Conversation with Emily Peacock

I have had the extreme privilege of conversing with Emily Peacock a British based needlepoint and cross stitch designer. Her beautiful contemporary designs are changing the way people think about the needle arts. It is through the talent and vision of people like Emily that the tides are beginning to turn in the needle art ocean.  She of course is not alone in her journey. There are a handful of voyagers that are willing to risk going against the current to see something  new come on the scene. They believe in something that to them is really wonderful and even if you don’t know it now you will soon, because whether or not you believe it too this is the face of the future. I hope you enjoy our conversation and when you have finished please take time to comment. We really do want to know what you think.
 Jenny : Emily, In your interview with Cross Stitcher Magazine in 2008 you said, “the way forward is to produce fresh exciting designs that are a departure from the tradition.” Can you tell me a little bit more about this journey since then and why it is so important to you?

Emily: I have always had a huge passion for needlework of all kinds, but the designs available have been, for the most part, disappointing for me. I saw a big disconnect from what was available in the world of needlepoint and what was available in interiors magazines and on the high street. Needlepoint is just another medium to work in, so I never understood why the majority of the designs available were childish, overly nostalgic and twee… it kind of predisposes that people who do needlework are twee and we’re not! So many themes have been covered and recovered and so the way to bring needlepoint into the spot light is to explore new avenues and see what’s possible, whilst still staying relevant and coherent.

Jenny: Your modern edge and great design sensibilities have successfully been able to attract many to the crafts of cross stitch and needlepoint (aka tapestry). This is a mission that is close to my heart as well. How do you think that we and the other designers that are coming forward with a similar mission can work together toward this goal?
Emily: It’s definitely hard being a small business, dealing with orders, designing, coping with stock and still managing to promote needlepoint. I think the designs are the primary attraction and then the question arises “is this something I can do”. I am always running into beginners: I take part in exhibitions, run drop in workshops as well as day workshops. I have also been teaching on cruise ships where I have had a captive audience! Building a good relationship with your customer base is always good and my business is small enough so that I can remain easily contactable. If anybody has a problem getting started I am always at hand to help. I know that many people who have learned through my kits have gone on to show family and friends who have then ordered from me. Of course I am partly in business to make money, but the big thrill for me is when I hear from customers (and this happens almost daily) who have become addicted and are so delighted with their work.
Jenny: How do you deal with being knocked off?

Emily: Not well! I don’t understand it. Any artist worthy of the name knows that the goal is true self-expression. My style comes from bringing together the passions and stories of my life – my personal tastes, my passion for typography from years of working in graphic design, my sense of colour, my fondness for exploring new territory.  Having a new take on something requires an investment of time, money and energy as well as a degree of bravery. It feels horrible when somebody knocks you off – it’s a very personal theft. I am very vocal about it when it happens to me. There are too many artists getting ripped off and we are often told it’s flattery and there’s nothing we can do about it. All we can do is air our grievances publicly and disassociate ourselves from these people, regardless of whether they are in the same industry and claim to be promoting the craft.

Jenny: In your interview with The Making Spot earlier this year you talked about exploring the boundaries between art and craft. LOVE your intellectual approach to design! There is more to needlework than hearts and teddy bears. Not that there is anything wrong with hearts and teddy bears . . .What are some ways you go about doing this?

Emily: I think that art and craft has been reduced in so much of the popular press to ‘crafting’. To me, there’s a huge difference. Crafting has it’s place and certainly acts as an introduction to craft skills, but crafting seems to have so much more popular media focus on it than art and craft (probably because it is more easily accessible and requires a low time and skill input). I am a great believer in form follows function and so I like to design pillows and wall hangings that will hopefully be enjoyed and displayed for years to come. I do get a little discouraged with the amount of small craft projects that really have no real function, are the sort of thing that we did at primary school and will most likely be thrown out. I like to keep my designs original. I don’t look at what’s in every shop and replicate it in a needlework design – it’s good to be relevant but not duplicate what everyone has seen before.

And now, it is my turn to answer some questions.

Emily: The US has such a long, rich tradition of needlework. Do you feel that it is harder to break the traditional mold in your country? I am also thinking of the size of your country. Britain tends to be fast-moving because it is small and densely populated and so I wonder if it is easier and faster here for new ideas to be grasped.

Jenny: I think that the rich tradition provides a firm ground to plant new ideas on. The market is thirsty for change but not quite sure how to bring it about. When I would attend the needlework trade shows I would hear of how desperately the shops wanted to attract the next generation to the craft or it would sadly die out. And what I hear from the next generation is that they want to learn the craft but not on the designs that the shops are currently carrying. So you see everybody really wants change they are just not sure what it looks like.

Emily: What would you say was the largest emerging style in non-traditional needlepoint in the US?

Jenny: Jonathan Adler’s non-traditional  kitschy line of needlepoint accessories  has breathed new life into the trade. His fresh take on needlepoint has lightened the mood and put a stylish spin on the cliché pillow. The problem is they are all already stitched up, so his fun patterns can’t be stitched up by us. Not yet anyway.

Emily: As a designer, do you feel you have changed direction since you began. If yes, how?

Jenny: Oh yes! I have been designing needlepoint for 15 years. The first five were for a big needlepoint company in San Francisco. This was where I learned everything that I know technique wise about needlepoint, an experience that I am profoundly grateful for but it has taken me years to fall into my own personal style. 10 years ago I started my own needlepoint design company, Jenny Henry Designs.  The work I was creating in the beginning was still based on what I knew would sell and what people were asking me to create. 6 years ago, after the birth of my first child, things changed. I guess I felt that if I was going to be taking the time to work, time spent away from my baby, well then it better really mean something. So I finally let myself create the designs that I was meant to make. Work that I am really proud of.

Emily: Bearing in mind the size and do-ability of your products, do you find that you are attracting beginners to the craft?
Jenny: I hope so. For the past couple of years I have completely switched gears. I am passionate about creating things for the beginner. Products that are good quality and accessible. To me, that means affordable, not too complex, practical and stylish. I started working with plastic canvas to create a fun alternative to the pricey hand painted needlepoint canvases that I design and sell. I will still always prefer the hand painted designs but these other kits are to get people started on the craft. The coaster kits are the first of this line but I am working on a bunch of others as well.
Thank you Emily for taking the time to converse with me. It has been a lot of fun! To see more of Emily’s work you can see it on her site,  www.emilypeacock.com
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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Conversation with Emily Peacock

  1. I have been inspired to push ahead by Emily Peacock as I too have been frustrated with the lack of design and sophistication in the cross stitch needle arts world. I have started a line of cross stitch patterns from my daily paintings- check it out- http://www.ninestonesneedlework.com. Thanks for doing the interview!

  2. Thank you for posting this conversation .. I enjoyed the read and confirmation of what we are hearing in general about cross stitch/needlepoint designs and the drive to modernise the art. Sadly we hear from many designers that the small and somewhat twee designs about are often requested by magazines as the images/designs that sell. There seems to be a big gap in the market between those designs and very complex designs. Designs suchj as yours are starting to fill that gap with modern appeal.

    I will enjoy following up on Emily Peacock and Jonathan Adler’s sites and finish looking at your site. Great to see function and form so beautifully combined.
    Debbie from StitchCraft

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