About the Artist

My name is Katherine Walsh and I'm a self taught embroiderer living in Los Angels, CA. I have backgrounds in Illustration, Production design, Prop making, Set dressing, and Costuming. 
I mostly embroider little Guardians for your home, and work on larger gallery work that is full of nature, dogs, and stars. 

If you're interested in learning more about my process, materials, and inspiration please take a look below at excerpts from a private interview below.

How did you first get into embroidery? What sparked your interest?

I first got into actual embroidery in 2014 as a hobby that I could do while watching tv. My day jobs have always been in fast paced art environments where I'm on ladders and using power tools all day. I don't sit still very well because I have (then undiagnosed) ADHD so I needed something to occupy my hands and brain after work that would allow me to be sitting relatively still. 
That being said, I've always been in love with textiles. My mother owns and runs her own clothing business where she makes most everything herself. She started the business when I was really little so I've always been around textiles. She taught me to sew when I was really young and I've been making clothing and costumes ever since. 

Where do your influences come from?

My influences are all over the place but the easiest ones to look at are old religious reliquaries and skeletons like in the Paris Catacombs and European saint skeletons.
Paul Koudounaris (@hexenkult Instagram) has a few amazing books like this one with stunning images of decorated skeletons. I had just started to embroider skulls when my husband bought me this book and it inspired me to add my history of loving highly decorated costumes into my embroidery. 
Costumes/clothing is definitely a big part of my inspiration. I grew up as a dress-up kid, obsessed with big fancy robes and decoration. I have a ton of historical and movie reference books about all sorts and eras of clothing. 
My art gets brought up a lot for Day of the Dead but honestly, though I greatly love and admire this holiday and it's immense culture, as a white American I do try and stay away from that categorization. I LOVE Mexican art and have a deep respect for it but also don't think that all skeleton based art needs to be in reference to it. Pretty much every culture has some form of art dedicated to the same ideas and themes. 
Most of my influence comes from illustration and costume though. My college background is in 2D illustration so that's a lot of the material that I look at even now 13 years later. I try to follow a huge variety of styles and categories of art so that I'm never just getting inspired by one thing. 

What subject(s)/colors/designs do you gravitate towards?

Obviously skeletons are what I primarily embroider these days. I thought it might be just phase one of my embroidery but I haven't gotten tired of it yet and neither has anyone following my work so I don't see that I should change it yet! Though I may someday if I need a break.
I think skeletons are a pretty good unifier. They don't (outside of science) show race or age or gender and I prefer that so that whoever owns a piece of mine can decide who that figure is for themselves. 
I also embroider a lot of dogs. Dogs have always been very important personally to me and also a really fun texture to embroider! 
I love pretty much all colors and I find that I go through waves of using a few color schemes that I switch between. Pink and green are pretty big contenders. I really like using a lot of color to contrast the skeletons. Not that I don't love doing a monochromatic piece every now and again, but something about all that bright color against a figure that is seen mostly as a symbol of death is something I'm into. 

How is your work personal to you as a person and as an artist?

It's very personal to me though it's taken me years to be able to articulate why. Sometimes I think you just have to start doing the thing that calls to you and figure out all the reasons why afterwards. 
I have two modes of thinking about my art. 
I don't like how this country views death and the ending of life. It's very terrifying and cold to me the way most western cultures deal with it. If you read any of Paul K's work he talks at length about how western society sees death as a failure to stay alive as opposed to the end we all come to in time. I'd like people to be able to look at it without it striking fear the way it does. Maybe bright colors and fancy dresses can help with that. 
I also have a great affinity for religious reliquaries and iconography, though I am not religious myself. I am personally spiritual, just without attachment to any group or particular version of god.
I love the concept of guardians and saints. It makes it a bit hard, not being religious, to want to take religion into my home. I have a lot of issues with most modern practicing religions. 
Maybe these guardians can be there for people like me who want to have that feeling without the baggage attached. I do know many people who own pieces and are religious and that's fine with me too. Each to their own and these guardians are meant to take on the ideas you personally want from them.  
I spent a bunch of time researching other "dark" embroidery artists when I started out. I had made a few pieces on my own in a relative vacuum and when friends started to try to buy them I wanted to make sure I wasn't recreating ideas used by any other living artists in the medium. Maybe that's because I came from the costume/fashion end and that world is just rife with idea theft and it's really rough to deal with. I didn't want to step on any toes. Luckily I found my own little corner to occupy. The absolute best compliment I get from people is that they've never seen anything like my art before. I get it a lot and I'm so grateful that my time and research was well spent. Not only did I not want to infringe on anyone else but I also don't want my art to look like anyone else's. 

