.
Ideally, I’d love my work to reflect and share the sense of belonging and wonder that I find in nature.
Why embroidery? How does that medium best convey your intent?
I came to embroidery in a more encompassing way later in my artistic journey.
Early on, I would see embroidery as part of a tool kit rather than my main way of working. The main shift into embroidery full time came with moving countries from the UK to USA. I was in the process of transferring my art therapy accreditation to the States, so I was in a transitional space and had time for different art processes to bubble up.
I started embroidering moths and loved how it felt to capture nature in that way. With a background in art therapy I am also drawn to symbolism. I felt an affinity to moths and butterflies in particular due to their capacity to go through massive transitions in their lifetimes.
A parallel process started to happen where I became increasingly focused on the details and intricacies in nature patterns, alongside zooming in to ways of being and the new culture and society I found myself in. For me, embroidery is such a grounding process. It helped me to feel more anchored when I felt like an outsider and in transition.
When working as an art therapist in the past, I would offer stitching materials to my child and teenage clients. The form of stitching offered important experiences of attachment, comfort, connection and empowerment, especially for clients in transition or experiencing disruptions at home.
At first embroidery offered me these experiences. Out of that grew embroidery’s capacity to highlight my love for nature. It fulfilled my wish to connect with and share my fascination with creatures, plants and nature patterns in a tactile way.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I would say my macro nature embroideries are often a signature way of working, especially my larger sized ones. The largest are 18- and 23-inch hoops. I think these pieces align most with my drive to connect us more closely to nature. My goal is to provide immersive experiences where people see the works as portals into nature, providing a sense of connectivity and oneness with the natural world.
What is the greatest takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Embroidery Made Easy: Beautiful Birds?
I would love for people to feel comfortably challenged and empowered by the making process. I also hope that readers will feel more connected to these feathered friends and find the stitching process joyful and soothing.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have to be quite flexible with where I create work. Our house is one level and 4 rooms total. My husband and I both work from home, so there are some logistics about where we work on different days. One thing I love about embroidery is the packable, portable nature of it, so it doesn’t present a space challenge. Although one day I would love a dedicated space or studio to work in.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I’d say that would be a bunch of thread, reclaimed or natural fabric, my favorite needle (that is so wonky now). Plus my hoops and good light.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I don’t have a sketchbook or journal, but I do draw many patterns and transfer patterns from paper to fabric. Thinking about it, the closest I have to a journal is my Instagram account. It’s been such a great way to compile work, see my embroidery journey evolve and revisit pieces I’ve worked on.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I love podcasts. My favorites are Invisibilia, Unwell: A Midwestern Gothic Mystery, BBC Lights Out on Radio 4 and The Daily by New York Times. I also love documentary long-form podcasts. One of my favorites in the last year was Planet Puffin by the BBC. It was so awesome to get up close to these magic creatures.
Music-wise I love to discover new music on Lauren Laverne’s show on BBC Radio 6. My favorite musicians to listen to are Sampa the Great, Kate Tempest, Roots Manuva, Cosmo Sheldrake and Bon Iver. I often look at a piece of my work and flashback to what I was listening to at the time.
When you travel, do you create while on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I used to create while travelling a lot more, but now I’m mostly baby shepherding while travelling. That can be delightful and exhausting. The arrival of our little one last year definitely presented a lot of new challenges with my work.
I realize I’ve been lucky to have the choice to be an at-home mom for his first year. But it does mean I have to think on my feet a lot these days with my creative process. So I have to be super flexible and just let it go sometimes if there’s no time or energy to stitch. I still have a travel kit and optimistically take it with us whenever we travel. I was able to use my ‘on the go’ kit while we were in Mexico a few months ago, which was definitely a rare win in recent months.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’d say I’m a mix of the two. I’m quite spontaneous with what I work on, but I sometimes love to have a project or plan. With embroidery I’m a fan of a to do list. I will often save images of creatures or plants when I come across ones that jump out at me. It’s great to have a list in my back pocket for what to work on next.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
Where I sit to work, I can see the trees outside. In summer there’s so much green, which makes a big difference to feeling in a good headspace to start work. I’m a huge believer in being surrounded by nature in whatever way that’s possible, whether that’s houseplants, nature images, working outside or trees out the window.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
Absolutely, I’m always drawn back to birds, feathers, nature patterns, butterflies and moths. I often like to follow my nose with a theme and work on whatever brings me joy at different times. But there are definitely themes I can’t help getting excited about and returning to.
I find that my work can become stagnant if I focus on themes that I’m not feeling that stoked about, so I love to follow my instincts with what most inspires me at different times. In my past art practice, I’d often work on different animals spontaneously. I found that there were characteristics of the animals that I was drawing on at times. I love how animals in particular have such infinite possibilities for associations.
With my embroidery work, especially my macro work, I am more driven by exploring the interconnectivity between us and nature. Butterflies and moths feature highly in my work. It’s been a transitional and transformative few years with moving countries and becoming a mom. Those elements are so strong in the symbolism of these creatures. Birds and feathers also feature strongly. For me they represent the experience of being one of many when I am immersed in and working on feathers. There is definitely a comfort element in working on the soft, downy feel of feathers.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist?
I often have to overcome my inner critic. Putting work out there that I’ve put so much love and energy into for others to see can feel like a risk sometimes. I’ve been lucky that my friends and family and Instagram community have been so kind and supportive. That has definitely helped me to gain confidence and feel more comfortable with sharing my embroideries.
The other hurdle I’ve had to work on is being ok with work not turning out as planned. I’m quite a perfectionist, but it’s been important for me to accept and learn from mistakes as much a triumphs. It’s all about perseverance and practice and that’s definitely been a main take away for me in my embroidery journey. I do love that with embroidery you can unpick and start again or adjust stitches.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity is naturally in everyone.
It’s difficult when you grow up with some kids being seen as the ‘arty’ ones and some not. Too often people are conditioned to adopt the narrative that they ‘can’t do art’ or ‘aren’t’ a creative person’.
When working as an art therapist in the past, it was always so clear to me that we are all born with the capacity to be creative. Often that gets squished along the way. I think in Western society there is always an emphasis on being “good” or “bad” at something. But in my opinion what really shines through is authenticity and joy in making rather than whether it looks exactly like the thing you’re trying to portray.
I also think that creativity is such a wide branching thing, and it can be limited by what is seen to be “creative”. There is so much creativity in everyday activities, work, conversations, writings and interactions. So, I think we can all be creative, and I definitely feel people can re-learn how to be creative and access that inner ability in so many different ways.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
Frida Kahlo, I would love to discuss her process with her and her experiences in the art world and beyond. Another artist I’d love to interview is Yayoi Kusama. I’m always fascinated by artists whose art seemed to be such a huge part of survival, healing and processing traumatic experiences. I’m also interested in female artists who had to fight to be seen and eventually thrived in a white, male dominated art world. I would also love to interview Maya Angelou, I found her poetry so inspiring as a kid.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I have two websites. The site for my embroidery practice, www.rabbithatdesigns.com, is all about connecting people with different parts of my embroidery work, whether it’s finding my Etsy shop for patterns, kits and embroideries, looking over past work or finding out more about me or my process. My other website, www.bethhoyes.weebly.com features more of my art process and wider artistic journey.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I don’t currently teach embroidery workshops, but it’s definitely on the to do list at some point!
Interview posted July 2022
Browse through more hand embroidery projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.