Behind The Stitches: Fran Covarrubias Segovia
“In that way, I feel that creativity is more than a static attribute that you can have and I see it more like a living thing”
Sam: Where are you originally from and where are you currently based?
Fran: I’m from Santiago, Chile and my husband and I are currently living in Los Angeles, California, USA. Specifically in downtown LA. From one city to another! We moved here because my husband had a job offer, so we took the adventure and here we are.
Sam: Have you always been a creative person? Where do you think your love of crafting comes from?
Fran: It’s difficult for me to self denominate as a \”creative person\”, because when I think of something to do, I investigate, study, or just try it. I don’t do it thinking \”I’m super creative!\”. I just do it and try it and work for it.
On the other hand … when I think about the many ideas that occur to me (good and not so good ideas), then yes, I recognize myself as a creative person. But more like someone who believes that you can do anything with just a few things, a person who likes and loves to create, and who tries all possible ways to do it. And at the same time, that emotion feeds on something, develops, and goes deeper, as I continue discovering and exploring their infinite possibilities.
In that way, I feel that creativity is more than a static attribute that you can have and I see it more like a living thing. Like a curious way to live, an impulse or energy! It’s like being an eternal apprentice, being restless about it, or being someone who wants to know, understand, test, touch, participate in things.
\”Therefore I learned that practicing a craft trade, connects you in some way with that too, with the story that led you to develop it, shows you who you are, it tells your story; because if it’s made with your hands, it is full of yourself.\”
I think my love for crafts came when I was born. It’s a constant in my life story. I grew up in an environment and in a family where my “play toys” were, most of all, materials to build and assemble things. My mom is an educator, so she always believed that “the best toys were no toys\”. I mean threads, wool, buttons, seeds, earth, wood, glue, paper, colored pencils, etc.
Also, as a child, until I was 25 years old, I participated in the Ballets of Chilean and Latin American folk dances. So through that, I maintained a constant closeness and relationship with cultural expressions, their creations, meanings, shapes, colors, and textures. I think that from there, I learned the value of the handmade, as a personal, collective, cultural, social human expression. I could see and feel how the crafts are not only an ornament. They are also an object that tells you a story and are the sample of a framework that connects with the person who made it. They connect to his culture, background, and even with where or from whom he learned it. From that experience, I learned that \”hand made things\” are identitarian, have a unique charge, and responsibility. Therefore I learned that practicing a craft trade, connects you in some way with that too, with the story that led you to develop it, shows you who you are, it tells your story; because if it’s made with your hands, it is full of yourself.
In these contexts, imagine me, a very restless and talkative girl, asking whenever it was possible (or not) \”How do you do that?\” \”Can I do it?\” while staring at my grandmother’s knitting, my mom’s cooking or embroidering. I would then try to figure out, in a way that I could understand, “how do you it?” (whether it was well or not well executed).
That’s where my love for crafts coming.
Sam: What is your craft of choice? Do you still have your first WIP?
Fran: I think that among the many things I’ve tried in my short 30-year life, like painting on wood, weaving, decoupage, beads, making necklaces… at some point I even thought about exploring in goldsmithing, but I keep coming back to embroidery. The embroidery comes from my heart.
I feel that it comes organically and intentionally for me. Because from the beginning, I loved to sew and embroider in a free way! But then, when I began to practice it more constantly, I began to understand how to work with the threads, how the fabrics must be handled when you are embroidering, the consistency and concentration that the technique needs and the infinite creative possibilities that allows you.
I keep with embroidery because it is an ancestral practice! It is expressive, communicative, and shows your identity. It is so personal and so real!
Also, I think that embroidery today has great potential! Not only because more people are open to learning and practicing it, but it also gives us a huge possibility of repurposing all kinds of different objects. It is very important to reuse things today. Embroidery is humble. It gathers people and allows you to connect with yourself, with others, with the materiality which you are working, and with what you are doing or saying with your hands, threads, and needle.
Yes, I still have my first embroideries. In fact, my mother transformed them in pictures and cushions that we have at home, with the idea of \”one day I will show the grandchildren what their mother was doing\”. And among my memories in Chile, I still have some small patches that I invented at some point. I feel it is important to look at that again with a critical and loving eye, to learn and value the path that has developed.
Sam: How would you describe your embroidery style?
Fran: Mmm, I think I would describe it as eclectic, colorful, in search of simplicity of simple forms. Jajaja!
Honestly, it is a little bit difficult for me to define myself in one style… like \”I’m a classic embroider\”, or \”I’m a cross-stitch embroiderer\”, or \”I’m freestyle\” or \”contemporary\”. I value the technique a lot and I think it’s important to return to it occasionally, but at the same time, I like many new and different styles! So, that’s hard.
I think that I like when you create your own style, something that represents you. I love how you could go beyond the technique and use it for your own. I think that is the way… give a personal spin to what you learn.
What I am super clear on is that, at least for me, I do not like to leave my embroidery on the hoop. I’ve done it just a few times. I prefer that the embroidery looks like a painting, something that could be worn, useful, something that you could move, touch, and approach.