RowWhat tools and materials do you use and how do they affect your work or your process?

So as I said I've got ADHD and so my tools are process can be very all over the place. I have a background in textiles from my family but very little schooled knowledge of what anything is called or used for. I'll go to a shop and just feel around until something looks good and try that! It's a lot of trial and error. 
Currently I do like using a lot of thin fabrics which is usually a little difficult in embroidery as the fabrics on their own get very wrinkly when stitched on.
A year into embroidering I read a book about goldworking which is the type of embellishment you see on military uniforms with the gold patches and leaves. That technique uses wool padding and felt to get raised patterns and it looked like a pretty good fix. So I use a layer of felt behind all my fabrics to keep them flat and I also use a little felt or wool cutout of the skull shape to embroider over so that the skull has a nice 3d quality to it.
My fabrics are very varied. My favorites to work with are linen and silk because of the texture you can get. It's hard to use fabrics with too much pattern on them because the embroidery honestly gets lost in the business of a pattern but at the same time I really like having a bit of texture to my fabrics to make it feel a little more depth. You see this in costumes a lot too. A good costume for tv or film always has so much more texture to it when you see it in real life than what shows up on the screen but it adds a quality to the piece that you wouldn't get with a cheaper, flatter looking fabric. you may not notice it but you would absolutely notice the absence of it. 
The modern threads I use are primarily the DMC brand of 6 string embroidery threads. It's the easiest stuff to get your hands on and the best quality for the price. I also use a lot of vintage threads that I find at flea markets. A lot of it is old wool or cotton weaving threads from old mills in the midwest. There are some really incredible colors that you can find in vintage and antique materials that are harder to find in the newly made threads. 
Needles and hoops are pretty much whatever standard stuff you can find at a hobby store. They break and you replace them so I try not to get too attached to any of them. There are ones of better quality out there but since I take all my work out of the hoop and frame it it doesn't make much of a difference to me either way. All hoops break at some point! 
I do have two desk stands that hold my hoops while I work which is really important I think. It can be very hard to get tidy embroidery with only one hand I feel, or at least it is for me! I also just spend so much time at my desk that it really helps to keep my posture better and my hands from hurting as much. 
Having a decent desk setup has become very important. It's pretty hard on your body to sit hunched over all day and you definitely have to make sure you are doing your best to not hurt yourself.
Good lights are really important too. Not just for your eyes but for seeing the materials as they are. I just bought a few LED lights that have true color. Any warm light is going to wash out your colors.

What is your process for starting a new piece?

If I'm working on a show I usually go out to my garage workshop and pull out frames until I have a collection that looks like it will work for the group of pieces. I probably have around 300 frames in my garage that I pull from. Plus I'm always on the lookout for more. Store bought or vintage, whatever looks like it would be a nice piece.
I always start with the frames. I use so many unique pieces that it's hard to fit something I've already made into a frame that I haven't planned for. I still have a handful of old pieces that aren't framed because I didn't plan for it! 
After I have my frames I pull out fabrics and throw them around until I have a well balanced collection of colors. If I don't plan ahead I tend to get stuck in a color rut without noticing it. Then I take photos of all of those combinations and pull everything into procreate on the iPad to do some really bad sketches. And then I get to work! 
If I'm just making one-off pieces for a shop update or smaller show then I plan it out less. I still pick frames and base colors in the garage but I don't unusually sketch beforehand. I just sit at the desk and do a little drawing right on the fabric with a chalk pen or a disappearing pen and then do the piece right away. 

How have others taught and influenced you?

I learned so much about fabric, construction of garments, and textiles from my mother abut then when I started making my own things it was a lot of trial by fire. You learn so much from messing up. As far as the embroidery goes I pretty much just took it up on my own. A little internet searching goes a long way. And there are many good books on the subject. Again, a lot of trial and error, and finding other artists online. There's a pretty good circle of people working on modern embroidery on instagram and twitter and it's nice to have online friends doing similar things. We look out for each other and share material and tips.

How do you pass on your knowledge to others?

