Embroidery graffiti with Sarah Greaves
The things people can do with thread these days – oo, it just boggles the mind. Over in the left corner we’ve got Daniel Kornrumpf, who spends his days embroidering incredibly photorealistic portraits, and Maurizio Anzeri, who combines sewing and photography with ultimate skill. In the right corner, meanwhile, there’s Sarah Greaves who really does think outside the sewing box where a needle and thread is concerned, producing some seriously good embroidery graffiti installations – some of which will be on display in Manchester later this month.
Working out of her little studio in Ancoats, Greater Manchester, Sarah – whose grandmother taught her to embroider and knit – has forsaken her pincushion and bodkin in favour of a hammer drill and tool belt, so that she can use thread to graffiti text on tough and durable objects like doors, baths and toasters.
The contrast between embroidery (which calls femininity to mind) and the use of a drill (which smacks of guy’s guy Tim Allen, ar, ar, ar) is certainly part of the appeal for the 31-year-old. “I have a big box of tools and a studio covered in dust. Screwfix is the best place on earth. I get really excited when I get the Screwfix catalogue,” she says. “I like things that [can't be put in] boxes, I like the sort of mixture.”
Embroidering her chosen objects certainly doesn’t sound easy and blood, sweat and tears literally all go into the making of her art. The fibreglass bath Sarah decided to put her stamp on – which she describes as “the most ridiculous thing to do” – actually gave her a nosebleed and the metal sink she reworked involved a lot of swearing before it was finished. Embroidering doors also sounds tricky and time-consuming, since she has to walk from side to side once the holes are drilled in order to work her thread through. “The blue door took about six months to do. It used to drive me insane,” Sarah says. “But I love that I have a really love-hate relationship with my objects.”
Of course, the message behind Sarah’s work runs a little deeper than just the comparison between the masculine method of making her art and the feminine fabric used, and much of her output is focused on the female form and women’s relationships with food. One of her pieces is a dressing table that serves as a commentary on the beauty industry, the language it uses and the messages it conveys to women, such as ‘tone it’ and ‘lose it’, which she has embroidered backwards on the table itself so the words can only be read by using the mirror. “It’s about how you look at yourself and how [this] is reflected back, making you look at yourself in a different way,” Sarah says.
Her stitching has also appeared on a toaster and articles of food, from chocolate to bananas, and she is now planning to do an embroidery series on meat using steak and a chicken to address women’s relationship with food and how certain produce is labelled as good or bad. Other potential projects include the use of old school furniture, which Sarah is particularly interested in, and an exhibition in Armenia in the summer if she can get the funding.
Embroidery fans who can’t wait that long to see this innovative and rather subversive use of thread for themselves can check out some of Sarah’s work at the Thirsty Scholar on Oxford Road in Manchester on May 13th from 15:00, where the embroidered toaster, the blue door – Sarah’s first and favourite piece – and a few smaller works will be on display. Failing that, she’s heading to London and the Bearspace Gallery, where her art will be on show between October 19th and November 17th.
So what do you think? Is there any better use for thread than graffiti?