Annalisa Middleton

As winner of the Fashion Open category, Hand & Lock delve into Annalisa Middleton’s story behind her piece and entering into the Prize for Embroidery with an exclusive interview.

Annalisa Middleton is a London based artist with a background in costume design, currently working on her own fashion collections exploring different applications of textile design in digital print and embroidery.

She has a studio in the Kingsgate workshop trust, where she is a part of Textile Hub London. Her creations made tangible in her own world using abstracted themes of folklore with influences from historical dress/ceremonial garb imbued with a visual language of personal signals.

Did you face any obstacles creating your piece?

I definitely faced a few obstacles creating this piece, as you can see I wanted to create a single piece of gold work covering the whole back panel and reaching all the way around to both fronts. As my shoulder seams were straight, I toyed with the idea of doing the whole piece in one big frame, quickly realising this was ridiculous as I wouldn’t be able to reach the middle, and I made separate frames for each panel. To solve the problem of joining the tentacles I had to measure the exact starting and stopping points of the purls on each frame so the angle of the purls would match up when it came to joining the pieces. I then needle felted the between gaps in the string padding once the seams were together.

What is your plan for next year, what do you hope to achieve?

I’m still very much developing my practice as an artist, much of this year has been about taking the time in my own studio to experiment with new materials and keep pushing the way I think about fashion and textiles. My work often has symbolism or elements folklore/mythology informing the design. I tend to think about the things I make not just as clothing or accessories but as objects worn by characters that are part of an imagined world. For me the garments start to become really interesting when used in a wider context, such as photography or performance. Over the next year I’d love to expand my collection and curate another live exhibition, following on from my first solo show which I put together in February, though most likely this will take a while longer. Right now

I’m concentrating my efforts into making a few diffusion pieces and smaller more affordable embroidered works, with the hope of engaging a wider audience. I’m more inspired to create than I’ve ever been but there’s still a long way to go in honing my craft and fine tuning my aesthetic. I feel like embroidery definitely has a huge part to play in the future of my work and I’d like to further my skills as much as I can over the next year, hopefully by getting some formal training.

Who was your mentor and what was their contribution to this winning piece?

My mentor for the latter part of the competition was Alice Richardson, a designer specialising in experimental couture hand embroidery. I had a few chats with Alice, she was very helpful and gave some good advice, though by the time I spoke to her I was fairly committed to the process I had started, in having the whole back panel entirely finished. She helped me understand different ways of approaching the design I wanted to achieve and where to concentrate my efforts. Having chatted to her earlier I might not have built the piece as I did. For a while I was quite worried about how the garment would sit. Luckily I had the fore sight to choose the most forgiving fabric I could find, a light weight pure suiting wool. Had I used a silk satin with my method of construction the results may not have been so good.

What is your favourite element of your piece and why?

Aside from the embroidery itself, which was inspired by various influences from Japanese culture, my favourite thing about the outfit is the pattern which I adapted and tailored from a casual tracksuit/bomber jacket pattern. I feel there is a place for wearable couture fashion outside of the more formal occasion. This outfit is luxurious but also comfortable, feels great when you put it on and is flattering to a range of figures. My aim was to make a sustainable piece of clothing combining modern designs with old techniques like the smocking and gold work. I’m very pleased with the way all these elements have worked, the result is almost futuristic. My hope is that it will always appear in some way timeless and last the wearer a life time.

What inspired you to take part in this competition?

I entered for a few reasons, though mainly as I felt at the right level in my practice to take on such a challenge. I knew I could produce something to a high standard whilst still pushing my sewing skills into new areas. I also liked the brief this year and how broad it was, I knew I could pretty much make what I wanted as long as it was inspired by some form of contemporary art and historical imagery. The possibilities were endless, where I might have struggled if I’d entered the year the brief was florals and geometry.

If you could have any job role what would it be and why?

My perfect job role would be the one I create for myself. In an ideal world I’d love my own small online business, selling my work, occasionally exhibit it, and take on commissions that compliment my aesthetic, with time perhaps to work on freelance projects, making sample pieces for fashion and interiors. Being in this position would allow me the freedom to work anywhere I choose. I’ve been living on a narrow boat in London for a few years now and would very much like to travel the wider network without feeling tied to the city. Variation is also very important for my creative process, I love to work with new people, try different processes and keep reinventing what I do.

What do you think this competition has taught you?

For a start I’ve acquired some new skills in embroidery and learnt you can teach yourself a lot with the right books. However most valuable to me is the way I’ve developed my approach to design. Working to this level of competition made me question every aspect of my work from the concept of the piece to the materials I’d used. My research feels very solid and has informed most elements of the design. It’s been great to get back into the habit of analysing my work to this degree, which is something I haven’t done since my BA.

If you could describe your piece in 3 words what would they be?

Cosmic, street, hyper-glamour.

What sparked your interest in embroidery?

I’m sure a lot of people say this but I first really took notice of the work of Michelle Carragher in Game of Thrones when I saw some close up pictures. This was the first time I’d looked closely at gold work out of the context of military dress. I’d describe these works as regal, yet organic, beautifully sewn couture garments, themed in medieval fantasy. I was fascinated by the range of materials and textures in her work and how expressive she was able to make the imagery by building up all the layers. I remember making a mental note at the time, ‘I must figure out how all this works’

What was it about Japanese culture that caught your interest?

There’s so many things about the art and culture of Japan I’m inspired by. I started looking at the beautiful and often surreal imagery of Ukiyo-e which are traditionally wood block prints of artists impressions, used as a form of social commentary in the 17th – 19th century. What caught my eye initially was the stylisation of these graphic works, bizarre erotica, printed textiles like Kimonos and Tenugui towels. However the symbolism behind the imagery is also fascinating. At one point in Japan, the belief in spirits was central to their way of life. They were believed to be in everything, both animate and inanimate objects. This Shinto notion of another world runs deep through their cultural heritage; a rich imaginative folk lore filled with superstition and magic. Peoples beliefs may have changed but the ideas behind them are still as important. After all it’s how we interpret what’s gone before that shapes our own folklore.

Do you think university has helped to improve your career?

It definitely helped my self-motivation and how to manage deadlines. It served as a starting point but wish I’d have waited a few more years. After some more life experience I probably would have chosen different and got much more out of it. There are plenty of other ways to gain experience in an industry. I learnt so much more as an intern than I ever did at university. My advice to others would be to wait a few years before deciding on a course.

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