Sarah Gwyer – Pop art, beads and stitches


The world of embroidery is vast, very vast, both in time and space and in the variety of techniques used. For several months now I have been fascinated by the works of Sarah Gwyer and I wanted to meet this English Pop Art artist.

Interview by Claire de Pourtalès

Amy Remixed, 2017 © Sarah Gwyer

I came to embroidery in an unusual way: before starting my studies I had always believed that I would become a sculptor, but at the end of my Bachelor I turned to printmaking. During my last year, I worked at Accessorize where I was literally surrounded by beads and charms. I wanted to give more texture to my engraved portraits. So I naturally combined the two! I knew how to sew a little, and the stitches to fix the beads are quite simple, everything is in the tension of the thread. Over time, I gave up printmaking. My portraits are painted or drawn on canvas or on my base fabric. I learned needle painting techniques, so I could work on smaller projects. I learned about the long and short stitches, the chain stitch and the French knot through online videos. I also started to learn the technique of goldwork.

Catherine, 2020, 66 x 41 cm © Sarah Gwyer

I love working with threads and beads – I feel like I’m telling a story and weaving my way towards someone. Textile arts are very undervalued and under-represented in exhibitions compared to other techniques. It makes me want to work with this medium which is so often perceived (and (dis) considered) as a “woman’s hobby”. I want to show its potential.

Elton, 2020, 33 x 33 cm – detail © Sarah Gwyer

When I work on one piece, I often have ideas for the following ones. Once my topic is chosen, I look at hundreds of images of that person on the internet to create a montage that reflects them. I draw the main lines and then I start by embroidering the eyes. I tend to work from the inside out, leaving difficult areas for better light days or when my house is quieter! I also sculpt and in these cases I wrap a canvas around an object, adding padding where necessary.

I work in my studio at home. I am in the middle of large pots of pearls, charms, sequins, etc. These days, with my kids at home, I struggle to find time to work.

Lizzo, 50 x 50 cm, work in progress © Sarah Gwyer

I am also having difficulty maintaining the level of my beads collection: several stores have had to close in recent years. I always try to buy from small independent sellers. Sometimes I also receive gifts of pearls, or even jewelry. This allows me to have a wide variety of materials to work on. I love my beads, but I have to take care of their weight and size, so that they can play their part in creating a likeable portrait. I work primarily with glass beads (I no longer buy plastic) and their weight can become a problem (bad tension for example).

Elton, 2020, 33 x 33 cm  © Sarah Gwyer

Stitching is a great way to “clear your head” and I often embroider while watching crime series or the “Location, Location, Location” show. I like not to be completely focused on my work, because, oddly enough, the stitches, the choice of beads, are more harmonious this way.
I usually work on two or three pieces at the same time, one of which will always be a sculpture. This habit helps me avoid the pain associated with repetitive movements. Sometimes it’s just because I’m waiting for a bead from the United States, for example. By doing several jobs at the same time, I can always continue to work.

Catherine, 2020, 66 x 41 cm – detail © Sarah Gwyer

At the moment, I can’t live by my art. Until September 2019, I had my two boys at home – I still have the youngest! Before confinement, I also worked part-time at the local Art Center and hope to be able to return there soon! I think when my second son goes to school I will have more options. I get a few commissions every year – I’ve even worked on fashion accessories, which is always fun and allows me to try new things through my art.

Topical Tropical, 2020,  37 x27 x 18cm © Sarah Gwyer
George, 201, 23 x 23 cm – detail  © Sarah Gwyer

My next big project is a needle painting Triptych of Lady Gaga, Lizzo and Taylor Swift. I think it will take me most of the year, if not more, but I’m very excited to start.

I love seeing how people react when they find out about my work. My idea is to be easily accessible to everyone, in a fun spirit. I love it when people bend down to see the details of each bead or charm. Often I have clients who tell me they just discovered a new pearl that they had not seen even though they had the work at home for a long time!

Apart from my beads, I love to play with Lego. I spend so much time imagining 3D shapes that building something according to instructions does me a lot of good – it’s therapeutic!

My sons have also caught the virus and they spend hours there – perfect to let me stitch in peace!

The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire