23 September 2021
Get to know textile artist extraordinaire, Suzy Wright as she shares her love of bold expression and the processes she goes through to transform her painted images into spectacular, vibrant embroideries.
You’re known for your wonderfully exotic and colourful tapestries. Where does your love of bold expression come from?
I’ve never hidden away from colour. I always feel it’s very easy to run away from it and I try my hardest to embrace it with open arms. As the years have gone by, my appearance has become more clashy and vibrant with colour and pattern. I just adore it – it makes me happy. I don’t feel like myself if I wear black.
You trained and began your career in fashion and have a very distinctive style of dress. Would you say that your look is an extension of your work? Is your wardrobe art in its own right?
I would say that in a way, I’ve always tried to push the boundaries of what is close to the line of what to wear. When I was younger, I constantly wore big ballgowns, then it changed to long flowing kaftans and kimonos. One time I got on a London bus wearing a pair of full blown fisherman’s waders and yellow coat. I just love how expressive you can be. Now, I love to wear turbans and wild extravagant hats.
Left-right – Green Beetle, Cactii
In 2014, you interned at the studio of Zandra Rhodes. What an extraordinary person she is with a passion for textile design. What would you say you learnt there?
It was a truly wonderful experience being around someone so iconic and lovely. Normally you’re disappointed when you see an idol but this wasn't the case. I think just being in a lovely family team environment was great, and helping with a fashion show and being in that world was terrific – it made me want to go back and do my own work after being so inspired.
All your works begin life as watercolour paintings. Can you share with us the processes that you go through to transform them from painted images on the page into a riot of brightly coloured embroidery thread?
- First, I have to be passionate with my subject. There’s no point doing anything unless you’re inspired by your surroundings. Sometimes it literally just means going to the garden or a beautiful vintage clothing shop. I take memories and get images.
- My watercolours always tend to be massive – I love working big. I then pin my painting up on the wall.
- I then rip off a large piece of fabric, take pencils and pens and draw a black and white, quite detailed version of it, sometimes changing it depending on how the watercolour has worked.
- Then, I do a base coat of thread, like with a painting, and then build up the layers until the painting/stitch pops out with colour.
Left-right – Banana, Dragonfruit
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Many of your works feature loose threads that are left hanging on a finished piece. Can you tell us why that’s important to you and what qualities it brings to your work?
It does a couple of things. I was always being told by people that they’d mistake my work for watercolour or pastel paintings. If I wasn’t there to tell them, I wouldn’t want people going away not knowing. Also, when I did fashion, they always told me: “Cut them off, it’s messy and why don’t you just want to use a digital embroidery machine?", so it’s my way of saying they can shove it! Over the years, I’ve carefully and finely tuned my strands. In my earlier work, they are much stronger and thicker, but now they’re finer and fewer strands. but give the same impression.
Colour is core to your work. How do you pick the right shade of thread to coordinate with your watercolour paintings? And is there a particular brand you prefer?
My watercolour and stitch pieces are completely separate. I start my work by doing watercolour painting as drafts, then I separately start the process of stitch. I love colour. On my right hand side of my sewing machine, I have hundreds of threads all piled up around me. I just look through the pile until I see the right shade, or sometimes, if I don’t have that particular colour, I will mix/layer different colours until I get the right shade. I use Coats Moon and Gutermann threads.
What type of sewing machine do you use? And is there another tool or piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?
I use an old Viking Husqvarna and I have to use an open toe foot. I would also like to say I don’t use a hoop.
Left-right – Blue Beads, Northern Flicker
You also worked alongside Kaffe Fassett in his studio. How did this exposure to THE master of colour influence your developing style?
I always loved colour and embraced it. Colour comes naturally to me so I would say it was amazing to be around so much vibrancy. It’s so lovely to watch other people get such a thrill out of it.
Inspired to learn more? Get to know another artist doing incredible things with their sewing machine, Janine Heschl, read our guide on choosing a sewing machine for embroidery or try your hand at Anne Brooke's cocktail collage free machining project.