I like the mixture of embroidery with painting, the work of rhinestones with embroidery, cross-stitching beyond the pattern, pixelation that is best appreciated with distance, and above all color management. Either in a fixed palette or in a mixture that blows your mind in a way, because it’s something that you never imagined. There’s also the importance of the textures and warmth transmitted through the embroidery.
Sam: Can you walk us through your crafting process? Do you plan everything out first or do you let it flow naturally?
Fran: This is something that has changed over time. Initially, in this craft and others, I had an idea and I would follow it. Which is kind of magical and surprising! The thing with this is that sometimes that idea works, and was great and exciting. But in other cases, the majority, the idea doesn’t work out along the way. Sometimes that’s because there were necessary things to think about and consider before putting needle and thread together. Because of this, I learned that when you embroider, it is not simple to redo or start over. You have to get organized and make these decisions before. Learning from these experiences, and from my husband who is a designer, now I make a plan of what I’m going to do. I plan everything out and I review that plan throughout the process and do the necessary changes…if I have to.
What I do now, when I embroider on clothes, is first I write my idea out and make some sketches. Then I choose what kind of clothing allows me to develop the idea that I have. For example, a while ago, I was thinking about the embroidery of \”men’s clothes\” vs \”women’s clothes\”. Then I thought about taking men’s shirts and embroidering a woman’s design on them as an idea of breaking with the binary of \”man and woman clothes\” with embroidery. So, I start thinking about what kind of shirts, colors, and fabrics would work. I thought about what kind of women I should embroider, should I make only faces or only bodies. I then went to second-hand clothing stores. That’s where I get most of the clothes that I embroider. I looked for good cotton, cool fabrics in good condition that allows me to have a manageable support, and good space in which I can embroider. After washing and ironing, I took photos of it and with the help of my IPad, in Procreate, I sketch different designs and color palettes following my initial idea.
Then, I go to my boxes of different threads and materials, and there I decide which one would be better for my project, considering the fabric where I’m going to embroider and the expressive value they have in relation to my design. Once those decisions are made, I transfer the drawing that I made on Procreate to the clothes. As the fabrics are large it’s difficult to transfer, trace, or copy them by light. I do it by looking at my sketch and drawing on the fabric with graphite pencil or chalk. I can use a cloth to erase it or clean it if it is not as I want.
When that is ready, I just start embroidering. When I am embroidering, I constantly look at my reference, because many times you get so involved with the work, that you could lose some details. When my embroidery is finished I iron it upside down and it’s done.
So yes, I let it flow from the idea and the initial intention. But I’m also worried about being faithful to what I want to communicate. It all starts with a plan because with that I can make sure that the ideas I have can be realized and won’t get lost along the way.
Sam: Where does your creative inspiration come from?
Fran: So far, I think my inspiration comes first from the colors themselves. I have this idea of covering myself or filling my work with colors. That inspires me a lot. Nature is always a great inspiration. I love how it combines colors and shapes, especially flowers and plants. I’m also very inspired by cultures. Specifically, Latin American cultural expressions. Such as Mexican embroidery (Tenango and Oaxaca), Centro América, or Perú.
I also find inspiration in children’s imaginary of the generations before 2000. For example cartoons, stories, and analogous games. I find inspiration in people too. In their faces, expressions, personal styles, and identity. And of course in Latin and Chilean pop culture. Those phrases and references of different styles that we share and are part of the collective unconscious. I love the humor behind it!
\”Embroidery has made me a more calm person. It is such a methodical and constant work, that it needs from you to be present and connected with your hands\”
Sam: What does the crafting community look like in your area?
Fran: I think that embroidery at least in Chile, which is where I have more references, is in a super good moment! It has been established ’till now, like a practice that you can access (regardless of previous experience). It has opened opportunities for meeting, creating and dusting off all those fears and beliefs that say that doing manual things, such as embroidery, was only for a few … the \”good for craftspeople\”. Today, you can find embroidery workshops in recognized places and with good embroidery teachers who are very generous with their work and their experience.
I don’t know much about how the embroidery situation is here in Los Angeles or the USA. When I walk through the streets, I have the feeling that it would be good for the people to sit down for a while and do something with their hands.
On the other hand, I would like it if embroidery acquires an artistic-expressive, communicative, graphic value, and that it should also be thought of as a tool at the service of … for example the revitalization of objects, to recover their cultural identity and value of a group. I would love to see embroidery not only as something decorative in a frame (which is valid and beautiful), but to cross that line and go into something more professional, established, and recognized. I think it is a powerful tool with great potential.
Sam: How long does a typical embroidery take you?
Fran: Mmm… depends. It depends on the size of the project first, on the type of surface on which it will be embroidered, on whether it is filled or not, and on the complexity of the points that will be used to do it. And of course, the time that I could dedicate in a day. Because I do other things… I wish could spend more time on it, but I can’t for now.
Embroidery on a shirt, for example, only lines, will take me like a week approx. If it is a shirt with several colors and more complex, like three weeks or a month. Jeans jackets can be like two or three weeks too. Especially if it’s the whole back. The embroidery that took me the most time, about two months, was a leather backpack that I embroidered for a friend. I almost gave up! In that case, it was very slow because the fabric was thick and hard to handle. That took more time than the design itself. It is relative, but I would say that between a week and a month.
