Around 18 months ago I had the privilege to join an online course called Handmade Horizons. Aimed at female designer/makers who are looking to develop their online businesses, this course run by Claire Hughes and Polly Dugdale had a major impact on how I see myself and my business; it also introduced me to fellow designer makers who are simply awesome. One of those lovely ladies was Katie. Her skill and creativity simply blew me away. This interview has been a long time coming but I’m sure you will agree, well worth the wait……
1. Tell us a bit more about yourself
I’m Katie, 33 years old, living by the seaside near Brighton with my husband and 2 naughty cats. I studied fashion at university and creativity was my first love, but this became neglected and I have spent my working life in retail. A few years ago I decided to create Mother Eagle as a means to rediscover my art, and she’s been haunting me ever since.
2. Lots of designer makers feel very connected to their environment. Has your recent move to Brighton had an impact on your work?
Mainly in that I haven’t had as much time to make anything! Seriously though, the move down to Brighton was a LONG time coming, I’ve been in love with the place since I had my first holiday here without my parents at 17, and had a wicked and wonderful time. I’d say it’s too early days to see how the physical place has or will influence my work, but I do know I feel inspired and enhanced in every aspect of my life living and working here.
3. As a fellow Handmade Horizons course graduate I have had the privilege of seeing the journey you’ve made as a designer/maker. How would you describe your creative journey over the last year?
A huge development! I looked back at my blog archives to see where I actually was a year ago and at that point I was just doing my Death Cap Toadstool stumpwork sampler piece, to teach myself more advanced techniques. It was only in March of last year that I realised embracing my inner-embroiderer was the way to go and I began creating miniature embroideries for jewellery. I went down to part-time employment in November 2011 to really focus on my business but it was going in a VERY different direction up until I started the course. It actually blows my mind where I am today to where I was a year ago.
4. The choice of materials you use in your work is clearly very important – can you tell us more about the material choices you make when creating a piece?
It’s really very organic to be honest: my mum has a HUGE collection of threads, fabric and equipment, not to mention knowledge passed down over 5 generations. When I started getting into cross stitch again, with my skull pillow (the first thing I made that I blogged about) she gave me loads of it. So I have about 9 boxes of cotton embroidery thread on bobbins, just from her. Other than that, I love colour so when I’m using silk I tend to go for hand dyed, slightly mottled or variegated colours. Fabric wise, for the little jewellery pieces, it has to be thin enough to be sandwiched between the frames. I mostly use very old cotton bedlinen. For art pieces I’m using vintage lace doilies, and they themselves tend to suggest the embroidery – for example the Red Death – a skeleton was the perfect choice for this long thin doily.
5. There is a very strong story behind the Mother Eagle brand – how did that come about?
Through the Handmade Horizons course actually! At least that was the catalyst for it. We were asked to create a profile for our ideal target customer, which I did, but then my product completely changed when I switched back to traditional handwork. At the time I was really struggling with knowing how to unite all the different things I was passionate and interested in producing, but wanted to have a consistent brand feel without getting bored with it myself. One day I sat down and this faux-myth just flowed out. Although the fictional muse of Mother Eagle isn’t a customer of course, as an artistic narrative she constantly inspires me and gives me a place from which all my work anchors. She’s a bit like my editor; if I have an artistic choice to make, I ask ‘What would Mother Eagle do?’ or ‘how would this animal/plant/piece of dead body fit in to her life?’ – that usually does the trick.
6. Are people surprised at your use of a “traditional” craft in such an innovative and unusual way?
I’m not sure really! I can’t say as anyone’s ever expressed surprise. I would say it’s interesting how different people seem to approach my work from a place they feel comfortable with. For example the different animals attracts some people, the toadstools for others, the anatomical stuff again is a different crowd. Usually it’s the size of the work that capture’s their initial attention.
7. We’ve been particularly impressed by some of your recent commission work. What are the highlights of the commission process for you?
I like that it gives me a chance to work on a much bigger scale, and also that it allows me to explore a subject I wouldn’t necessarily go to on my own. I have always said I do not want to be an ’embroiderer for hire’ and as such don’t want to be trapped having to do a portrait of someone’s puppy as it just doesn’t make sense to Mother Eagle nor inspire me ( I love dogs – just not to make art). However when approached I try to be very open minded and working with the client to know what it is that they love about the subject matter is a good ‘way in’ for me. For example, the Swans piece I did last Christmas. I would NEVER ‘do’ swans ordinarily, but my client’s ideas for the overall piece, and the general bird-theme which is always attractive, plus the classical symbolism, the challenge of a limited palette, and the big scale made the whole thing exciting. I’m working on a piece now which I think will be so cool when it’s finished, and again, has exposed me to different themes and directions I might not have wandered down by myself.
8. There are very strong themes to your collections – where does the inspiration come from and do you feel liberated or constricted by keeping so closely to these themes?
Liberated! But it’s an insightful question because as I mentioned earlier, it was because I couldn’t see how I could unite all these seemingly disparate interests and passions I have as an artist into a cohesive collection for an audience in the beginning. I love/am interested by folklore, animals, symbolism, magic, witchcraft, tattoos, goth, ritual, herbs…Creating Mother Eagle as a character inhabiting this fantasy world in my consciousness allows me to weave all these threads into her story with complete freedom in a way that makes sense to me and, I hope, to my audience.
9. Many people comment on the scale of your work and how amazed they are when they discover the true size of your pieces. Your stitches are so small we wonder – does Mother Eagle actually work with pixies?
Ha ha! I have had a nickname since school which is Pixie – on account of my elfin like appearance I guess. I also met a psychic once who told me I am actually descended from fairies. So there could be something in it!
10. What does the future hold for Mother Eagle?
More embroidery, more jewellery, more art, more magical animals, more poisonous plants, more bones…hopefully more exposure and interest and more success!
If you’d like to find out more about Katie’s work or purchase one of her beautiful designs here’s the link you’ll need. Oh and did I mention that she is currently having a SALE with discounts of up to 50% off?!
Website: http://www.madebymothereagle.com/ (including her amazing blog and shop)
And if you’d like to find out more about the Handmade Horizons course click here