La Vesha Parker - Embroidered Urban Vistas
La Vesha Parker emphasizes underrepresented bodies and colors through her embroidery art. Though she is a software engineer by trade, La Vesha is a life-long fiber artist and creative; embroidery is her latest undertaking. Since she began embroidering in mid-2017, she has found inspiration in the people and places of New York City. Her work can be viewed @veshamakesthings on Instagram.
Do you work in a variety of mediums? Knit, crochet, embroider and other forms of needle art? What was the first craft you learned? How did you become involved with this technique? What draws you to it?
I work in many mediums, but embroidery is the craft that I have taken the time to explore most creatively. I entered the fiber arts many years ago when my mom taught me to hand stitch clothes for my stuffed animals when I was 7 or 8 years old. I loved picking out pretty pastel fabric at the store and laying across the couch to make what I thought were the highest fashions for my stuffed animals! I am a serial hobbyist, so I am currently also really engaged with pottery, and I rotate through knitting, crocheting, and baking when inspiration strikes!
I picked up embroidery in the summer of 2017 after breaking my foot and spending the summer inside, mostly sitting down. I grew tired of my existing crafts and so I decided to give embroidery a try, since I had recently seen Tessa Perlow's work on Pinterest and thought it was so beautiful. To get started, I signed up for Sarah K Benning's pattern program and learned to embroidery based off of one of her summer patterns. I was hooked! I decided to make my own patterns after that first piece, and I found that I am happiest when I draw inspiration from small pleasures I get from my environment: a bag of vegetables from the farmers market, the beautiful brick of Brooklyn brownstones, the view of people leisurely sitting in Central Park. I'm drawn to embroidery because it allows me to tell any story I want to through thread. I never thought of that being possible--how cool is that?!
What process do you use when you think about a new piece? Do you begin with sketches? Photos? Visits to museums? Nature Centers? What is the process from start to finish for a work?
I pick up bits and pieces of inspiration everywhere I go, and I try to see the world as a source of constant inspiration. I am particularly invested in keeping an eye out for black and brown bodies in joyful or peaceful moods, as that type of representation is something that I didn't see much of in art or media as a young black girl (or even now as an adult). Seeing someone in a state of joy jolts my brain, and I usually jot down the image I saw, along with how I might render that with embroidery floss. I take pictures for complex compositions, and I like to visit museums for color inspiration (the MET is a particular favorite of mine!).
Something in me usually tells me when I'm ready to start a new piece, usually after the snippets of inspiration that I collect as I move through the world synthesize into a vision in my mind. I first draw a very rough sketch of the general composition that I'm looking for, and then I follow that up with a more polished sketch/pattern in Photoshop. I give a lot of thought to the fabric I use for each piece, and once I choose a fabric, I transfer the pattern to it using a lightbox. Then it's time to stitch! I pay close attention as I stitch to decide if I need to work with more/less thread, and constantly reevaluate the colors I'm using together. I frog a lot of my work because I'm not entirely satisfied with it, but it's so worth it when I love the end result. If I am adding any 3D elements (flowers/moss) to a piece, I wait until I'm fully satisfied with my stitches to add those elements at the very end. Then I'm all finished!
Many of us working with needle arts collect yarn, thread and other raw materials for future unknown projects. Some artists just buy what they need for a specific project. Is your studio filled with stash of all kinds of materials? If so, how do you organize everything? Do you pick up unusual supplies as you travel? Can you show us a photo of your studio?
I live in NYC, and so my "studio" is split between the living room and bedroom in my tiny Manhattan apartment, with most of the materials being on my dresser. I pick up DMC thread as I see new colors I like, even when I have no project in mind. I also pick up random bits and bobs that I think could be nice additions to a piece when I see them--this could be dried flowers or moss, wool roving, beads, anything!
Space is very important as I work in my apartment, and I don't want it to be a mess all the time, so I keep most of my materials hidden in boxes, and I like to hang bulkier things like hoops up! That helps me save a lot of space.
What artists have influenced your work? If you could choose a group of artists (dead or alive) for a dinner party, which 6 would you choose?
I am constantly inspired by embroidery artists I encounter on Instagram, and some of my favorites are @michelle.kingdom, @madsstitch, and @myartworkplans. Color is a big part of anything I create, and I remember color combinations I see in other works so I can draw on them when working on something new. I have a strong sense of what colors work together in my mind's eyes, and I find inspiration in everything from other embroidery artists' work, to window displays that I pass in Manhattan, to paintings I pass in museums.
If I could choose a group of artists for a dinner party, I would invite Gordon Parks, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Vivian Maier, Kehinde Wiley, Henri Matisse, and Mickalene Thomas. I would gush to part of the table about their mastery of composition, and chat with the others about their gorgeous usage of color.