Each piece begins with a concept and a sketch. Since there is a lot of planning involved in the final piece, this is an integral part of the process. The initial sketches contain information on content, as well as information on fabric choices and structural details.
Once the sketch for the final piece is ready for production, a more detailed drawing is created using digital drafting tools. Since the sewing and embroidery elements of each piece are extremely time-consuming and detailed, a paper maquett of the work, all of the notes, and instructions for the piece are written at this point in the process.
The next step is choosing the fabrics and threads used in the design. The fabric options include everything from leather, to Chanel boucle, to Hermès silk scarves. Fashion is highly linfluential in my work, so selecting the right fabric for the piece is essential. Once chosen, each piece of fabric is precision-cut on a laser cutter.
For over 20 years I have been creating hand embroidery on a computer. You may wonder what that means. Using highly specialized software, I load the preliminary concept as a backdrop, then hand draw each embroidery stitch using a digital stylus. The artwork is essentially used as a tool for the embroidery design and has little to do with the final piece of art. When I digitize a design, I determine the way the stitches look, how long they are, and how layered they will appear. I also determine how fast the machine runs and when the machine changes color. I like to think of digitizing as painting with thread! Once I am finished, the embroidery machine is programmed to stitch exactly what I draw. The computer software doesn’t aid in the design of the piece - it simply plots the points. The design shown here was a challenge to create, containing over 1,000,000 hand-placed stitches covering a 36” x 36” piece of fabric.
My studio has over 25 state-of-the-art embroidery machines that stitch my designs at up to 1,000 stitches a minute. Every design is loaded into the machine to be stitched, and each piece of fabric is placed onto specialized backing, aligned, and embroidered. Some of the designs are especially challenging to make. For example, stitching on designer boxes is tricky, as shown below. Each element is stitched one at a time, so just imagine how long a finished piece with hundreds of elements takes to complete.
There is more than fabric and embroidery used in my pieces. 3D printing, painting, laser cutting, and engraving also play a prominent role, especially in my sculptures. Every element of my work is created in our Charlotte studio, including the 3D-printed elements.
The farbication of a piece is extremely important. Not only does the finished work of art have to look amazing, it also needs to last forever. I put hundreds of hours of research and development into creating the artwork, and the finished pieces are built to last. Each piece of fabric, once it is embroidered, is meticulously mounted on precision-cut wood blocks and assembled together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Once the hundreds of elements are fabricated, they are placed together to form the final image. During this final phase, serendipity often shows up and the piece changes. The end result of these processes is often unexpected, no matter how carefully they are planned. For me, the most rewarding part of creating art is that surprise at the end when all of the elements come together. Once they are arranged I elevate pieces to different heights to form the final image. Each element is then nailed in place and framed.