When an artist works in a medium as tactile and traditional as embroidery, some might be tempted to label the artworks, Cottagecore. But I don’t know if I would really consider Danielle Clough’s signature style of woven works as something quintessentially Cottagecore.
October 16, 2021
For those that don’t know, Cottagecore is a concept that romanticises the rustic charm of an idealised English countryside – focusing primarily on the wholesome aesthetics and activities surrounding this simpler and serene fantasy of living. The subculture saw a massive surge in popularity during the start of the pandemic, when the world was thrust into the mandatory domesticity of quarantine. If you’ve ever found yourself experimenting with sourdough starter kits and spending hours scrolling through various antique furniture accounts on Instagram, you’ve already dipped your toe in the sepia-toned serenity of Cottagecore.
Whereas followers of Cottagecore utilise its styles and staples as a means of harkening back to a simpler and quaintly curated bygone era to serve as an escape from the burdens of modern day living, Danielle Clough weaves her materials into a delicate and whimsical celebration of the world around her – where the marvels of the natural world co-exist with the pop culture imagery that pervades our day-to-day existence.
The amalgamation of traditional mediums and contemporary ideas has long been part of Danielle’s artistic journey, most notably during her time performing under the moniker Fiancé Knowles as a VJ that provided live visual projections that accompanied the likes of PH Fat, Hugh Masekela and Mick Jenkins during their performances on stage. But, since taking to the needle and thread as her primary medium, Danielle has seen her work shift from being the accompanying act to being the star of the show. Her work has been featured and published by the likes of CNN, Vogue.com and The New York Times and has worked on high profile commissions for Netflix, Nike and Gucci (amongst many others).
Most recently, she has just put together a online course on modern embroidery for Skillshare.com and is busy working on a new body of work called Midnight Names – a series of portraits of people in her life with their self-assigned online alter egos.
Despite working within a medium so synonymous with the pastoral pastiche of a Cottagecore Pinterest board, Danielle Clough’s work is far less interested in recreating the past and is far more geared towards weaving a far more imaginative future.
What drew you towards focusing on embroidery as opposed to any other artistic practice?
I don’t ever feel like I chose embroidery over other practices. Embroidery was something I would do between my work as a waitress-designer-photographer-VJ. I saw those things as my job and stitching was my hobby. In 2015, I built a website showcasing my embroidery works to apply for the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives. All I knew was that I loved this thing and that it had the potential to be amazing but I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen. I initially thought that I would collect old embroideries and turn them into jewellery. Through the website and Instagram, my collection of rackets got picked up by This is Colossal, and a flood of requests came in overnight. Within three months I was a full-time embroiderer.
As someone who has collaborated with the likes of Nike and Netflix, were you surprised by the attention that your work started to get over time? (As embroidery isn’t perhaps the most obvious choice of media for artistic collaboration?)
Yes and no. I’m not surprised that embroidery has started getting more attention as a medium for collaboration and storytelling. Besides my bias of thinking it’s the best thing in the world, the medium is textural and nostalgic, as most people have some familial or personal links to needlework. There also seems to be a kickback of the digital age where a new appreciation of handwork and slow creating has emerged. Between the history and acknowledgement of patience that is needed for embroidery, it makes sense as a vessel for collaboration and storytelling.
Your work is GORGEOUS as well as very fun and playful, often incorporating various characters and aspects of popular culture – how do you decide on what sort of subject matter that you’d like to integrate into your pieces and your projects?
Thank you! This varies, but often I’ve seen a movie or had a conversation and simply thought “I wanna sew that!”
Could you talk about one of your most recent projects Midnight Names and what inspired a more personal choice of subject matter by focusing on your friends and their online alter egos?
Although I love pop culture imagery, I wanted to create work that felt more personal, and that I could explore creating more layers of meaning into the work, while still keeping it light and accessible to myself and the audience. I’ve always loved portraiture and initially my creative outlet was photography. While studying I’d annoyingly ask friends to dress up and practice ideas and teach myself how to use a camera. Midnight Names, in a way, feels like an extension of that. And indulgence of practice and play with people I am connected to and love.
How did you find putting together your Skillshare class? Did putting together the course reveal anything about your practice that you didn’t know or may not have thought much of in the past that makes up your signature approach to embroidery?
One thing that happens when you put a class together is that you don’t always realise how many small tricks you have learnt along the way, and this became the foundation for my first class, tips from an accidental embroiderer. The online class is built around my Sew Far Sew Good workshop that I have taught in SA and Australia which is about embracing mistakes finding your own style.
Teaching is always so illuminating. Students bring a space that makes the learning and growing reciprocal. Much like collaboration, the questions that get asked in an open space like that often spark new ways of thinking and ideas. Some of these questions have also helped me recognise and put into words certain ways I create unconsciously, like my understanding of colour.
My goal for all my classes is to instill basic skills and confidence so the students can find and explore their own voice in embroidery. One of the most rewarding feelings is to see people exploring and creating, be it in a physical or online space.
What do you hope people will get out of the Skillshare course, should they decide to sign up for it?
The confidence to play and explore the medium in a way that brings them personal joy.
Is there anything else that you’re working on that people can look forward to seeing in the future?
Hopefully a big body of work in the Midnight Names series that can be physically exhibited and …putting together more classes and kits!