Sam: What has your crafting practice brought to your life?
Fran: Wow! So many things… material and immaterial. First, so many different kinds and sizes of boxes filled with a huge variety of materials. When we moved, to live here, I had about one large suitcase just for my supplies. And choosing what would come was the most difficult part of packing.
For me, I think that one of the most important things that embroidery has brought to my life is color. As I told you, I have this idea that everything (including me) must be full of colors and textures. So following this, I feel that embroidering has filled myself with colors too. It has activated me! It has put my hands to work! In spite of the fatigue of daily life, I’ve committed myself with perseverance, discipline, and the love of the process. Because that’s what my practice involves and needs.
Embroidery has made me a more calm person. It is such a methodical and constant work, that it needs from you to be present and connected with your hands. When for some reason that connection is intervened the work can get damaged, loses its strength, and can become deformed.
\”It has led me to rediscover my creative path that maybe was always there, but today it feels more alive than ever\”
Also, it has allowed me to connect with others who have the same passions as me, to share stories in a workshop, to learn from the transfer from person to person, from teacher to apprentice; and it has led me to rediscover my creative path that maybe was always there, but today it feels more alive than ever.
And above all my craft practice, has given me the power to feel proud of myself and of all those who do things with their hands. Because it is really exciting and overwhelming when you finish an embroidery or the work you are doing. You stop, you look at it, and say, \”wow! I did it! With my hands! The idea I had is there! In front of you! With all its details and characteristics\”. But it is yours, you did it with your hands and with your energy. You changed something with your energy, with your intention and work, that’s unique.
Sam: Can you tell us about your embroidery sampler booklet? What inspired you to create it?
Fran: I love books and especially children’s literature. Everything related to illustration and expression through images. In fact, I hope that one day I can mix both areas.
I worked as a volunteer in the Public Library. As a storyteller and reader. So there, I began to notice how the kids look and touch the book’s illustrations. Like they were trying to cross through the paper and feel those textures and the story they tell.
Then, I was in a moment where I missed the technique and felt that I need to reinforce it. So thinking in books and their possibilities, it occurred to me to work the technique in a book. In this way, I could \”play\” or compose with the stitches on a book. More than telling a story, I did it thinking I could create a personal notebook of stitch practice. That also ended up being an exercise of (hopefully in the future) embroidered illustration. Which is what I would most like to do.
To make it, I studied the different stitches that I’ve used most and the most common among the embroideries that I follow and tried to compose it all on the book, \”my embroidery stitches\”. I think it was a good exercise to see what points I knew (in name and execution), how to create with something technical, and how to build something you like as much as a book just with fabrics and threads.
Sam: You recently launched your new Etsy shop. What are the items that you’re the most excited about sharing through that platform.
Fran: I’m so excited and nervous to open my work and make it accessible to all those who access the store anywhere in the world! Also, it has opened me to the idea that there is someone interested in having one of my clothes or objects. It’s great to know that they see the value of the unique work that I’ve created.
Anyway, it was hard for me to decide to do it because my embroideries are things that I’ve worked with for a while. You take care of them and it is difficult at some point to put a price and let them go. But then, I thought that this was a time to choose courage. To face all the obstacles, insecurities, and doubts, and say, \”ok! I’ll do it, let’s see what happens. I don’t lose anything with trying.\”
Sam: A lot of makers struggle with putting a price on their work. How did you overcome that?
Fran: Yes, that happens to me. As much as you value very much what you do and everything you put in it, and you really want to defend it, you also have to know that today, especially clothes and accessories, could be obtained at a very low cost and quickly. Even though those are being mass-produced and often of poor quality. A lot of people prefer that \”easy way out\”. So putting a price that considers not only materials and manufacturing, but the time and work put into it, is complex… at least for me.
I think it helps me a lot to share my work with others, friends/family, and ask them to give me an estimated value. Like \”for how much would you spend on this?\”. Then go out and compare prices in the retail world of machine embroidered clothes. For me, it helps to trust in the work I’ve done, defend it, and take care of it with pride and love.
Sam: Are there any books, classes, or YouTube channels that you would recommend newbie crafters go to for embroidery tips?
Fran: Yes! Some books first:
*La Revolucion Del Bordado by Trinidad Guzmán. She works with freestyle embroidery and teaches you about how to push your boundaries to a creative level.
*Color Confident Stitching: How to Create Beautiful Color Palettes By Karen Barbe. It is a great book to learn about the use of colors and how to manage it on your projects.
Some great embroiders to look at include:
*Valeria Faúndez Balogi
The works of these women are really inspiring and you learn a lot from them by looking at their processes. If you can, taking classes with them. Several have classes at Domestika, which is an online workshop platform.
Sam: What do you like to binge-watch or listen to while you craft?
Fran: I listen to some music, different styles, and themes. My playlist is VERY varied. I also watch (or listen to) documentaries and I listen to podcasts. A tea or water always accompanies me, clean hands, and my desk with only what is necessary. No distractions! I am very easily distracted. Then it’s time to embroider!