London’s the last place you’d think of when looking at hand embroidery artist Susannah Weiland’s homeware designs. Hummingbirds hover between orchids and angel trumpet flowers, peacocks pose among pagodas and park benches, and brightly colored frogs leap between lily pads and giant lotuses.
Hummingbirds aside, Weiland’s first homeware collection, “The Botanical Collection,” features flora and fauna found in London’s Kew Gardens, one of two royal botanical gardens.
Weiland’s fabric and wallpaper hold more surprises: Patience and months of handwork are behind each digitally printed design. Her pencil drawings form the repeat patterns, and her painterly hand embroidery adds the touches of color that together create a distinctive modern style, much like French toile.
Weiland’s pencil drawings are the keystones of her collections. Printed on fabric and embellished with her embroidery, they make unique, striking artworks. Last year, Weiland’s mixed-media work (or “thread painting”) called “Hyde Park Parakeets” was accepted in the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2021, and it sold on the first day.
Weiland captures the character of each bird or animal she creates. But more than that, she captures scenes of quintessential London that only locals and Londonphiles can understand. For instance, her bold green “Hyde Park Parakeets” cuts striking embroideries and is to be admired, yet Britons know ring-necked parakeets as invasive nonnatives that have been reducing British wildlife.
Fashioning Handmade Homeware
Weiland loves to create by hand whether in fabric or on paper. She’s been lucky enough to have studied graphic design when the emphasis was on hand drawing, moving to computer design only in the third year of her degree.
After graduating, Weiland worked in fashion for 20 years, creating graphics and women’s wear print designs on the computer. But she felt that something was missing. She was keen to draw by hand again, rather than be on the computer all the time. During that time, she took evening classes to find out what she’d love to create. In one class, she learned machine embroidery and loved the hand-stitching element of the course.
She set out to discover how to combine her love of drawing and hand embroidery to create unique artworks.
About six years ago, while freelancing, Weiland began developing her first homeware collection. She made her pencil drawings into repeat patterns on the computer and had them digitally printed onto cotton-silk fabric. She then added color by embroidering parts of the design.
“The color that I’m adding is to highlight the beauty in the animals and the wildlife,” she said by telephone. Weiland had tried many types of thread but found the fineness of machine embroidery thread and its range of metallic sheens ideal for the fine details in her creations.
She spent time exploring different styles before she created her signature monochrome pencil repeats peppered with exquisite touches of painterly color. She uses machine embroidery threads in matte, silk, and metallic sheens, and embellishments such as seed beads and sequins, depending on her design.
Each embroidered artwork is then incorporated into a repeat pattern and used with other motifs that she then gets digitally printed for fabrics, wallpaper, and other homeware products.
For her Kew Gardens peacock design, for instance, she embroidered two different colorways—a peacock with its characteristic blue-green hues and a fun version using pinks and purples. She also uses her printed fabric to create one-of-a-kind cushions with motifs such as peacocks, hummingbirds, and chrysanthemums embellished with beads and hand embroidery.
Patience, a Needlework Virtue
Weiland embroiders in stages, laboring long and hard at each motif. She enjoys the intensive process but needs sanity breaks to stop, reflect, and rest her eyes. “It’s good to take a break and then come back to it, and then you notice things that you want to change or you want to add in,” she said.
Weiland often photographs her work at the beginning and end of her day since, working at a slow pace and on such a small scale, she can easily lose sight of her progress.
Weiland loves how hand sewing sets its own pace. There’s no way of doing it fast.
Apart from bringing her joy and business, Weiland’s hand embroidery has also benefited her in other ways. “I’ve become very patient; you can’t do this kind of work quickly, so you have to just take your time and just enjoy it,” she said.
She finds it quite a calming and relaxing way to work as opposed to working in a fast fashion, when everything is quick.
Weiland’s current embroidery style looks like brushstrokes, with short and long stitches that create tone, volume, and realistic artworks. “I stitch like I would paint,” she explained.
Sewing Park Life
Weiland’s art is often an extension of her day-to-day life. Her latest collection, “Royal Park Life,” features wildlife from six royal parks, many of which are near her home in Richmond, southwest London. She regularly runs in parks, and it seemed natural for her to develop her new “Royal Park Life” collection by combining activities she enjoyed.
She started taking photographs for the collection at the end of 2019. Although she has taken professional shots in the parks, it’s often when she’s out running that she’ll happen upon the perfect scene for an artwork, so she always brings her iPhone with her.
Weiland completed all 28 drawings for the collection in 2020, when the U.K. went into lockdown. She created a much larger collection than she planned, since being in lockdown meant she had more time on her hands. In 2021, she completed all the embroidery; now she’s in the process of exhibiting the works.
Weiland may run through these parks but her artworks are careful, not quick, observations. She sees, draws, and sews each piece of flora and fauna with awe and care. Each scene Weiland creates makes you almost tiptoe and hold your breath so as not to disturb the subjects. In one piece, a quirky jackdaw is about to fly off; in another work, a bunny stands on its hind legs listening for danger; and in another, a rabbit and a mouse look deep in conversation, about what is anyone’s guess.
Weiland lives close to Richmond Park, a national nature reserve that’s home to 630 red and fallow deer. Naturally, she’s created art: The deer can be seen sitting on the grass, searching for food, or startled as if we’ve just disturbed them. Weiland’s delicate deer pencil drawings make the perfect ground for the subtle shades of deer fur.
In addition to exhibiting her “Royal Park Life” embroidered artworks, Weiland is adding new colorways to her existing fabric and wallpaper designs. She’s also studying at the Royal School of Needlework, having won a QEST (Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) scholarship to study traditional stitches. She’s just completed the first module in Jacobean crewelwork, a traditional style that requires a certain number of different stitches. She’ll study four modules in all, including silk shading, basic goldwork, and blackwork or canvas stitch. In future collections, Weiland will use the new stitches she’s learned and include more background pencil drawings.
At the end of the year, she plans to create fabric and wallpaper prints from the “Royal Park Life” artworks, adding some of the parks’ iconic motifs, like Greenwich Park’s maritime architecture or Richmond Park’s deer (descendants of Henry VIII’s deer herd). Her aim is to create prints that identify each of the parks.
With acres of parks in London (and tropical, temperate, arid, and alpine climates in Kew Gardens alone) Weiland has worlds of embroidery art just a run away.
To find out more about Susannah Weiland and Susannah Weiland Collections, visit SusannahWeiland.co.uk