Reader Lewis MacDonald is an aspiring artist who got in touch with us to ask if he could tell his story and show us his embroidery of the Minehead Hobby Horse. This piece of work is quite astonishing (like Lewis’ own path so far), so what better day to tell it than May Day itself! Over to Lewis…
“Don’t study what you love, studying has a habit of making you grow resentful of the subject. So, my advice is to pick the thing you like doing the most and keep it as a hobby, that way it never gets boring.”
This was the advice my late father gave me as I was attempting to decide what to do at university. I couldn’t decide whether to do history or art.
My name is Lewis MacDonald, I am 24 and currently an aspiring textile artist. My focus right now is Free Motion Embroidery, also known as Thread Painting. This is a technique where you take a standard sewing machine and ‘drop the feed dogs’ (this is the term for lowering the little teeth on the base of a sewing machine which feeds the fabric in one direction whilst sewing). If you drop the feed dogs and swap a standard sewing machine foot for a ‘free motion quilting foot’, you have full control over the fabric and can create any design you wish. The best way I find to explain what it is like, is by saying that it is like painting, but instead of moving the brush you move the paper. Each embroidery takes me many hours of focused creativity and precision.
Lewis MacDonald's sewing technique
It’s been a long journey since I first found out that I had a talent for Free Machine Embroidery, unusual as well in that I am male. Many events have also taken place, both good and bad, which have forced me to push back getting into my art.
When I was in Sixth Form, at the West Somerset Community College, I wanted to copy a design that I saw on a collection of Alexander McQueen’s autumn fashion which was military inspired. The lapel on one of the coats had an oak leaf pattern in gold that fitted well with my theme for that term. Unfortunately, the CAD/CAM machine that normally makes these patterns was being used by another student. Impatient, I decided to attempt to make the design myself on a standard sewing machine by setting it up in the way that I have described above. It worked amazingly well, and so I went home that day and attempted something more detailed like a family photo. From that point on I continued to test and improve my skills.
In 2014 my work was part of a WW1 Centenary Exhibition held in St Andrews Church Minehead, which raised money for the Royal British Legion. And in 2015 I was one of the winners of the Marshwood Vale Art Competition and had my work displayed in the Bridport Art Centre. I decided to study history at university, on my father’s advice, and not to ruin my love for art. So, I had to focus more on education than embroideries. Still, all was going well for my art and my life until September of 2015 when I crashed my motorbike travelling home from Exeter University. After this I suffered from a bout of depression and anxiety, complicated by my ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder). This drastically worsened in October 2016 when I learnt of my father’s diagnosis of cancer and then had to cope with his death only a few months later. 2017 was a difficult year. But with counselling and determination I am finding myself at a new beginning (I hope). I am working on my art, myself and my health, all in the hopes of becoming a better person.
So now you are up to date, what am I doing, and what are my plans?
Currently, I am trying my best to ‘get my name out there’. I’m looking for commissions as well as working on pieces that can be sold. I have discovered that I can replicate most things with very intricate, detailed accuracy. I particularly enjoy sewing images of pets. I’m not too bad at humans either.
Also, on the subject of animals but perhaps more topically, I’ve always had a love of the Hobby Horse. For me, it heralds a time of happiness and celebration in Minehead, especially with its crazy dancing and music, that I only wish it could be a bigger event.
One day, I would like to see the Minehead Hobby Horse not just as a small march around the town, but expanded into a whole festival for a day, with markets, music and fireworks. It could be a big tourism event that would draw people from all around, as does the Padstow ‘Obby oss.’ But anyway, I also enjoy sewing the Hobby Horse as a challenge, it is such an intricate thing to be able to get right, particularly with the massive variety of colours and its movement of the dance.
Happy May Day!
You can read more on Lewis’ website: www.sewingloon.uk