I do try to be pretty open about my materials and techniques since I'm firmly of the idea that how and what you make art from isn't what makes the art yours, but that the ideas and images you create with those things are what makes it art from you. That being said, I'm not a great teacher! Teaching is a skill to itself and just because you may be good at the craft doesn't mean that you can teach it well. I answer questions when I can and leave the technique teaching to the people on youtube who are good at it. 
Don't feel like you have to obsess over the technique and making everything perfect. The best thing I know how to do is to fix things. Most anything can get fixed. Starting is hard, fixing is easy. Even if something is too bad to fix, it tells you how you'll do it differently next time. And do it for like, a year, before you try to sell anything if that's your goal. Doing more than 20 of a thing really makes you think about how much you want to do it or not. The trail of abandoned projects I've left behind  extends to the sun and back. If it doesn't make you happy, move on! 
In the years since I've started a lot of other artists have taken up embroidery and needle work using skeletons as their inspiration. I can tell who started out referencing my work, or other artists' work I know. I don't love seeing direct copies of my work but a lot of people just need a place to start. Everyone who has stuck around and made this their work and business has settled into their own style nicely. It's actually really nice to see a beginning artist figuring it out and coming into their own.

Where do you create your pieces?

So currently I work from home in two spaces. I have a one car garage storage and sewing space where all my frames, fabrics, shipping supplies live. I have a huge 4x8ft cutting table and a Cricut machine out there as well as three sewing machines. I still do costume and prop work so the space is shared with all those tools and materials but honestly I use so many tools for both types of work that it would be hard to separate them. My inside space is in my kitchen nook. We have a very small apartment! I've been drawing and embroidering there for almost 10 years. Hopefully if we ever buy a house I'll have a larger studio with a door. 

What kind of environment do you like to work in? 

I always have some kind music or podcast playing. With ADHD and anxiety my brain isn't a very quiet place so I do my best to have something playing most of the time. The only times I need it to be quiet or have low wordless music is when I'm trying to learn a new tool or writing. 
Music is best while I'm planning pieces and podcasts are great for when I'm stitching. Once I'm at the point of embroidery I don't have to put much brain power into it. It's a bit of a color by numbers. I'll stop to reassess when needed but mostly I just let myself zone out and do the work. I used to half watch tv shows but I do get very distracted and I work about half time when there is something visually distracting. 
These days I listen to a lot of Aurora, Ghost, Murder by Death, LP, and podcasts like Judge John Hodgman, The Adventure Zone, and You're Wrong About. 


What does embroidery mean to you? How does it make you feel?

It's interesting. At school my professors always asked me why I hadn't gone into textiles. My 2d illustrations tended to have a lot of pattern in them that they didn't think really fit into the illustration department. I happen to disagree with them about that but at the same time I have always been incredibly drawn to textiles. I'm sure part of that is my mother's fault since she was a textile major and I've been surrounded by it my whole life.  
I really love illustration techniques but I could never really figure out my style in it or what I wanted to do with it. I don't really like illustrating for other people which does truly make being an illustrator difficult as a job!
Using my hands to make things has always been the best way for me to work. After school I fell into the large installation art scene working for the Anthropologie UrbanOutfitters brand for 6 years building art displays for their stores. And now I still work regularly on props and costume for film and Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. Making large immersive art is so fun and I'll always take on a bit of work in that field. My husband is a director and I work on his projects when I can. 
I truly did think that the embroidery was going to be a hobby but it turns out it's a bit of a life calling actually. I think that's probably the way it works for a lot of artists who don't have a real path to follow out of school. You stick all your influences in a box and jumble them around for years until something springs out and surprises you. I wouldn't have been able to come up with this idea at school or even for years afterwards but now looking back, it makes so much sense that I've landed here. It combines so many of the things I love and am good at. 
There is a steady, quiet, peace to embroidery. It can't be rushed, and it's very hard to take shortcuts. I was never good at taking the time to really work on any of my illustrations. I'm very impatient and antsy about getting things Finished. That's definitely a bit of the ADHD in me. Taking what I once would have drawn or painted in a rush but making it in a medium that I can't rush forces me to pace myself. 
It's also a medium in which I can work alone. Large installation pieces usually involve a lot of compromise.  How much depends on the group, idea, ability, and always, physics. It's great, I love it, but I also love having complete control over my own art. This is something I don't have to design by committee. I don't have to answer to anyone but myself.