We’ve been following the work of Sophie Standing, an incredibly talented textile & fiber artist, for quite some time and will admit to being in complete awe of her art. She brings her subjects to life with a stunning combination of fabric and thread, pulling from countless hues, layering various patterns and thread weights, and expertly piecing them all together to become one amazing image. Sophie references both her extensive artistic background and her physical surroundings to create these artworks. We had a chance to learn a bit more about her background and her process via a short interview a few weeks ago and are thrilled to share it with you here today. Sophie proudly uses Aurifil threads.
You have a rich artistic background, what first drew you to textile embroidery art?
Sewing was always a big part of my life. From the age of 11 or 12 (I can’t quite remember), I was working in a craft shop run by an Italian woman. It was a tiny little space, filled with skeins of cotton and silk and wool. It was like an Acadians cave. I didn’t earn much money but always managed to spend it all in the shop on threads, cross stitch samplers, or ‘make your own teddy’ kits.
As I got older my sewing and creative flair turned more towards clothes and fashion. I loved fabrics and would buy them without even knowing what they were going to be used for. I was a total fabric hoarder… and not just quilting and haberdashery fabrics. Also woven textiles from Guatamala, Indian silks, Indonesian embroideries. Two of my most treasured possessions are the large hand woven and embroidered bed throw/wall hangings that my husband, Andre, bought me in Bhutan when he was on business there. They are both more than 70 years old. The hand embroidery is exquisite and the amount of hours it must have taken to create is mind blowing.
I started doing a bit of machine embroidery on skirts and dresses, just the odd heart and group of bubbles or balloons, and gradually started experimenting more. Whilst living in Cape Town my friend Saskia asked if could create some fabric art pieces for the walls of her shop on Long Street, Misfit. These were the first pieces of textile embroidered art that I made. It was three pieces in total: a rabbit, three swallows and a meadow of flowers.
I had never worked like that before, creating animals with coloured fabric appliqué and then sewing the details with threads, but I loved it. I guess it just combined my love of of so many things… flora and fauna, fabrics, threads, sewing, & art.
How has the medium evolved for you over the years?
Although I studied art and design at University in Liverpool for wood, metal, ceramics and textiles, my textile embroidered art is all self taught. It’s been a process of trial and error and experimenting. I have become far more expressive with my use of fabrics, using very bold flowers next to stripes and clashing abstract patterns. My sewing has become so much more fine tuned. It’s like anything I suppose, just practice and experimentation. I get lost in it sometimes, locked into the mammals eyes and ears, fur and hair.
How do you choose your subjects?
Mostly this is influenced by my clients. These days I work solely with private commission and try to have one exhibition a year. The client and I start by looking at photos of the mammal to see what the client loves about it and what they wish me to portray in the animal. Between us we find one that has the right composition and look for a textile art piece.
I only do the large mammals on a large scale these days. Over time I’ve realised that the amount of detail needed to create a face with machine embroidery just isn’t achievable on a small scale. For smaller pieces, I concentrate on portraits of mammals like lions, wild dogs, or antelopes. I also do insects and birds on a small scale.
What is your greatest artistic inspiration?
The world around me…
Although I concentrate on African mammals, now that I’ve lived on the continent for 15 years, I do also enjoy creating the odd beast from elsewhere! I very much enjoyed creating a Siberian tiger last year and would one day love to do an English countryside themed exhibition — fox, badger, stag. Memories from growing up in England.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve worked on?
Yes, but a few!
I still love the wild dog portrait I create some years ago now. The latest Impala, which was also concentrating mainly on the face, is another favorite. I really enjoy honing in on just the face of the mammal. It’s where I can really bring the creature alive.
Satao, the tusker I created about a year and half ago, was a very special piece to make for a client. He was Kenya’s largest ever tusker and was killed by poachers in Tasvo National Park in June 2014. Desperately sad.
Describe your process from start to finish.
First of all I trawl through images of the mammal subject matter, — sometimes photographs that my husband and I have taken, other times images from friends or other photographers. If they are copywrited, I will approach the photographer for permission to use the image as the basis of my art.
