Sofia Salazar is a textiles designer, illustrator, small business owner of Hiedra and a Latina living in Norwich. We met up a few months ago to talk textiles, Kali Uchi and self promotion.
How did you get into textiles?
I started in fashion actually and thought I wanted to be a designer but got more into the technical side of it. I wanted to see how a loom worked and know how you make fabric from scratch. I went on to graduate in textiles design in 2014 at the University of Buenos Aires. Knowing the different processes excited me. I later realised I didn’t want to be in the fashion industry or want to make several collections each season. I prefer being behind the scenes working at my own pace on individual pieces. The idea of working on a material and being able to pass it on is interesting like a collective idea. I have a relationship with textiles and I would love to be able to go back in history where people kept their clothes for a long time. Years ago, in my country Argentina we had a big crisis and went back to trading things that we really needed and a lot of people started making their own clothes. We have so many options now and it’s really easy to be tempted to buy clothes just because they’re cheap.
Being able to buy so many cheap clothes makes you think you’re rich and gives you a quick buzz. What type of textiles do you specialise in?
This year mostly embroidery but I used to weave a lot. I used to make small tapestries so I could focus more on the textures. I haven’t made anything that you can wear from weaving, it’s a lot of work and there’s only so much patience I have! I would love to have one of those semi automatic looms where you can make different fabrics. I want my work to be wearable and useful, I like that people can interact with it. I love drawing but I don’t feel comfortable selling only prints. I feel better knowing that people can actually use what I make. It’s fun knowing that people might love what they’re wearing through my work. Like wearable art. It’s joyful and playful. I like being able to modify some of my clothes too to add a value and purpose to them. Otherwise I get bored or tired of it. I like the option of being able to pass it on to someone who will take care of it and wear it in a different way.
Did you teach yourself how to embroider?
Yeah. In my last year of university you had to make a collection and we were encouraged to try to work with lots of techniques in textiles. So, I started working with regular sewing needles and at first I didn’t really like the results I was getting but I just kept going because I liked the process. Earlier this year in April I got to go to a textiles residency in Iceland and before that I was working with a sewing needle but my partner bought me a kantan needle. It took a very long time to get used to using it and it frustrated me. When I first started I couldn’t manage the tension. Once I got up to speed with it, it allowed me to complete stitching over line drawings very quickly, which would normally take ages to finish. I carry it around with me all the time with a frame and fabric just in case I feel like sewing when I’m out. It’s really soothing to be able to embroider. Being able to use the kantan needle really changed my relationship with embroidery. I do still use sewing needles sometimes.
How did your partner find the needle?
Actually, I found it through looking at tutorials on YouTube but I thought it was too expensive so I didn’t buy it and he bought it as a present for me! It’s good to invest in your tools.
Did you teach yourself how to bead too?
Yes. You know, once you like something you want to just do it and keep learning.
What other textiles would you like to explore?
Well I like screen-printing, I haven’t experimented that much with it. A couple of weeks ago I made my first screen design. I never had the courage to work with a two-colour print so I’d love to do that in the future. It gives you the opportunity to make and be able to wear something really colourful while being versatile with the prints. I’d like to combine that with embroidery and make bigger pieces. Embroidery has a limitation with size; I have created larger pieces but it has taken me two months to complete which I think would be hard to sell and I do need to think about how to make money from my work.
What’s the biggest piece you’ve ever made?
It was 1.5 x 2.5 metres.
How do you plan what you’re going to make?
Well I draw and sketch all the time and always have something with me that I can use. I like using my hands a lot and keeping them busy. I like visiting museums and now I’m really into classic Greek sculptures and I’ve been drawing them a lot trying to go back to single lines. When I draw, I use a pen and not a pencil so I can work with my mistakes. I don’t want them to look perfect. If I use pencil I’ll erase the mistakes and it ends up looking like everyone else’s drawings. I try to draw in the scale that I would on the embroidery and then I use chalk to transfer the image onto fabric.
I really like your line drawings because you can properly see the embroidery.
I like that you can see it’s a clear line without using print.
