Sheena Liam’s divine embroidery
BY: SARA CRAVATTS | ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF SHEENA LIAM
When we think of embroidery, we tend to think of grandma’s gift last year, but Sheena Liam’s embroidery is far from cheesy and sentimental. It’s art that forces us to throw out the limits we thought the stitching style had and that’s because Sheena isn’t interested in limiting herself.
In between modeling shoots and traveling the world, she creates embroidery pieces on five-inch hoops small enough to tuck into a checked suitcase, basing her work off of images of herself. What began as a passion project posted intermittently on her personal Instagram quickly became something deserving of its own outlet, and garnered her a following.
Sheena’s work is cool-girl fashion meets executed embroidery with a dash of personal style. What sets it apart even more is how multi-dimensional each piece is. She doesn’t let the subjects hair remain confined to it’s canvas, but instead allows the strands to flow freely.
We caught up with her about how she fell in love with embroidery and why she makes sure to fit it into her globetrotting, packed schedule.
As a professional model, how did you get into embroidery?
I played around with embroidery as a child, never seriously. I picked it up again on and off throughout the years. There was never really a proper starting point. I took my first live figure drawing class when I was in London. Really saw an improvement and liked it a lot. Being good at anything is honestly just practice, I see the difference in every piece.
Did you ever expect to gain a following for your embroidery work in addition to your modeling?
I didn’t set out to gain a following. I started an account to showcase my work in one place.
Who is the girl you depict your work? Is she real or fictional?
I base base them all off of pictures of me. It’s hard for me to pose models, so I photograph myself in the various poses I need.
A big part of what makes your work so interesting is the flowing, 3D nature of the hair–how did that idea start for you?
I never learned embroidery formally so I just did what made sense to me. Making hair behave exactly as it does in real life.
What size hoop do you usually work on?
My pieces are all five inches; I’m starting to work with different sizes and formats. It’s not that I’m restricting myself based on sizes, but I travel too much and need to pack light. My studio and home needs to somehow fit under the luggage limit.
I saw on your Instagram that you experimented with a much larger hoop, what made you take on that project?
I had an opportunity to upsize my piece earlier this year for an installation in Singapore. It’s something I always wondered if I could do. Honestly, it’s not my favorite piece. I feel everyone is more impressed by size than content sometimes. I had a limited deadline and was working around the clock sourcing different people to build frames, a place that had a seamless canvas big enough to stretch. It was a lot of dealing with minor details that took up more time than the actual work. I’ll work big scale again eventually, but not anytime soon.
Can you tell me a little about your process?
An idea comes first, then I photograph myself in a couple of poses. Clothing is important, I work with just outlines so more fabric and more details are more interesting than skin. Sketching comes next, and when I’m happy with everything, I draw it onto the fabric.
Then comes the best part, embroidering. I enjoy it more than any other part of the process, it’s a shame it takes so much build-up. I work fast with embroidery, too. I finish most pieces within two hours.
Hair is last, I usually don’t go into it with an actual plan. I just do whatever until it looks good.
Where do you get inspiration for your pieces?
Everywhere. Looking at images, editorials other people have made. Sometimes in the mirror, I just play around until something is interesting.
What do you see in the future for your embroidery? Any projects you have in mind?
A solo exhibition definitely. I’m taking my time.
Do you feel that embroidery is a hobby and modeling is your career, or do you view them equally?
It really depends. If I’m not booking jobs then I have time for myself and embroidery.
They both keep me sane for lack of other.
Do you have advice for artists who want to get their work noticed on Instagram?
Instagram is hardly an indicator of success for any artist. Make good work. Worry about ego never.