Richard McVetis: Meticulous slow stitch
Texture, pattern, meticulous hand embroidery adding a layer of micro-variations that give the surface life. These are the elements that Richard McVetis introduced when he was commissioned as one of five artists contributing to the 2019 exhibition TOAST Re-New.
Clothing and homeware company TOAST aspires to a more thoughtful way of life, creating and curating items that are simple and functional. So teaming up with the University of Cambridge’s carefully curated art gallery and museum Kettle’s Yard – once the home of Tate Gallery London curator Jim Ede – was a natural partnership. The binary simplicity that is the trademark of artist Richard McVetis’s selective mark-making and deliberately subdued colour was the perfect complement.
Richard uses textiles, plus other media, to explore his perception of space and time. His labour-intensive process includes hand embroidery to record time through multiples of dots, lines, and crosses.
His stitching is meticulous and reflects a preoccupation with the repetitive nature of a process. Richard’s work explores the way time and place are felt, experienced, and constructed, bearing witness to the passing of time – of the mundane and of the everyday.
Finalist of the 2018 Loewe Craft Prize, Richard’s artwork has been exhibited in galleries, art fairs, and museums across the world. Richard has been a finalist for the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2011 and 2016, a finalist for the Cheongju International Craft Prize in 2015 and was selected to be part of the British Pavilion, Form + Motion at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in 2017.
Richard is a graduate of the Royal College of Art in 2008, and lives and works in London.
In our From conception to creation interview, Richard describes his research and preparation, his selection of materials and equipment, and how he combined these with his range of skills, in the creation of four pieces for TOAST Re-New: Cube I, Cube II, Linear Abstract I and Linear Abstract II.
Name of piece: Re-New
Year of piece: 2019
Techniques and materials used: 21 x 26cm , Techniques: hand embroidery, seeding, insertion stitch, heat bonding, Materials: Wool, reclaimed and recycled cotton jacquard fabric
Inspired by wear and tear
TextileArtist.org: How did the idea for the piece come about? What was your inspiration?
In autumn 2019 TOAST, the clothing and lifestyle brand, partnered with Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge to produce an exhibition – TOAST Re-New. I was one of five artists commissioned to re-work old, worn TOAST garments and waste materials, and repurpose them into an artwork – something unique and unexpected.
The display aimed to promote the idea that clothes can have a life beyond their first wearer, whilst creatively supporting a lower carbon lifestyle.
TOAST Re-New coincided with TOAST Circle, their ongoing national clothes exchange project which aimed at minimising waste and getting people to live more consciously. Customers could bring in their worn TOAST garments, complete a label telling the story of its wear and collect a voucher towards a new pre-loved garment.
My work does not focus on these issues but does address the notion of slowness and taking your time. It’s not about mass production and consumerism but an appreciation of small details. The very nature of the way I create means that my output is slow; through the action of the hand I’m attempting to find an order, a rhythm – a very human rhythm which allows you to slow down. This investment of time and thought makes the work I create more than just an object but something precious and loaded.
What research did you do before you started to make?
I didn’t do any specific research for this project. I was sent some waste fabrics from TOAST and I immediately began to play. There was a very short timeline for creation and I jumped straight in. I knew I wanted to make an abstract composition using both the waste fabrics from TOAST and some of my own. I would also be using a combination of seaming and joining techniques that I had used in previous works.
Using the recycled materials offered individual freedom as they established a set of rules and guides. They were a starting point to which I could react and respond. Sometimes these limitations allow creativity. I also drew on my own interests, looking at found textures, patterns, signs of wear and tear for inspiration, visible traces of time through material change. Using these recycled materials offered a unique chance to contribute to and continue their story.
Connecting with the aesthetic
Was there any other preparatory work?
I knew I wanted to make an abstract composition using both the waste fabrics from TOAST and some of my own. I also planned to use a combination of seaming and joining techniques that I had used in previous works. The appeal of the techniques I use is their simplicity, their directness and immediacy.
I first selected the fabrics that best resonated with my aesthetic and began to play with the fragments, arranging and rearranging to form compositions of space, line and texture, searching for a visual harmony. I spent about a week doing this, arranging the fragments on the studio wall, walking away for a few hours and then coming back.
The aesthetic was already there within the work but over the process of creation, the subtleties, differences, and the spontaneity of the hand embroidery – more than the materials – is what I find the most exciting. There is intimacy in this labour-intensive way of making; the ritual and repetition create an in-depth focus. The process of execution is just as, if not more, important.
What materials were used in the creation of the piece? How did you select them? Where did you source them?
The combination of fabrics, both from the TOAST waste fabrics and those of my own, included light weight cottons, wool flannels and repurposed stage curtains made of a heavy black wool. The TOAST fabrics came from their factories and design studios and were left over from previous seasons, sometimes small fragments and but also some larger.
I tend to choose either wool or cotton as I prefer these natural materials, however I do also use found synthetics. It seems a waste not to use them.
I based my selection mainly on the aesthetic, but also on the weight and how easy it was to stitch on. Whilst the wools and cottons are each relatively easy to stitch on, when combined they become more difficult to stitch together. Their structures don’t match up, plus with the added layer of bonding materials, stitching was, at times, difficult on the hands.
I also selected fabrics based on their colours; the muted tones harmonised perfectly with my own wool fragments. The architectural qualities of the fabrics’ patterns also appealed to me; the ordered rows of lines and dots gave structure to the final pieces, whilst also reflecting my love for repetition.
What equipment did you use in the creation of the piece and how was it used?
I used a rotary cutter to trim and resize some of the final fabrics pieces, before using a needle and thread to seam the pieces together. The equipment I use is very minimal, I try to keep it like this at all times.
Meticulous seed stitch
Take us through the creation of the piece stage by stage
The process I used to create the pieces was as follows:
- Each fabric was selected based on its harmony with my aesthetic.
- The TOAST fabric fragments were bonded to the wool fabrics using iron on adhesive web. I applied this web between the two layers of fabrics and used a heat press to activate this.
- The various bonded fragments were arranged to form a series of small abstracts.
- The fragments were pieced together using a twisted faggot insertion stitch and then some sections of the works were meticulously embroidered using seeding stitch to form a layer of micro-variations that give the surface life.
- Obsessive hand stitch was used to add texture and pattern.
It is through this deliberate minimalism of intent that I explore the subtle differences that freely emerge within the insistent process of hand embroidery. The artworks here act as abstract markers of time.
What journey has the piece been on since its creation?
The work was shown at Kettles Yard, Cambridge in October 2019 and was then shown at TOAST Mayfair in August 2020.
For the launch of the original exhibition, I attended a dinner in the house at Kettles Yard. All the artists were present along with a host of people from the arts and crafts industry, as well as a number of editors from well-known magazines, including ‘Rakes Progress’ and ‘House and Garden’.
During the exhibition, the artists were invited to Kettles Yard to give a series of workshops exploring some of the themes discussed in the exhibition. In my workshop participants worked freely with a combination of traditional hand embroidery techniques that were used in the creation of the works on display in Re-New.
The work currently sits in the studio. I’m planning to show it again in my solo show at the Crafts Study Centre in 2021.
For more information visit www.richardmcvetis.co.uk
What is it about Richard’s process and style that appeals to you? Please let us know by adding your comments in the box below.