If there is one thing I feel is lacking in the handmade community, it is empowerment and support from others. So, to help fill that gap, I’ve decided to begin a monthly series called, “Artist of the Month” where I feature handmade artists in multiple fields and host a fun giveaway with them to help spread the word about their gift and their mission within this community.
I've had the pleasure of following the work of Sarah K Benning for years now. Her talent has always been an inspiration for me and now I have the pleasure of introducing her to you (if you haven't already been aware of this talented artist, that is). Read to learn more about her process, what inspires her the most, and where she sees herself in the next five years.
++ Also, don't forget to enter our giveaway below in the comments! One winner will receive a subscription to BOTH of our Pattern of the Month Clubs. ++
When did you start doing hand embroidery and what was the inspiration behind it?
I have dabbled in textile arts for most of my life. My earliest sewing memory is of making a quilt with my mom when I was 7 for my newborn cousin. Much later I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received my BFA in 2013, with an emphasis in Fiber and Material Studies and Arts Administration. SAIC has a huge weaving program and offers a number of surface embellishment classes, though I never took them specifically. At the time I was making large scale abstract paper works, where I manipulated the surface with accumulations of pinholes and stitched patterns.
It wasn’t until after I left school that I took up more traditional hand-embroidery. I opened my Etsy shop in the summer of 2013 with a modest offering of hand-stitched greeting cards. My collection quickly grew to include simple and modern text-based embroidery hoops, basically updated versions of “Home Sweet Home.” My originalintention for my shop was to bring in a little extra cash while I figured out what to do with my life. I was 22, a recent art school grad, and was working as a full-time nanny with no clue how to break into the ‘art world’ or find (paid) gallery/museum work. As my shop gained traction and demand for my work grew, I was able to leave my day job and sew full-time.
What currently inspires your work the most?
I will always be inspired by nature. It’s no secret that I turn to plants as a main focus in my pieces and that love extends beyond the hoop. I do my best to keep a thriving garden of houseplants wherever I go, though it’s a bit difficult since I don’t seem to live in any one place for too long. The infinite variety of pattern, shape, color, and texture found in plants (and nature at large) is endlessly fascinating to me.
I’m currently working on some ideas focussing on the incredible colors of the Mediterranean. Menorca (where I am currently located) is incredibly beautiful and home to a crystal clear watersand white porous cliffs. Since embroidery is such a slow medium, it may be a little while before these ideas are translated into thread. For the time being these new works exist only in y sketchbooks, but it has been a lot of fun playing with watercolors and pencil.
What is your favorite piece you have made and how did you develop the idea for it?
I think every new piece I finish ends up being my favorite, at least for a little while until I finish something else. I am very excited about the new direction in my work that involves people and plants. Mainly I am having a blast stitching the patterns in my girls’ sweaters. I am a sucker for a good sweater in any medium and have been trying to figure out a way to incorporate those knit patterns into my work for awhile.Has there ever been a part of your work that was a disaster? If so, what happened and how did you remedy it?
I think I experience minor disasters and failures (along with successes and breakthroughs) everyday, but one memory definitely stands out. Back when I was making text-based work, I took on a custom order with the phrase, “Home is where the pants aren’t.” It was a longer phrase than I usually worked with and I got very involved in the star pattern surrounding the words. I didn’t realise I had stitched are’tinstead of aren’t. I didn’t always write out the text before sewing. I wrapped up the piece, popped it in the mail and went on about my business. About a week later I heard from the recipient, who sent a very polite message pointing out my mistake. I immediately set to work on a replacement. Instead of learning from my mistake, I skipped writing out the phrase and proceeded to spell are’nt instead of aren’t. I wrapped it up and sent it out. About a week later I heard back, again very politely, that I had made another mistake on the same word. At that point the customer just wanted a refund, which I totally understood. I was completely mortified and humiliated! I swear I know how to spell aren’t, which is what I told her in a handwritten apology letter complete with her refund and one of my best-sellers at the time (something I knew beyond a doubt I could get right!). That incident is definitely the closest I’ve come to a disaster in my work, though now I can laugh about it and it has even ended up being one of the most positive interactions I’ve had on Etsy.Is it tough being your own boss or is it the easiest job you’ve ever had?
