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Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

I grew up in a rural town in Southern NJ called Port Republic. My childhood was spent playing outdoors in the woods and along the rivers and creeks. I have always been inspired by Nature (originally wanting to be a botanical illustrator) and the forms in my current embroidery work are directly inspired by the observations of my youth. Currently I live in Brigantine, NJ which is a small barrier island just north of Atlantic City. I live ½ block from the ocean with my husband Scott, son James, dog George and our kitties Chauncey and Bad Kitty.

Sutra 1

How did your art practice start? Did you learn to sew as a child?

As far back as I can remember I have been an artist/maker. My Nana, who was also an artist, recognized my talent at an early age and convinced my parents to get me private art lessons. So at the age of 5 I began taking drawing and watercolor lessons from a very talented artist in our hometown. Marge Moorhouse shared my love of Nature and not only taught me the importance of drawing as a basis for all types of art, but really taught me how to “see”. Marge always treated me as an equal (even as a child) and was an important figure in my development as an artist. 

As well as my love of drawing and painting, I remember spending many hours sitting on the floor in my Mom’s sewing room playing with scraps of fabric. I would hand sew little dresses for my dolls and loved looking through her button tin, picking out just the right embellishments for my little creations. 

I definitely think I came to my love of textiles through genetics!! My Mom sewed clothes for me and my sister and all the women in my family have great stashes of fabric hidden under the beds! My Mom and Aunt are talented quilters, one great grandmother was a hat trimmer and another was a seamstress for the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia (Google pics of that if you don’t know what it is and you’ll see where my love of embellishment came from!!) Other than those days as a child stitching on the sewing room floor I have no other experience with stitching until I began the “Healing Sutras” series in 2010.

Profile on Erin by PCK Media

What is your process for your embroidered pieces? Do you have an idea in mind when you begin a piece?

I try to begin each piece without preconceived ideas. My first step is to chose the fabric/ garment I want to work with. Much like the rest of my process this is very intuitive. I go through my “stash” of textiles and somehow I know it when I see it! The next step is the walnut ink stain – this sets the tone for the piece and is a very quick but important part of the whole process. I buy the walnut ink (a natural dye made from the crushed hulls of walnuts) in a powdered form and reconstitute. The dye, once it hits the fabric, has a mind of it’s own and spreads quickly into flowing, organic shapes. This shape becomes the “map” for my stitching. I stitch intuitively and the pieces unfold gradually.

Healing Sutra #5 (Detail)

What do you look for when selecting textiles?

I actually do not purchase any of my textiles. When I began the series I was solely using fabric that was passed down through my family – mostly old cotton tablecloths that I cut into the shape of garments. As I began showing my work admirers began offering me boxes of old textiles that had been in their family. Rather that keeping these treasures stored away in boxes they wanted to give them a new life and honor the history and stories they carry.

Sutra 5

In the past clothing and linens were durable and used for many years whereas now we live in a world of throwaway clothing. Do you think the culture of textiles is at risk?

I think we live in a world of throwaway everything – not just clothing!! I would like to think that hand work such as what I do can introduce (or re-introduce) people to the inherent beauty and value of hand crafted objects. There has been a huge resurgence of textile related craft in the past few years (knitting, stitching, felting etc…) and I hope it isn’t just a fad! The most important thing I think we can do to keep the time honored crafts alive is to teach our school children how to create using their hands and to appreciate the time and love that goes into creating a beautiful object. Technology is wonderful but there is nothing like seeing the passion in a child’s face when they feel the pure joy of creating!

Healing Sutra #24

You call these works “Healing Sutras”. What’s the story behind the name?

To stitch; a thread or line that holds things together – this is the literal translation of the ancient Sanskrit word “sutra”. The “Healing Sutras” grew out of years of work examining psychological wounds (mainly my own), their origins and how they insinuate themselves into our lives. I’m particularly intrigued by the concept of inherited wounds, specific patterns, behaviors, reactions, that we are born with – already seeded into our psyche at birth. So I imagine that this little ”seed” attracts negativity (like attracts like), sort of a little pearl slowly growing until we end up with a dense area of negative energy built up in our physical bodies. By bringing these dark areas into the light, by making them visible, I think we can heal these wounds. Some people talk through their issues to bring healing, some write them out to shed light on them , I choose to make them into visible, visceral objects. 

Erin's website.