You can catch a glimpse of Sara Rickards’ work anywhere from video tutorials to kits to design to red carpets and the runways of fashion designers. And she does it all with ordinary embroidery tools you probably have in a drawer.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I think I was always there, right from the very beginning. I have never been very academic so the artist’s path always felt like the only option. The thought of sitting in an office all day has never tempted me. I am extremely lucky to do what I love for work.
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Why textiles? Why embroidery? How did you get started with stitch?
I loved flicking through issues of Vogue when I was a little girl. The beautiful dresses drew me in, and I thought that’s what I want to do – I want to create beautiful dresses. So like all little girls I wanted to be a fashion designer.
It wasn’t until I got a bit older and realised that design wasn’t where my strengths were, so instead I focused on the technical side and started making my own clothes and learning Italian (ready for when I went to work for Valentino). I was 15 at the time when my mum found an article in a magazine about an apprenticeship at the Royal School of Needlework. I took one look at it and knew there and then that was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
Do you feel that you chose your “passion,” or did it choose you?
I feel like I choose my passion. Once I knew embroidery was what I wanted to do, I was very focused. I guess it was luck that I happened to be good at it as well.
Who or what are your main influences and inspirations? Are there recurring themes in your work?
Mostly, good design and nature inspire me. I love the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods. The clean graphic lines and the beaded flapper dresses inspire me every time. I love the correlation between the Art Nouveau style and nature. You can also see quite a bit of pink in my designs, although that only seems to be a more recent development.
What is your favorite embroidery technique? Or is that like asking which child is your favorite?
I have a couple of techniques that I really love, tambour beading and Goldwork. Tambour beading is the application of beads and sequins using a hook. It is a technique that originated in France and is used by the couture fashion houses. It’s worked from the reverse and takes much patience when learning. I love Goldwork because it’s a technical form of embroidery. There are rules for how to get it looking great. Follow those rules and keep your stitches neat and accurate, and you can’t go wrong.
Tell us about Well Embroidered and the kits you design. How do you design and produce a kit?
It usually starts with a design scribbled onto a piece of paper. I used to design for other people, when they had a brief or a technique they wanted me to teach, and so I would design for it. However I have found over time that those designs didn’t sell as well as my other designs.
Now I work from my heart and do what I love, what I want to design, and they always seem to be more popular. After the initial scribble it will end up in a pile of other scribbles. It can sit there for years until I have a flash of inspiration or a vision of how I will work the piece. Then I will draw it up properly and form a stitch plan along with a colour palette. I don’t usually bother with sampling.
Once I draw the design, I just go for it. I’ve got quite a few years of experience and can usually visualise pretty well how I want the piece to look. That doesn’t mean to say it won’t get unpicked if I change my mind.
Once stitched, I write the instructions; this can be time consuming as I draw out all the diagrams on illustrator to keep it looking professional.
Then I order all the materials to make up the kits. When they arrive they are measured, cut and re-packaged to go into the kit. The fabric is cut out, ironed and the design is transferred onto the fabric. It’s then all packaged up into a box and tied with a ribbon. I want people to feel like they are opening something special when they receive one of my kits, like Christmas has come early. As my husband always says, everything I do is ‘made with love.’
How do you stay organized when working with multiple design ideas and processes?
I live by my planner – well, actually, I have 3 planners, all for different things. I am a little bit obsessed, to be honest. Every day I write out the tasks for the day and prioritise three of the most important and work on those. My lists are never-ending but focusing on three tasks a day makes me feel like I achieve a lot and I’m not just spinning my wheels.
Do you ever hit a creative wall? How do you get unstuck creatively?
Yes, all the time. The design process is not something that comes naturally to me, and I’ve had to work hard at that over the years. I find that to get my best designs I need space, space within my mind and space around me. Heading out for a walk is one of my favourite things to do and creates that all important space.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I’m a big fan of organisation and each kit design has its own file with notes on materials, stitches, where to order, lesson plans and class descriptions. Then I store all the materials for each kit in it’s own box, keeping everything together. I then have separate drawers for packaging and wrapping, designs and art stuff. All the units and drawers are from Ikea.
I also have lots of different beads which are in jars that hang on the back of my door. It looks so pretty, although there are many more beads in drawers that still need sorting. I have also recently started converting all the paperwork over to digital files to make life easier.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Nothing out of the ordinary that any other embroiderer wouldn’t have to be honest. I do tend to hold onto my tools. Most of what I started with at 17 years old, I still have now.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think that for the lucky ones it comes naturally, but I do believe that people can learn if they want to. They just have to be open to it and believe that they can. I know that it’s something I have learned because I wanted to.
If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose and why?
Without a doubt the roaring 20’s in New York or Paris. To be around at a time when such amazing talent was beginning to flourish. The formality of the previous years was starting to unravel and people were truly starting to express themselves. It would have been a very exciting time to be alive.
What piece of work makes you most proud? What is special about it?
I know it might sound corny, but all of my work. I remember starting on my apprenticeship and thinking I would never be able to do any embroidery very well, but because I had amazing teachers I was able to. It still amazes me today that little old me, from nothing special, has created some amazing pieces and worked for some amazing fashion designers. My work has been down the red carpet and you would never know that I had helped to make those dresses, and I like that. I like the secret.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What will visitors find there?
I use my website mainly to educate. I am often adding stitch tutorials and posts on the history of embroidery techniques, exhibition reviews, anything that I think will be interesting to beginner and advanced embroiderers alike. You can also find examples of my work along with classes I’m teaching and embroidery kits for sale.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? What makes your classes special? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes I teach lots of classes. Currently for the Royal School of Needlework and Shimmering Studio. I am in the process of setting up my own local classes, too. Teaching has actually become one of my favourite things to do.
I always aim to make my classes friendly and relaxed. I want people to come away from the class having learned lots of new techniques and helpful tips whilst doing it with smiles on their faces. For me it’s so important to enjoy a class – life is far too short not to enjoy every moment. I am also not one to withhold my secret hints and tips. I love being able to share extra bits of information to really help the student. Anyone interested in getting in contact to arrange a class can just drop me an email at [email protected]
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
More classes, more designs, more kits. I am also expanding into distance learning tutorials.
Each video will be a specific technique that I will walk the student through step by step. Written instructions will complement the videos.
My aim is to make embroidery more approachable. So many people look at my work and say “I could never do that”, and I want to change that attitude. The videos will take you step by step through each project. I am also including in the videos my mistakes; yes I’m not editing them out. I want to show you that I don’t get it perfect straight away and then show you how to fix the problems that often occur.
Also, I am in the process and very early stages of writing a book on fashion embroidery that is so exciting for me and a dream come true.
If you want to keep up to date with what’s going on, new stitch tutorials, kit releases and classes that I’m teaching, then sign up to my email newsletter at www.wellembroidered.co.uk You can also follow me on Instagram; @wellembroidered or Facebook; Well Embroidered, where I post what I’m up to.
Interview posted March 2019.
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