What are some of your favourite museums?
Oh, the V&A is amazing, the British Museum… any museum really. I’ve found a lot of Greek sculptures and black figure vases in the British Museum. I’m really inspired by them.
Are there many museums in Norwich?
There’s one called the Sainsbury Centre that I visit sometimes. I mainly visit museums in London.
Who are some of your favourite artists?
He’s my favourite too!
The Leopold museum in Austria has the largest collection of his work, that place is amazing. I LOVE the Bauhaus movement too.
I’m constantly seeing other people’s work but that can be tricky, because sometimes you love something so much that your work ends up looking like theirs and I really don’t want that. When I love something a lot there’s a part of me that just wants to make the same exact thing. Like a way of being able to interact with it for longer, to make it your own at least while you are drawing and making it. I feel that with Picasso’s drawings and the teapots from the Bauhaus.
Yeah I know what you mean, it’s because you want to be connected to the greatness of the work you admire.
In a way, you have to consume all of that and take a break from it then start your work. I don’t think you should be seeing things while you’re working.
What you’re saying reminds me of one of my favourite singers Solange. When you scroll through her Instagram account you can see all of her influences that has inspired her aesthetics for her current album. She hasn’t particularly copied anyone but her inspirations are clear.
I think it’s amazing that you get to see someone’s life and understand him or her. I don’t see my work separated from my life. It’s what I do, what I need to do. A lot of Picasso’s line drawings, Jean Cocteau and Matisse’s work inspire me. I love art but I’m not really into contemporary art, I don’t really understand it. I don’t want to say that it’s not art it’s just that I don’t really understand it. It helps when the artist explains the work or if I get to know them personally.
Who are some of your favourite textiles designers?
I have no idea! I don’t know if I look at things that way. What I’ve discovered is that the closer the other artist’s work is to my own, the more I try to stay away from it (like if they work with textiles or embroidery). Their ideas have already been processed in their heads so what you see is a result and what I need is an influence. Otherwise it’s just too easy to end up in the same place. That’s why I like drawings, paintings and sculptures, they give me something I can still work with. I love a lot of work on Instagram but I can’t look at it too much or I feel I end up doing something that’s not mine.
Yeah I understand. There’s a textiles designer that has a website where she also interviews other textiles designers and I started to look on her Instagram account but told myself to stop because I started comparing myself to her. I love what she’s doing but I can’t follow her because I know I’ll keep comparing myself to her.
Right, it can be confusing too.
When did you open your online store?
Around July or August this year.
Wow, really? Only a few months ago!
I used to have an Etsy shop with my weavings three years ago when I moved here from Argentina. I kind of made it work but I couldn’t sell enough and I struggled with pricing my stuff. The main issue was that I wasn’t working in a scale that allowed me to charge a lot of money. People started asking me if I sold my embroidered pieces so I decided to set up my shop. Last month was amazing and things are going well, I hope it stays like this. I got a lot of recognition from the Insider video, which helped me a lot. I don’t know how I’ll continue but I know that I need to think about new products and what to sell next.
Do you feel comfortable promoting your work?
No not at all!
A lot of people I’ve spoken to say the same thing.
It would be much easier for me to promote someone else’s work. It’s silly but that’s how it is. I’m learning and have accepted that people want and like what I’m making. I should be able and comfortable in saying, “come and buy what I’ve made”.
I’ve seen a few people and brands on Instagram that make things that are just ok but are confident in shouting about what they’re making or selling.
That actually inspires, we need to learn to appreciate our own work.
How did you know how to price your merchandise?
Well what I did was try to think of a number and how many items would I have to sell per month to earn enough to live on. If I try to price my stuff per hour it would be way too expensive. What I sell the most are sweatshirts so I can’t go too high in price because it’s not a luxury item.
But the embroidery is.
I know. I want to find items to sell at higher price points.
I guess it depends on the customer too. If something was cheap and embroidered I would wonder how it was made and the conditions of the surroundings the item was made in. You can’t put a time limit on embroidery.