As with anything, it comes in waves. When you work for someone else there is always a figure, your boss, to complain about or blame when things aren’t running smoothly. When you work for yourself, you are responsible for all of it, good times and bad. I am a one woman show, single handedly managing every aspect of my business. It’s basically two jobs: the business side and the creative side. My strengths definitely lie on the creative side and that’s the part I love. I could (and sometime do) spend all day creating sketches and drawings and stitching. The other side of things, the business side, is much more difficult for me. It’s a chore and I have to constantly remind myself to see to all the boring details of accounting, managing supplies, drafting emails, labelling orders, etc. I am also my harshest critic and have a very hard time giving myself a break every once and while. This leads to very long working days and often little sleep. (I know it’s cliché, but I really couldn’t function without coffee.) It’s not always fun, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the freedom and flexibility self-employment allows me. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing I am working towards my own goals, rather than realising someone else's.What is your one piece of advice for beginner embroiderers?
Be patient with yourself. Embroidery isn’t difficult, but it takes time for your fingers and hands to familiarise themselves with the movements and materials. I know it’s easy and sometimes discouraging to look at someone else’s work and wonder why yours doesn’t look the same (I know I’m guilty of stitch envy!), but the more you practice the better you will be. I definitely didn’t start out stitching wild piles of plants and rugs, but after years of hard work, countless tangles and a million finger pricks my skill set has grown. I still can’t make a french knot to save my life though!
Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you have any major goals for your work?
It’s hard to say. I work very intuitively, so I don’t always know what is coming next. I do know the next couple years are going to be a bit hectic, with a more or less nomadic studio. I hope in 5 years I will have settled down a bit, at least with a more permanent home-base! As far as my work goes, I will continue to follow it wherever it takes me. My philosophy has always been to make things that I love and feel excited about and cross my fingers that other folks like them too. It’s been working so far.Any advice to those out there wishing to take their art/work to another level by either sharing it with the world or selling it?
My first piece of advice is to be open to criticism. It’s always wonderful to receive a compliment, but responding to thoughtful and constructive criticism is what drives artists forward. Building yourself a community of fellow makers, whether it’s in real life or online, is essential for getting this kind of critique of your work. It can be tough not to be defensive, but approaching your work from an objective space and a different perspective can help you determine what is working and what isn’t. Then you can make the necessary changes and move forward.
My second piece of advice is to learn how to take good images of your work. These days, everything is so visual that is it so important to develop a visual brand for yourself. It’s not as hard as it sounds! I take all my photos, for my social media accounts and my product photography, on a piece of white paper on the floor.
And my third and final piece of advice: don’t rip off other people’s work. Copying a popular style/maker/product may gain you some followers or sales in the short term, but in the long run it will hurt your brand. No one wants the ‘copycat’ label and in the worst case scenario you could have to deal with legal ramifications due to copyright infringement. There is room for all of us out there and we shouldn’t purposefully step on each other’s toes.
Who is your favorite handmade artist/maker at the moment?
What a question! There are so many amazing artists and makers out there right now. I really love the textile work of Christy Matson. She was a teacher of mine while I was in school and her weavings have really been speaking to me lately.
Describe yourself as an artist in five words or less.
Inuitive, Patient (as an artist, though not always in my life), Playful, Receptive, Graphic.
Sarah K Benning & Gulush Thread are both giving away a three month subscription to their Pattern of the Month Club.
To enter, leave a comment below letting us know your favorite kind of plants/florals, then head on over to Gulush Threads IG and like the giveaway photo. Don’t forget to follow both @gulushthreads and @sarahkbenning to be entered!
Giveaway will run for 24 hours and ends Tuesday, March 22 at midnight CT with winner announced on Wednesday, March 23 right here on the Gulush Blog.
GIVEAWAY WINNER: STEPH YATES (Thanks to everyone else for playing!)
Much love and Good Luck,
This month's #stitchventure pattern is in collaboration with illustrator and teacher, Alexis Winter!
Read on to learn more about her process and to enter to win this month's hand embroidery pattern!
This month's #stitchventure pattern is in collaboration with Deanna Maree Creative Studio.
Read on to learn more about her process and to enter to win this month's pattern!