(#43) Liz Payne

"There was lots of experiments in those early days and I can attribute a lot of what I've learnt from trial and error. Sometimes things worked out, a lot of the times they didn't. My work is not strict on the rules of any particular technique either, I am by no means a 'traditional' embroiderer. A lot of my 'skill' has come from practice, experimenting and learning as I go."


Where did you grow up? Describe that place and its people…

I grew up in a Sydney, Australia, in a small suburb called Carss Park, an unusual street in that it was circular and right at the top of a big park that you could easily walk down to through a walkway that wound down the bush. It was good place to grow up, there was lots of trees, space to ride bikes and heaps of space to play tennis, which I was obsessed with growing up.

What were you like as a child? What did you want to be when you grew up?

Well I did want to be a professional tennis player for a while there! But I was very creative too, always making something either out of fabric, paint, thread, clay or beads. Growing up my mum had a room filled with fabrics, wools and yarns and I loved playing in there and making or sewing something. I always knew I wanted to be an artist but the plausibility of how and in what capacity was unknown at that stage. I just knew I wanted to paint and wanted to make things! Being so drawn to the tactility of textiles is still a motivating factor for me now to incorporate into my work.

Where do you live now? Is there something about this place that is especially inspiring to you? Your work? 

Currently I live in Erskineville, a 'village' type suburb in the inner west of Sydney. It's only 5 minutes train to the city and really close to Newtown, a lively suburb that is a hub of eclectic people drawn to its cafes, art shops, galleries, vintage stores, and nightlife. We're so close to everything here and I love the proximity to it all. I work from a studio/converted 2nd bedroom from home which is full of my wools, beads and thread. It's quite small so inevitably my work tends to spill out all over the house, and beads are scattered everywhere!

Do you have any formal training? school? apprentice?

After high school I studied my Bachelor of Visual Arts degree at uni, then soon after got led down the path of a more 'dependable career' choice, so continued on to study graphic design. After working as a graphic designer for several years at home in Sydney, and then in London for a few years, I really missed the tactile-ness of creating with my hands. When I returned back home I realized it was a good chance to get back to getting my hands dirty again and began experimenting with combining my background in Visual Arts, my design aesthetic from the years working as a graphic designer and my history and passion growing up with textiles.

There was lots of experiments in those early days and I can attribute a lot of what I've learnt from trial and error. Sometimes things worked out, a lot of the times they didn't. My work is not strict on the rules of any particular technique either, I am by no means a 'traditional' embroiderer. A lot of my 'skill' has come from practice, experimenting and learning as I go

How did you first come to make what you make now? Was there a particular moment when you knew it was what you wanted to pursue?

Through the trial and error I honed in on my own aesthetic and began creating pieces more to my own style. Letting go of expectations of what something should be and starting to create pieces I wanted to create was a big turning point. And surprisingly, especially at the time, these were the pieces people responded to most.

I'm really inspired by wanting to use the thread as a medium in a contemporary approach and break the misconceptions that can arise when using it. I think embroidery can have a stigma attached to it that it's just ‘needlework’, or something done as a hobby. But I like to see it as just another medium, the same way as a pencil or paintbrush, but with the added benefits of being able to introduce texture. Using stitch and beads in general has such a rich history across so many different cultures and it's a shame when that misconception about it happens. I hope the way I approach it as a medium and incorporate it with painting and design that it breaks free from that misconception and it's seen from a more contemporary way


How would you describe your designs?

Colourful, intricate, influenced by pattern, symmetry, richly build of textures, exploring the combination of what is considered art and craft, creating a synergy of movement through pattern and dimension. Fascinated with the juxtaposition of bright bold design in contrast to the slow stead choice of medium

Do you feel your work and designs are influenced by where you are from?

I definitely feel my work has a distinctive Australian feel about it, and I'm often told my work has a very Australian spirit to it. It might just be those bright colours I'm always drawn to using! But I love how my work reflects where I'm from, and the inspiration that living here has.

Do you sketch your designs before you begin, or do they just come to you as you work? What is your process?

I approach designs differently. A lot of the time I will have preliminary sketches drawn in a notebook and a multitude of sketches go into it even before I begin touching anything tactile. I paint the fabric first which sometime people don't even realize, but it's a necessary step in me building the texture and dimension to a piece. I tend to paint a couple of pieces at the same time, so other works will evolve through this preliminary step in my process as intuition takes over and i apply the paint instinctively.

The next step is the lengthy process of stitching the fabric, and the design will further evolve as I build up the symmetry of texture, colour and pattern in the piece. Sometimes pieces can take months to complete, but each piece is one of a kind and completely stitched by hand so it's a real labour of love for me

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Put the work in for the rewards you want. It's so true! Especially nowadays when everything is so instant with our smart phones, it's good to appreciate the work that goes into something, especially handmade, and maybe why I'm so drawn to using thread as a medium.

What are your biggest challenges? Do you have an achilles heel?

Time can be a challenge for me. Because the nature of embroidery can be so time consuming, tackling time can be tricky. Creating works are a lengthy process in itself, and it's easy to neglect other duties, like all the admin tasks - which is not my strong point! Another challenge can be the strain it puts on your body! When I have deadlines approaching, my shoulder and wrist can cause incredible pain from the repetitiveness of the process.

Who are some of your favorite makers/artists right now?

At the moment I am loving Spencer Shakespeare, Miranda Skoczek, Lisa Smirnova and I'm currently obsessed with looking at the work of the late Sally Gabori.

When do you feel like the best version of yourself?

Creating! Without doubt, producing work that combines my love of art, design and textiles, from starting to the piece to seeing it all come together at the end. There is no better feeling!

Words you live by?

"Everything happens for a reason!" There can be a lot of pressure working for yourself and sometimes it's not easy, but I think it's important to remember that even when something happens that's upsetting, that maybe it's for a reason, and ultimately a minor setback in the bigger picture.

What is something about you that might surprise others?

People think I'm really patient due to the nature of my work, and the time they can take! But I'm not really patient at all- if I had to hem a skirt for example I'd probably stop half way through, or more than likely, just let it fray!!

Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to live a more creative life?

To just go out and do it! Take the time to experiment, and not be so worried about the 'correct' methods in producing things you want to create.

Get more of Liz's work here!