As soon as I saw her beautiful embroidery work online, I had to ask Hillary Webb to do an interview! This Pop Quiz is with Vancouver’s newest textile artist, by way of Toronto and Halifax.
Hand embroidered bird on naturally dyed, waxed cotton
Tell us about yourself and work!
I’m a native Torontonian and spent the last three years in Halifax studying to be a librarian. I fell in love with the ocean air and was fortunate enough to recently relocate to the other coast to start a librarian position at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. I’ve been making and selling hand embroidered art since completing my degree in textiles at the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2004. More recently I’ve been dabbling in ceramics, letterpress, and screen-printing. I can’t stop making things. When my hands aren’t busy I get restless. As far as I can tell, making things is in my blood.
How long have you been doing needlework, and how did you learn?
My first attempts at needlework were in my teens when my father and grandmother taught me how to smock. My great-grandmother Grace moved to Toronto from England in 1919 and started a smocking school and smocking supply company. The company was passed down to my grandmother Doris, and then to my father who still sells fabric, lace, patterns and books. Using textiles as my creative medium seemed like such a natural choice.
Tell us about the process of making your art. How much do you plan your embroidery pieces before you start stitching?
The process I developed includes making natural dyes from scratch, staining my dyed cotton fabric with wax, and drawing on the fabric with pencil and thread. Recently I’ve begun using vintage pillowcases and table linens as the base fabric. I have an obsession with collecting old picture frames from flea markets and antique shops. I especially like ones made of barn board. When I plan a piece I usually draw the basic shape on the fabric, pick the colours, then free hand the stitching.
Hand embroidered polar bear on logwood dyed, waxed cotton
Where does your inspiration come from?
In the past my work has been inspired by patterns found in nature, animals and birds, and trees. My more recent work has been inspired by architecture, geometry, and things I saw during a summer-long American road trip including houses on stilts, fire, and font.
How did you start creating your own dyes? What are some of your favourites?
I started making my own dyes after a dye class at OCAD. The class taught us about synthetic dyes as well, but I loved the idea of being able to create my own colours in my kitchen without worrying about the toxicity of the powders. I love setting up hot plates with buckets of dye in the backyard. Some of my favourite natural dyes include umbilicaria (a flakey grey lichen that makes a vibrant purple), sumac berries (pinky-beige), black walnut (rich brown), and goldenrod (yellow). These are my favourites because I get to forage for them. I love piling up the fabrics once they’re dyed to create a pleasing rainbow!
Do you sew?
I do sew, but not as often as I’d like. Mostly I do hand embroidery to create my art, but in the past I’ve dabbled in making clothes and bags. A recent project I did with Haligonian artist David Figueroa was a series of screen-printed felt pendant flags. I got to use some of the fancy stitches and lettering on my grandmother’s sewing machine
At Sewing School, we’re all about learning new things. What is one technique or project that you want to try out?
As a collector, I love buying fabric and have a pile I want to use to make a quilt. Quilting is something that intrigues me, but I’ve never made time to start a project. I also love knitting but have never learned how to crochet. That’s also on my list of things to try.
Who are some other artists or businesses in the Halifax craft scene that we should know about?
I met so many amazing, talented people living in Halifax. The community is a tight-knit one of sweet, supportive, like-minded artists and crafts people. Many of these people I met while selling at the Halifax Crafters market, including:
Although I’ve moved away I still keep in touch with the people I met in Halifax and stay involved by sitting on the board of the White Rabbit Open Arts festival and artist residency that happens every August on the Bay of Fundy.
I’m excited to get involved in the craft community here in Vancouver and see what kinds of things are happening in the west coast art and craft scene.