Amy L. Frazer is an illustrator and embroiderer living and working in Portland, OR and the author of Art Makers: Empowered Embroidery. After studying art and illustration at the Columbus College of Art & Design, Amy worked as product designer. She left the corporate world in 2015 and now teaches art workshops in addition to working with a variety of clients. We asked Amy a few question about her artistic process.
Quarto Creates: How did you first become interested in embroidery?
Amy L. Frazer: I’ve always been interested in art and making things. When I was growing up, my granny lived with us for most of my childhood, and although we didn’t really do any embroidering that I can remember, we were always making things.
Christmas ornaments made out of Styrofoam balls, pipe cleaners and beads, she taught me to crochet and to use a sewing machine. She’d say “honey let’s figure it out. “Although in my jobs as designer and product developer I used machine embroidery on products I designed, I really didn’t get interested in embroidery as a hobby until 2005 after I moved to Portland from New York. I bought my first sewing machine and was experimenting with embroidering on photos and making them into greeting cards. At one point I took a hand embroidery workshop at the Museum of Contemporary Craft (MOCC) in Portland and I was hooked. We learned to tell stories through stitch and I was introduced to water soluble stabilizer and my mind was absolutely blown. The book Handmade Nation came out in 2008, documenting the wave of DIY that was happening in craft and design. I had seen the Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibition at the Whitney in NYC (2003) and then saw 4 of the Ladies of Gee’s Bend speak about their quilting history and process at PNCA (2007). So my interest and obsession with embroidery was the culmination of a lot of things I was exposing myself to. After that first workshop at MOCC, I just went down the rabbit hole of embroidery and learned and made as much as I could in the evenings and on weekends.
QC: What is the biggest challenge you face while working on an art project?
AF: Usually the biggest challenge I face when working on embroidery projects is time.
In addition to my book, I’ve done embroidery for seed packets and posters too. Deadline driven embroidery projects are just counterintuitive to what hand embroidery is. And that is slow. Hand stitching is inherently slow, there are ways to speed up the process, but it’s still slow. And that is a good thing when you want to relax and get into the meditative state that embroidery can bring. The best way to tackle having a deadline though is to map out the smaller steps of a project. What needs to be done daily, weekly, monthly to stay on track. If it’s a project that is for myself or to experiment with a new technique the key is to carve out time to play and try different things. When I first started embroidering on fabric printed with my photos using Spoonflower.com, I went through several iterations to figure out how to print to the size I wanted. Finding the time to figure this out was key in moving it forward to making embroidery kits to sell.
The other thing I personally struggle with is keeping the playfulness of my sketches and ideas in my final embroideries. I find that I tend to tighten up when making a finished project and my goal is to stay loose and keep the freshness of drawing and sketching.
QC: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from creating?
AF: The most important thing I’ve learned from creating is the value of giving myself time to experiment and play.
Whether I am writing or designing prints and patterns, giving myself time to doodle, dream and experiment, with not only the subject matter but the materials I’m working with, is a necessary element of creating. Giving myself time to research, sketch, mind map and mix materials always gives my work more depth of meaning.
Another key element I’ve taken from creating is to learn from and share with others who are working in my area of art, craft or design. Having intergenerational and cross cultural friendships, whether they are in real life or on social media, is a great way to bring different perspectives to my work. Younger and older friends alike bring creativity, new skills and knowledge. And it’s just fun to share work and ideas with each other!
QC: What artists do you look to for inspiration (both creative and professional)?
AF: The list is very long, but mostly I admire and am inspired by anyone putting themselves out there and daring to have a little (or BIG) dream of their own.
They are putting in the work to make it happen and getting back up time and again to keep going and sometimes reinvent themselves and their work. Here is a short list: the Quilters of Gee’s Bend (@geesbendquiltmakers), Yvonne Perez Emerson (@themakeandmary), Kate Tume (@mother_eagle_arts), Rebecca Green (@rebeccagreenillustration), Katie Hunt (@prooftoproduct), Ohn Mar Win (@ohn_mar_win), Bisa Butler (@bisabutler), Jeanetta Gonzales (@nettdesigns), Breanna Goudeau (@blacksheepartsupply), Gerrie Congdon (@Gericon). Also, my mom and my granny. The list just goes on and on…
QC: What is your advice for anyone interested in starting an embroidery practice?
AF: The great thing about embroidery, especially hand embroidery is that the entry fee is pretty low. To get started with hand embroidery you really just need fabric, a needle and thread.
Hoops are great to have, and I use them all the time, but you can embroider without one. There are some great how to videos, a lot of them free, to learn basic stitches too. I’m hoping to add some of these to my site as well. And take a workshop if you can. For me seeing someone do the stitches was so helpful, whether you have a friend that can practice with you (at a safe distance or virtually) or attending a workshop. Embroidery is a great way to tell stories, so think about the messages you want to convey, draw them and start stitching. The only way to get better is to just keep practicing, keep playing and experimenting and enjoy the process most importantly.