At Seasalt, we celebrate Cornwall’s vibrant artistic community by shining a light on the county’s creative pioneers.
This July, alongside May Morris, we’ve been inspired by the work of contemporary embroiderers, like Cornwall-based Elizabeth Loveday. She creates whimsical stitched portraits that explore folkloric themes, at her studio in Penryn. Her artwork features throughout our July photoshoot.
How did you get into embroidery?
My mother is an automata maker and my grandmother, a ceramicist. As a child I was always creative and I wanted to find my own outlet, fabric was something which was accessible to me. Much to my mother’s dismay I used to cut everything up and stitch it together. I made lots of dolls, some more successful than others.
Later I studied fine art and illustration. I’ve never had any formal training in textiles or embroidery, but it’s always been something that I’ve loved doing instinctively. I always loved fabric, the textures, the colours. I loved vintage fabric and that we live our lives in it.
Are there other artists working in this way with these materials, are you part of a community?
I believe my work is part of different communities; textiles, fine art, craft and illustration. I’m in a fortunate position that I can be involved in the different fields. So far in my career I’ve mainly worked with other artists or contemporary craftsmen. I’ve not yet worked with any other embroiderers, I think I should change that.
I’ve had group shows with my mother and grandmother as we all have an illustrative, narrative theme within our work. Instead of finding someone within my medium, I look for people with other things to share; storytelling, narrative, movement, colour and support each other that way.
How would you describe your work?
There are stories in each piece I make, a narrative style. My work is influenced by Cornish folklore, songs and the pieces of fabric I find. I explore the relationships I’m having and the relationships of those around me and create characters to tell the stories of how I’m feeling.
What is your way of working?
I work on multiple pieces at once. I have a habit of over-doing things so if I was to only focus on one piece I think I’d get obsessed.
I start with a linear line drawing, then decide which colours I am going to use. Then the chaos begins. I unload all my bags of fabric, I get my fabric from auction houses and car boot sales, it’s all second hand, I love the stains and history. I spread the fabric out, it’s a feast of fabric from different ages, of different weights, colours, qualities, some may be ripped, bruised or stained. My studio becomes a swamp of fabric. I wade through and pick out bits that I think would work for the piece I’m working towards. Once everything is decided I start stitching. I use second hand or vintage thread, they have a lovely quality to them.
I lose myself in it all if I’m honest. It becomes unplanned and instinctive.
What inspires the themes of each piece?
I have two themes of work. One is decorative work, inspired by narrative and folklore. The other is based on humanity and human relationships, gossip and the manipulation of work. I explore relationships I’m having, the relationships of those around me. I create characters to tell stories of my feelings.
I take something traditional, using old fabrics and bring them to now with the themes and what’s going on in my life.
I find having two themes is good. Sometimes I come in and make and my hands will do the work. Other days I come to the studio and think about what I’m doing, get my head down.
Has growing up in Cornwall influenced your work?
Cornwall has given me a lot of freedom. I grew up in Nancledra, a small village between St Ives and Penzance, my primary school only had 60 pupils, it was tiny. Growing up, my brothers and I would fill our pockets with Cinnamon Grahams and not come back until dinner time, making our own stories and just running wild. Without Cornwall, I wouldn’t have been able to be as creative as I am.
What are you currently working on?
Throughout July and August, I am doing a show at Newlyn Art Gallery with my friend and artist Ali Corder. We’re going to collaborate on some pieces and do some workshops too. I love workshops, it’s an opportunity to sit down with people who like the work and show them how they can pick up the craft themselves.
Do you have a favourite piece which you’ve created?
Much like other creatives, there are moments of work that I love and inevitably moments I don’t. I believe that you can’t like all your work otherwise it is too safe or neat. I tend to make work and sand bits back, the viewer can fill in the gaps, it feels unfinished, so people can question it.
What do you like wearing in your studio?
I like wearing warm, comfortable clothing that I’m not too precious about. I need to wear practical clothes as I walk to my studio through the woods and paint sometimes too. My go-to is smocks, pinafores, dungarees and a big jumper.
Do you have a favourite part of the Cornish coastline?
Newlyn beach is my favourite place. I love the sound of the sea rolling in on the pebbles, it’s the most beautiful thing. When the pebbles are wet they’re different colours, it’s gorgeous. There is something real about Newyln, you can smell it, watching the boats going in and out, it’s beautiful, proper Cornish.