Suzy Wright creates detailed and vibrant stitched tapestries that resemble paintings through layering and blending threads. Each piece has a distinct personality cultivated from her love of animals food and the exotic landscape. Her exhibition, Birds of Paradise, is at The Knitting & Stitching Show London at Alexandra Palace from 7th-10th October 2021 and The Knitting & Stitching Show Harrogate at Harrogate Convention Centre from 18th-21st November 2021.
Suzy, it was amazing to be surrounded by your wonderfully exotic and colourful tapestries at this year’s Knitting & Stitching Shows. Where does your love of bold expression come from?
I have never hidden away from colour. I always feel it’s very easy to run away from it and I try my hardest to embrace it with open arms. As the years have gone by, my appearance has become more clashy and vibrant with colour and pattern. I just adore it, it makes me happy. I don’t feel like myself if I wear black.
You trained and began your career in fashion and have a very distinctive style of dress. Would you say that your look is an extension of your work? Is your wardrobe art in its own right?
I would say that in a way, I have always tried to push the boundaries of what is close to the line of what to wear. When I was younger, I constantly wore big ballgowns, then it changed to long flowing kaftans and kimonos. One time I got on a London bus wearing a pair of full blown fisherman’s waders and yellow coat. I just love how expressive you can be. Now, I love to wear turbans and wild extravagant hats.
In 2014, you interned at the studio of Zandra Rhodes. What an extraordinary person she is with a passion for textile design. We had the privilege of featuring an exhibition of iconic pieces from her collection at The Spring Knitting & Stitching Show in 2019. What would you say you learnt there?
It was a truly wonderful experience being around someone so iconic and lovely. Normally you’re disappointed when you see an idol but this wasn’t the case. I think just being in a lovely family team environment was great, and helping with a fashion show and being in that world was terrific. it did make me want to go back and do my own work after being so inspired.
All your works begin life as watercolour paintings. Can you share with us the processes that you go through to transform them from painted images on the page into a riot of brightly coloured embroidery thread?
Well first, I have to be passionate with my subject. There is no point doing anything unless you are inspired by your surroundings. Sometimes it literally just means going to the garden or a beautiful vintage clothing shop. I take memories and get images. My watercolours always tend to be massive – I love working big. I then pin my painting up on the wall. From this, I then rip off a large piece of fabric, take pencils and pens and draw a black and white, quite detailed version of it, sometimes changing it depending on how the watercolour has worked. Then, I do a base coat of thread, like with a painting, and then build up the layers until the painting/stitch pops out with colour.
Many of your works feature loose threads that are left hanging on a finished piece. Can you tell us why that’s important to you and what qualities it brings to your work?
It does a couple of things. I was always being told by people that they would mistake my work for watercolour or pastel paintings. If I wasn’t there to tell them, I wouldn’t want people going away not knowing. Also, when I did fashion, they always told me: “Cut them off, it’s messy and why don’t you just want to use a digital embroidery machine”, so it’s my way of saying they can shove it! Over the years, I have carefully and finely tuned my strands. In my earlier work, they are much stronger and thicker, but now they’re finer and fewer strands. but give the same impression.
What are you working on currently and what’s next for you?
Currently I’m working on a new series ‘Bahia’, inspired by Brazilian ‘Baiana’ costume, which launches this October, and I will be hosting a special event in London to mark the release. Details of the launch will be shared exclusively with my mailing list, so I encourage signing up via my website (www.onomeotite.com) to be in the know. I’m also preparing for a group exhibition with the Craft Council in November 2021 where I’ll be showcasing a very special collage celebrating black female artists in the UK. Again, all information can be found on my website and social media pages. This year is definitely going out with great events.
To see more work from Onome Otite, click below.