December 6, 2013

Spotlight: Hannah Hill

If Girl Scout patches had looked like these, we would have sold more cookies.

Growing up as a lifelong Girl Scout (thanks, mom), patches were badges of honor. I sold cookies not for the money they'd make for my troop, but for the purple patch with the manatee in the center, the smiling trees, the neon-colored compass. Sewn onto my vest, they were little windows into my achievements, and though they seem like silly things to wear to parties and chuckle over, at the time, they meant everything. And as I've grown out of Girl Scouts, the need not for something boastful, but a personal reminder of what you've accomplished, or how far you've come, is sometimes still there, though the patches are lost.

This is where Hannah Hill's intricate embroidery comes in. In her shop Hanecdote, pages and pages of Hill's witty patches line the screen, depicting fantastic images from hearts to mermaids, donuts to kitties that speak not to cookies sold, but act as personality badges, almost. With so much pomp and circumstance nowadays, it's easy to overlook minute details. Those sequins just are; those hand-painted shoes look like pretty decent flowers from up here. And that embroidery--a machine did that, right? Here, that intricacy is always evident, with the sense that someone made these adorable things with their two hands, creating little strokes that are as personal as the sayings they form. It is clear from Hannah Hill's art that embroidery is not dead or a thing of 18th-century doilies, but something surging back to life, speaking to a set of artists that care more for detail, precision and originality.

THE LE SIGH: Where did you first learn to embroider?

Hannah Hill: Although I'd watched my mom embroider and do needlepoint from an early age, I didn't learn to do it myself until two years ago when I started college. It was a course where we learned all kinds of techniques and skills such as sculpture and computer-based design programs, mixed media, still life and textiles. After learning the vast array of textile techniques, I don't see myself working any other way!

TLS: You draw as well, but embroidery seems to be your main method of art. Why embroidery over other mediums?

HH: I've never been confidant at drawing, at least not without making mistakes. But as soon as I found embroidery, I was hooked. To me, each stitch is like the stroke of a paintbrush, except you can unstitch it if you make a mistake. As I've had more and more practice, I haven't had to do much of that, but it's good to have that to fall back on.

TLS: I'm baffled with your detail and precision - the patches are actually the most adorable things I've ever seen. How long does each one take on average? Do you often find yourself having to go back and redo them throughout the process?

HH: Thank you so much! Usually I draw out 10-20 of the most recent orders and then embroider the text, then the imagery. I haven't really timed how long it takes me to embroider a single patch, but I'd say maybe an hour or a little longer if I really concentrated. I don't usually have to go back and redo anything, other than trimming excess threads and messy bits right at the end. I think some part of me is a perfectionist, but my style of work is very intricate, so my perfectionism works in my favor. I like when I've created something and it looks just as I imagined it would.

TLS: Do you often wear the things you make? Which is your favorite patch to wear?

HH: I only started accessorizing this past year, so sometimes I forget I've made these cute little things that would add to an outfit. I often wear the t-shirts I screen print, although I don't currently sell those. I want to add lots of garments and other accessories to the Ghoul Guide collection, and I'll definitely be wearing those! I think I'm going to start wearing the "Donut Touch Me" patch because I live in a city where people don't have much concern for personal space. I think this patch sends a strong message while being adorable at the same time. Kind of like me!

TLS: What's the strangest thing you've ever embroidered, in your opinion? This can be the design itself, or maybe you embroidered socks, or something?

HH: I think most of the stuff I sew is a little strange! I've embroidered images of myself before and that was quite weird because at points, I was poking the needle through the eye and it felt kind of mean. At college I did an embroidery of sanitary towels and tampons, too. I also embroidered socks, bras and underwear with anonymous sex stories, which was really interesting. My favorite "strange" thing I've embroidered was a ten page textiles book about anatomy, which included prints, embroidery and felt-work, as well as descriptions of bodily functions and organs. I really enjoyed that project, as it combined science and embroidery, which is quite unusual and gave beautiful results.

TLS: Are you familiar with Girl Scouts, over in England? I could check the Internet, but I'll ask anyways - if you could create a Girl Scout patch, what would it be for?

HH: I am familiar with the Girl Scouts, although they don't exist under the same name in England. Here, they're called Girl Guides (heavily inspiring my collection). My dad was very much involved with the Scouts, so my brother and I joined too. I was one of three girls in our group; prior to this, it was only for boys. If I could create a Girl Scout patch, it would probably be mental health-related (keep your eyes out, as that's what I'm working on currently) because I think it's such a taboo subject that often gets overlooked. Even as a young person, you need to be encouraged for small victories and achievements, particularly if you're struggling with mental health issues.

TLS: Which of the patches you've created do you believe describes you best and why?

HH: Most of the patches I create are a reflection of my own personality and interests, as well as some inspired by popular culture. I think "Too Cute to Care" is appropriate, because it's an ode to my girlhood and embracing my femininity. As I explained before, I have only recently started making more of an effort with my outfits, as well as my makeup, so I guess this patch is in honor of that. As these patches are so personal to me, it means a lot that so many people have bought patches I've made and can relate to them.

TLS: How do you think embroidery fits in with other art forms? Do you think it's in a league of its own or is it closely associated with other mediums?

HH: I'm really proud to be part of the ever-growing young embroidery community, which confronts the ideas that needlework is for old ladies. There's a lot of history with needlework. In the Middle Ages, the techniques created in England were sought after for its quality and intricacy. They were so time consuming and costly, that only the very rich and the church would afford it. These very old techniques have been pushed aside over time, where modern techniques have been invented to mass produce decorative cloth. Embroidery was then pushed aside as a hobby for homemakers and old women. But now, people are becoming more appreciative of the artisan handmade work. Arists are reclaiming embroidery as an innovate art form and it's ever-evolving with endless possibilities. How long is a piece of embroidery thread?

Embroidery is a really exciting medium which can be used in a lot of different ways. For example, I embroidered intro brass, photographs and fabric at college. I think embroidery as an art form fits somewhere between being in a league of its own and being associated with other art forms. I've seen embroidery create amazing geometric, linear, intricate and detailed pieces, combined with photography, on garments, on patches, on jewelry – everywhere! It's a very versatile medium.

TLS: From looking at your Tumblr, it seems you begin your process with sketching out a design on paper but then the next thing I've found is what it looks like in perfect patch form! Can you describe the in-between?

HH: Usually, it's as simple as coming up with a concept and then seeing where the design takes me. I embroider a lot of little things accurately to their real life equivalent, so they have specific colors. With more detailed designs, I'll color them and experiment on paper before choosing. Most of my patches are approximately 5 cm x 5 cm and have the same basic layout, but I also enjoy doing embellished patches, as well as more detailed ones which will be released soon. I enjoy the last step the most, which is blanket stitching the surrounding felt of the patch onto the embroidered part. To me, that's like putting the icing on the cake!

Check out Hannah's store here.

Written by Molly Morris