Then, I set to work drawing, using the photograph of the mammal as inspiration. I could simply print out the photo and then enlarge for the artwork, but I like to go back to basics — to study the mammal and draw all the intricate areas before I attempt to draw it with threads!
Once the drawing is finished I then enlarge it to the appropriate scale on a photocopier, sellotape the A3 sheets together (we don’t a photocopier in my town that can print large than A3!), cut it out, and lay it down on a pre-painted canvas cotton background. I pin it in place and trace around it, making sure the nostrils and eyes etc are in the right place.
I then remove the picture and am left with a pencil outline of my mammal. I begin to choose all the fabrics and pin them down on the pencil outlined image.
Then begins the hours of sewing! I always start with the eyes of the mammal and slowly stitch all the details, changing my thread colour continuously to achieve the layers and textures of the creature I’m trying to bring to life in blues and purples and pinks!
What do you love about Aurifil threads?
Everything! The amount of colours that are available is fabulous. I have the colour chart on the wall of my studio like a piece of art, it’s delicious! They are glossy but without giving too much shine to my work. They are very rich and almost glow!
The weights are brilliant. I mainly use 50 weight for all the very fine detailing, facial features and hair, and whiskers. I switch to 40 for the areas of the body that still need hair or wrinkly skin texture — it covers a bit faster. The 28 and 12 weight are really great for extra definition in certain areas. They work best in fish and birds in my work.
Oh, and the different spool sizes too. For my work, using all four thickness, its ranges from 1300mt to 750mt of cotton on a spool. For my last exhibition, I used approximately 22,000mt of thread. That was finished spools so it was a lot more than that as there were many half and quarter used spools.
What is your favorite weight and how do you use the different weights to create texture in your pieces?
50 and 12! The two extremes make the most contrast when used together….
What type of machine do you work on?
Always Bernina! I used to use my grandmothers Bernina 830 Record. I inherited it when she passed away. She was a wiz on it and created many of her own clothes with it, including evening dresses. I love that machine — it’s as heavy as an ox.
Sadly I have pretty much run her into retirement now. I really want to get a new motor fitted into her so I can have her as a back up when my new Bernina is being serviced. One day I’ll get her out of Kenya to send her somewhere for some Bernina TLC!
Right now I use the Bernina 1008. I don’t want a high tech machine and I don’t use computer programs for sewing. It’s the free motion and darning foot that I use everyday. The basic foot for straight stitch and zigzag gets used when I mend or alter my and the family’s clothes.
Any tips for artists just getting started with textile embroidery?
Just explore — don’t be afraid to just try out things. Sometimes it won’t work and will be a mess, but that’s how I learned. Experiment with colours and designs, all ranges of fabrics, stripes, spots, florals, geometric, as many clashes as you can on one piece of fabric art. Be bold.
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We’d like to thank Sophie for taking the time to chat with us! We are inspired and awestruck and can’t wait to see what comes next. We’d encourage you to follow along with her to get a sneak peeks at in progress artworks and closer looks at newly finished pieces.
More About Sophie:
Sophie Standing was born in England and grew up in Hampshire. She studied wood, metal, ceramics and textiles at Liverpool Hope University. Since graduating, Sophie has worked as an artist in many different mediums, including works in ceramics, stained glass windows, weaving, dress making and more recently experimenting with textile art. She was fortunate for many years to be part of the team that designed, installed and displayed the award winning windows at Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly, London. She is also an accomplished wedding florist and fine artist, life drawing being a speciality.
In 2003 Sophie moved to Cape Town, South Africa and is now living in Kenya. Sophie’s textile embroidered art is inspired by the flora and fauna around her in Africa and combines this with her passion for fabrics and textiles. Her one off pieces are created by appliqueing an intricate collage of fabric onto the canvas where her image is already sketched out. She then draws the details over the top of the fabric with her sewing machine using many different coloured threads.
Sophie has an extensive collection of fabrics from all over the world and in a vast array of designs and textures, ranging across haberdashery, dress making, quilting, new and vintage, floral, modern, wool, cotton, silk… Liberty and Kaffe Fasset being among her favourites.
Although Sophie enjoys working towards exhibitions she usually works to private commission and enjoys the process of working closely with clients on a project. She has sold works to clients in Kenya, South Africa, UK and Germany.