Carmen Manzano is an embroidery artist originally from Brazil. She lives in London .
How did you get into embroidery?
If I am honest, during my education I was super into textiles but embroidery was never really my thing. I used to think it was a little bit naïf. The book The Subversive Stitch opened my eyes to how much embroidery speaks of women issues and their relationship with making; it was only after I realised how close women are to their embroidery that I got really engaged with it.
What other textiles do you work with?
My work is very embroidery-led but I do a little bit of print work every so often!
What other kinds would you like to try?
I am always looking to learn new things, so whenever I see a new workshop or a new course I try to take advantage of it. I would love to try some weaving soon – I saw some absolutely incredible tapestries when I was in Italy last week and it really inspired me to try it out. Maybe that will be my next personal project…
How do you start a new piece of work?
I research a lot. Research is my favourite part of any project – sometimes I gather hundreds of images and objects that inspire me and just look at them for while. I work out what it is that I love about each of them and then I start sketching and designing. Occasionally I have a clear aesthetic in mind and there are times when I work it out along the way. The hardest part is designing and getting the visuals right to make them communicate my ideas instinctively.
Where do you get your supplies from?
Getting stuff online is useful, as you can source unusual materials easily and cheaply. Not leaving my bed is also a plus (hehe) so whenever there is an opportunity to source supplies online, I do. If I have to leave the house though, one of my favourite places is the London Bead Co. in Kentish Town for beads and ribbon work. If I am looking for buckles, metal or something a little more unusual I shop in MacCulloch & Wallis.
Do you only make samples or do you apply them onto something?
I make samples as proposals for fashion, as I call them. They can work on their own as pieces, obviously; but if they can be developed into a fashion item that is even better. I absolutely love clothes so they often are the end product.
How do you think people perceive textiles?
People (specially the ones who don’t know much about the industry) don’t seem to give textiles a second thought. They think a lot about the glamour of fashion, catwalks, photoshoots and not much else. When I tell people I do embroidery they unfailingly go through the same facial expressions: first confusion, then disbelief. It’s like they don’t think embroidery is a ‘cool’ enough thing. This is probably because it is very much associated with domesticity and female hobbies, practices that unfortunately have negative connotations.
What are you plans in terms of finding a job in the industry?
As I am a Brazilian citizen in the UK, my future plans very much depend on visas. I have lived in the UK for the past ten years but I am still not allowed to apply for a citizenship. To stay here I would need to get a full time job in a company willing to sponsor me, and this is very rare within an industry where employees are pretty much disposable. My plan is to send off some applications and CVs the old fashioned way and see what happens! In the meantime I have some freelance jobs lined up for this client in Paris – I super excited to see the outcome. Other than that, I am thinking of developing a little capsule collection of fashion pieces and maybe get that produced. We will see if it works out!
Who would you like to collaborate with?
Gucci!! It’s not even a question, I absolutely love what Alessandro Michele and his team have done with the brand. Vetements could do some really unexpected embroidery. If the embroidery is very minimal and raw it could work really well with their designs ideas. And Ximonlee. I have only come across their brand recently but they do some absolutely incredible textiles – print and weave specially.
Lastly what do you love about embroidery?
I absolutely love how embroidery is so close to women – it often was associated with their submission and unprofessionalism, but at the same time it can provide a time and a space for empowerment. Making something is to show people that you can physically affect the world around you and that is feeling worth encouraging.
You can see more of Carmen’s work and follow her on Instagram here