Melody Lord has to be one of the most interesting embroiderers I know, as she uses her needle and thread to meld science and art. I first really paid attention to her work when in 2010 she worked an embroidery based on a NASA image of the far side of the moon and then as time went on she stitched images of what she saw in petri dishes. Melody Lord’s blog, Kingdom of the Blind was started when she was an artist in residence as part of the Culture at Work Project.
Melody’s creative eye is influenced by the whole range of textiles as she edits craft books and magazines. Melody Lord is also the author of a book on knitting called Knitting Basics. To track her many interests see her latest petri dish stitcheries based on the recent images of Pluto, and her TAST stitch challenge experiments visit Melody Lord’s instagram account but before heading off there, take a break, make a cuppa and let me introduce Melody Lord.
Why do you like hand embroidery and hand work? How has it influenced your life?
Embroidery is like meditation for me. The rhythmic repetition of the needle going in and out of the fabric is soothing and calming and a way to slow down a busy life. I like to listen to music or podcasts while I stitch. It’s my favourite way to relax.
How did you start? Were you taught by your mother, school or taught yourself online? If you taught yourself what attracted you to embroidery?
My mother taught me the basic stitches using a little book that she had learned from at school. The first project I really worked on by myself was a crewel wool embroidery kit of a washerwoman in a spotted dress. The spots were satin stitch, the wash tub was long-and-short stitch and the outlines of the dress and the soap suds were back stitch. I remember being really frustrated getting the hang of making French knots for her hair! Now I use French knots all the time in my embroidery; they are one of my favourite stitches.
Do you use TAST to make samplers or incorporate the stitches into projects as you go. Or what sort of projects most attract you ?
I do a bit of both. TAST is a way of challenging myself to use different stitches. If they are appropriate to a project I am working on, I incorporate them. If not, I have a little sampler on the go that I can try them out on. I’m not very rigorous about doing the stitch each week when I am busy with work and other projects, but I do try to keep up!
Can you talk about your last project and/or your current project?
My current project is a series of science-related embroidered artworks set into 5cm diameter Petri dishes. I’ve been planning it for a while and collecting a set of images for inspiration. So far the designs have been based on blue-green algae (a friend is researching its link to motor neurone disease); an electron microscope image of RNA; the New Horizons spacecraft’s view of Pluto and a ball of fish in the ocean. I’m currently stitching the Cassini spacecraft’s image of the storm at Saturn’s north pole, which is fascinating.
Image Paths of Dreams which you can read about here
What is the project you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of my 2010 collaboration with my friend, neuroscientist Dr Adam Hamlin, for Culture at Work. Adam gave me access to amazing microscope images of rat and mouse brains from his research into Alzheimer’s disease at the Queensland Brain Institute and also his previous research into addiction (which he had done at UNSW). I turned these into embroidered artworks and we held a joint exhibition where Adam presented a public lecture about Alzheimer’s disease and I showed my embroidery works in the Accelerator gallery. I was also invited to exhibit the works as part of National Science Week at the Muse gallery in Ultimo.
Do you have any UFO’s ? If so, fess up to how many?
Too many to count! I’ve spent the last two years trying to “destash”; going through my UFOs and either completing them or turning them into something else. I recently changed tack and pulled everything out of my craft cupboard, only putting back materials and supplies that I will definitely use in the future. I ended up with three large shopping baskets full of UFOs which I intend to complete. This doesn’t prevent me starting a new project every few weeks, as well!
Do you work purchased designs or do you design your own projects? Or do you do both?
I used to purchase designs, but these days my brain is always bursting with inspiration from the wealth of blogs and images on the internet so I tend to design my own projects.
Do you have a creative design process? If so what is it? Or do you work intuitively? What stimulates your creative process? What inspires and sparks ideas for you?
Many years ago (should I say how many? It makes me feel old…) you [Sharon] ran a workshop on Visual Journals at the Southern Cross Crazies retreat in Canberra and the things I learned there from you and the other Crazy ladies changed my creative process. I use visual journalling to record images and materials and stitches and other things that inspire me. I tend to work intuitively once I start a project and it often turns out quite differently than I expected when I started.
Lots of people have trouble starting a project. What makes you start a project? Do you have any tips to get you from blank fabric to stitching?
I don’t usually have trouble starting; it’s the finishing that can be a problem. The main obstacle to me is finding the time to get my thoughts in order about the project and pulling the materials and threads out of my stash. Once I’ve done that, I usually can’t wait to get the needle into the fabric. I suppose my tip would be to simply start stitching: don’t think about it too much, just thread the needle and go.
Do you have stall points? If so how do you get past them? Do you have any tips to share about this.
Yes… I have stall points all the time. That’s why I have so many UFOs! Depending on the project and how determined I am to finish it, sometimes I just force myself to keep going just to get to the end. Sometimes I put the project aside and work on something different for a while, then go back to it later with a fresh eye. I’m not afraid to unpick work that I don’t like or if that’s too difficult I simply stitch something new over the top of any unsatisfactory stitches.
Image Axonal connections was based on an MRI image read about it here
Do you have ‘go to’ stitches. In other words stitches you use frequently that you return to using over and over. If so what are they and why do you think they are so successful for you.
French knots are a big favourite. I love the way they add texture and you can use them for both positive and negative space. Plus there’s nothing more soothing to the mind than the meditative process of working a mass of French knots.
Do you have a favourite embroidery thread, or something you use all the time? If so what is it?
Different threads suit different stitches and purposes. If I had to choose one type of thread to take to a desert island, I suppose I would choose a hand-dyed variegated stranded silk or cotton. I’ve used a lot of Gumnut Yarns Stars and Kaalund Yarns stranded silk. I also use DMC stranded cotton and pearl cotton frequently, just because of the wide range of colours and the fact that they are readily available.
What advice would you give to new hands?
I’ve had the opportunity to teach a few children and adults how to embroider and I find the biggest hurdle is just getting the needle and thread into their hands. Start with a scrap of fabric and some simple stitches and lines. You might never want to show anyone your first project but it doesn’t matter: just knowing you’ve done it is the important thing. You will get better with practice! I taught my sister-in-law how to do cross stitch using a miniature kit of a tiny pineapple and now her house is full of embroidery and quilts. She’s won prizes for her work at the Adelaide Royal Show and now she teaches me things.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I have been really fortunate in that I’ve been able to incorporate my love of embroidery and other crafts into my work in book and magazine publishing. Between editing craft magazines and beautiful craft books, I’ve also written a knitting book, and lately I’ve contributed projects to Country Style magazine as well. Last year I was asked to created some embroidered vegetable designs as illustrations for a book (Wholefood by Jude Blereau). It makes work fun! It’s also enabled me to meet some amazing creative people (like you, Sharon) who inspire me all the time, including the people who contribute to TAST. I love seeing all the different ways that people use each stitch.
I hope you have enjoyed this TAST Interview with Melody Lord. I certainly enjoyed discovering more about her approach to embroidery. If you want to read and see more of her embroidery pop over to Melody Lord’s blog, Kingdom of the Blind and catch her on Melody’s instagram account
This interview is part of series that will run during 2017 as the Take a Stitch Tuesday Challenge has been running for a decade. Throughout the year I will interview stitchers about their hand embroidery and feature their work.
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