With creative parents as role models and cheerleaders, as well as a teacher who allowed her to knit on pencils during story time, it’s no surprise that fiber artist Emma Herian teaches, writes how-to books and tutorials and creates needle-felted art for a growing list of collectors. She encourages creativity in others so that they, too, can experience the joy that comes from experiencing new challenges.
How did you get started making fiber art? Why did you choose that medium?
Having studied ceramics and plastics at Brighton University, I then went on to work for a furniture design company in London, but life changed when I had children. I needed to stay creative, so my love for sewing, knitting and playing with vintage and recycled textiles grew into a business as a freelance textile artist and author of craft tutorials for magazines and books.
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The needle felted pieces of work evolved when Nymans National Trust asked me to teach the craft as a workshop. Fast forward a few weeks of rapid learning online and through books. Then my love of making and being creative took off into a whole new direction.
Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
I have been creative ever since I was allowed to knit on two pencils during school story time! Both my parents were very creative; my father was a joiner by trade and an artist. He made a lot of the furniture in our house. I grew up surrounded by the smell of wood shavings or oil paints.
My mother (six children!) loved sewing; she inherited the skill from her mother who was a seamstress in London. She made many of our clothes, knitted and encouraged our love for the arts. Both my parents belonged to the Islingston Arts Group, London, in the 60s; we loved hearing about the artists they met, the parties they went to and the exhibitions they showed and sold their work in. So you could say I had an amazing gateway into crafts at a very early age – it’s in the blood!
Who or what has inspired/influenced/empowered you?
Apart from my parents and family, friends are a huge influence. I am lucky to have some fantastic creative friends who are always a great encouragement to what I do. Working from home you miss that day to day conversation that you might find in a shared studio, so the friendship of similar-minded people keeps that dialogue, drive and empowerment vital. So much in the world inspires me. I tend to look at the things that surround me and really appreciate them for what they are.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs? Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work? When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?
With my needle felted work it could be a piece of fruit or a pet dog I have seen that day walking along the street. An idea might pop in my head that I will play around with; it might start off as one particular idea then emerge as something completely different. But I usually wait to see if it is successful before moving on. I also work to commission. A client will send me images of a beloved pet and I will try my best to create a three-dimensional version in felt. I love the challenge of recreating a cherished animal and the pleasure it gives to the recipient is the best part. I know then that I have done my job well.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially, Felt & Fur – 20 Simple Makes to Sew and Needle Felting – 20 Cute Projects to Felt from Wool?
The overriding thing that I want people to experience from my books is that no matter how skilled you are, being creative gives you the opportunity to have fun and explore new challenges. Needle felting has the benefits of being incredibly therapeutic, quick and very versatile, whilst sewing is great for the brain. It can improve your focus, concentration and achievement in something to be proud of. Each book shows how simple it is to create a fun project with little experience and go on to excel.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I would love to say I have a studio, but in reality I work from my dining room table or snuggled up on the sofa in the lounge. It can be a pain to clear the table for meals, so storage of my equipment is a real struggle. But I am currently sorting out the end of our garden; my husband and I plan to build a shared studio so that we can reclaim our house for living in! Let’s just say its a work in progress and soon one day it will no longer be a dream!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
A studio or creative craft space has to have a ‘cupboard of doom’. That’s a place to hold anything and everything that may be of use, especially if you don’t necessarily specialise in one discipline. Over the years when I’ve written for craft magazines, my cupboard has proven to have just the right tool, material or piece of equipment for many a project. In sewing, the basics that are so important are a needle and thread, scissors and pins; in needle felting a felting needle that’s an all rounder such as a 38 gauge and a foam block to work on are crucial. But for any craft the most important tools are your hands!
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is more like a blog where I write down my thoughts and the processes involved in my projects. I like to show how a new piece evolves from start to finish. It gives the viewer a sense of the creativity involved. I also have links to workshops, my shop and books that are available. Hopefully through my blog and my various social media accounts, people can see how much I love and value the world of art, craft and nature and the how the simplicity of it all brings happiness and calmness to a hectic world we all live in.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Needle felting gave me the opportunity to teach and opened up the chance to hold many more workshops. I love how students arrive feeling daunted, then leave proudly clutching a piece of work they have made and are excited to continue such a therapeutic craft. Due to the pandemic, obviously, workshops have been on hold for more than a year now. But this has given me the push to start virtual teaching; most recently I have been part of The Creative Craft Show, teaching two needle felting workshops for their virtual/online festivals. I am also writing PDF tutorials to sell via my Etsy shop; more and more people find it easier to access this way of learning.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist?
Being taken seriously and that what I do is not a hobby. It is work and it is handmade, time consuming. And yes I really do make it all!
Interview posted May 2021
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