Delicate Details with Allison Watkins

Allison Watkins (NAP #109) uses hand-stitched embroidery to bring her drawings of clothing to life, creating a sort of trompe l’oeil effect where her textile “paintings” are imitating and standing in place for other textiles.

Allison Watkins | Hers and His
, hand-stitching on fabric, 52x64 (life-size), 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Watkins uses her own clothing as source imagery and inspiration for her work, which is why there is probably such a feeling of warmth, comfort, and familiarity embedded in the very fabric and overall feel of the pieces. In her works, each item of clothing hangs fantastically in an undefined closet as if floating in an otherworldly space where it is just us—the viewers, and the clothes. These items take on a life of their own, calling attention to the uniqueness of our clothing and the delicate details that differentiate and define our very own dress and style.

I spoke to Watkins about her art and inspiration, shedding light on her process and plans for future projects. – Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Allison Watkins | Hers and His (detail)
, hand-stitching on fabric, 52x64 (life-size), 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Ellen Caldwell: I am pretty obsessed with your hand-stitched pieces and with such tactile textiles in general. Can you tell me a little bit about your pieces and process?

Allison Watkins: The work always starts with a photograph, most of which are photographs of my clothing. Then I trace and draw lightly onto the fabric—it is really important that I make the drawing life-size so the viewer can access these abstract spaces more easily. Soon after, the time intensive process of hand-stitching begins; it is this part that I find the most fascinating: the embedding of the thread changes the drawing, and it’s here that I make choices about adding or subtracting information.

Allison Watkins |
My Closet in San Francisco, hand stitching on fabric, 52x64 (life-size), 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

EC: In your NAP artist statement, you mention the "transitional nature of clothing" – I love the idea that you documented your closet with a photograph that then inspired these three dimensional memories of your closet...Can you talk more about this and how it first inspired your pieces? 

AW: I studied photography in college and I have always felt very connected to the process of photographing; it’s a way of collecting and working directly with my surroundings. Of course the photograph has always been used to document exactly, that’s what really separates it from other mediums.  The idea then came to somehow, very slowly, bring the clothing (photograph) back into the three dimensional world. Through the time intensive process of hand-stitching, the pieces really started to take on a form of their own—a form that in no way could have been predicted.

Allison Watkins |
Closet Study #2, hand stitching on fabric, 16x21, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.

EC: Have you ever incorporated actual pieces of your clothing or is it always a kind of imitation and duplication of the actual thing?

AW: I have never used pieces of actual clothing. For me, the disconnect between the final pieces and the actual garments is important. I think the work would give off a very different feeling if actual clothing was used—there's something about striving to replicate the clothing, and then noting the inaccuracies and nuances that are created in the process of recreating something by hand.

Allison Watkins |
My Closet in San Francisco (detail), hand stitching on fabric, 52x64 (life-size), 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

EC: Yes, the details you capture and nuances you create in your works are my favorite. What are you currently working on and does it differ much from these earlier works?

AW: I am in the process of creating another large closet, which is quite similar to the earlier works, but this time it is of men's clothing. It will be the first time I don't embroidery my own clothing in a piece. I also am working on a series that aims to bridge photography and textiles in a more obvious way, by using photographic imagery in the final pieces.

I'm very interested in creating a bridge between textiles (indoor and domestic) and photography (outdoor and industrial); it is one that has been separated in history, but currently more and more artists seem to be making a connection between the two mediums.


In the summer of 2014, Allison Watkins will be in residence at Chalk Hill Artist's Residency. Her work will also be shown in the exhibit Home at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, July 5-26, 2014.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and editor.


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