Right now I’m in a position where I’m at my limit with the amount of time I have and the amount of orders placed. I have several orders I need to complete.
Does it add pressure on you?
I know I can stay awake to get things done but I know at the same time that it’s something I can’t keep doing. This is when I ask myself what I’m doing wrong. Am I not pricing it right? Should I tell the customers I’m going to take longer?
Yeah, it’s just you and don’t run a factory so that’s fair.
Pricing is always an issue.
I remember the first time I put one of my embroidered pieces on Instagram a designer saw it and asked me to make some samples for him. I was so excited that he liked my work enough to place a custom order but in all honesty it wasn’t really worth my time. I didn’t charge enough and the design process was too time consuming. I had to do several drawings in order for him to choose two. He was quite indecisive and asked me to make changes here and there. My boyfriend who’s a freelance app developer and has more creative experience said I couldn’t work like this. I was so eager to please the designer that I kept allowing him to make changes.
My husband is a developer as well and he always tells me I should allow the customer to only make two changes. You have to defend your work.
After I finally completed the embroideries I organised the postage because he wasn’t based in England, which was more work. After I posted them he didn’t let me know that he’d received them or if he wanted me to make more. I had to chase him and eventually he said he’d be in touch. Financially it wasn’t worth it.
You also put so much of yourself in the work too and there’s so much expectation and you just want an answer or some feedback.
Yeah exactly, even if it wasn’t good enough or neat enough feedback would’ve been really useful so I can improve.
I understand that completely and I like working on what I do so much and like taking every chance I have. I tend to be soft on people and end up working a lot for people without appreciation but it’s a learning experience. I recently had some questions on selling wholesale at a cheaper rate but right now it’s not worth it for me. My parents are both artists and my father told me that I have to know how to price my stuff otherwise you run out of time. I do want people to be able to afford what I make and appreciate the work that has gone into it.
I had a similar conversation with Patricia from FF Embroidery about pricing and she asks herself how much she and her work is worth.
I think artists in general have the same thoughts on selling their work. I’m still learning.
You only launched a few months ago so there’s plenty of time to learn and get to where you want to be.
It has been a rollercoaster and things have moved really fast. I remember in April only having around 800 followers on Instagram and now I have around 20,000.
How does that make you feel?
I don’t know. I tend to think that some of them are spam!
Haha, I always block them because I don’t want to get excited by spam followers.
I receive some really nice messages from people that really lifts me up.
Of course, you can inspire so many people into making things and sharing it with others.
I think my husband had a lot to do with me showing my work. I’ve been doing this forever but I wasn’t sharing my work. I was too shy in using hash tags and I thought to myself “who am I, why am I going to tag this!?” I don’t know; you have to separate yourself and kind of start taking it seriously. This is now my income and I’m responsible for my work.
What do you listen to when you’re working?
I listen to everything from Kraftwerk to Massive Attack. I like a lot of things from my country. I listen to the radio a lot. I’ve been listening to the Drive soundtrack a lot.
Oh my god yes, that’s such a good soundtrack and I love Ryan Gosling’s embroidered jacket in the film too.
Anything to have an atmosphere.
My mood changes a lot. I like Kali Uchi.
She’s very Latin.
Are you inspired by Argentinian textiles?
We do have a lot of artisan and craft textiles from the north. It looks like Peruvian textiles. I really like it but it’s not my style. I’m sure it has influenced me but not directly. Coming from Latin America means a lot to me. The way we do things like how I taught myself to embroider. We teach ourselves a lot. We’re always trying to find a way to make things happen. Living in England is ideal for my work because I can order supplies really easily but eventually I’ll go back home to Argentina. I need my family and friends.
Last question, what do you love about textiles?
It’s what I said before about being able to make something from scratch, to be able to touch them and feel them against your skin. I love how you can wear them and send a message at the same time. I love how it can react differently to your body like being unable to wear certain fabrics like wool. There are so many aspects to textiles. It’s versatile and lasts a long time. I like that you can visit museums and look at textiles from a long time ago. I love how different cultures can have different strong identities through textiles. I think it’s something that can take time but it’s worth it.