Thursday, April 26, 2012

Artist Feature: Emma Greenwood

Printemps Boots, 2009

Today we have our first artist feature in the lead up too our exhibition with Melbourne based footwear and accessories designer Emma Greenwood. As well as a hard working mum to two children Emma runs a footwear and accessories label called 'Emerge' found at Craft Victoria, has been featured in publications such as ‘I Make Stuff’, ‘Meet me at Mike’s’ and ‘Handmade In Melbourne Volume 2 and participated in the 2011 Craft Cubed Festival with Maryann Tali Pau on their exhibition and collaboration 'Regal Savage'.

All images provided in this interview are provided by and copyright of Emma Greenwood.

Tell us a little about yourself and your arts/design background
I grew up in a home without a TV, and was always busy making and doing things with my sister. My Mum had a lot of craft books, and skills which she taught me, and from there I used to play around with sewing, knitting and embroidery. I was a very academic lass until year 12, when the pressure got too much and I discovered the art department. After that I did a four-year Visual Arts degree, majoring in printmaking, but then in my final year I discovered sculpture and became hooked on three dimensions.

Once I’d finished my degree I worked as a bike messenger for three years. When I felt the urge to study again, a friend and I wanted to start a street wear label, so we signed up for Apparel at TAFE. I noticed that there was also a handmade footwear course, so I enrolled in both fields, thinking that the apparel would be full time and the footwear part time. The enrolment was bungled; I ended up doing full time footwear and completely fell in love with the sculptural process.

It immediately felt like an extension of my fine art training, an opportunity to refine and apply lateral thinking, and most of all an excuse to use hand and power tools, transforming raw materials into practical, sculptural pieces of art. 

Machine stitched graffiti sneeks, 2002

The first 7 years of my career resembled an informal apprenticeship, as I worked in established studios making shoes by hand in Adelaide, Sydney and finally Melbourne. During this time I was able to hone my skills, experiment with many different materials and styles, and learn about small business.

Since embarking on my own, I have introduced an accessories range, and concentrated on my shoemaking in a very specialised sense, making exhibition and experimental pieces, along-side more commercial bespoke work for clients, friends and family.

Embroidered cuffs, 2005

Embroidered cuffs, 2005

What led you to use embroidery in your work?

The decorative qualities of embroidery are too delicious to resist! 

I recall finding a book on Florentine/Bargello embroidery at an opshop in my late teens, I fell in love with the optical effects, the surface design, the vast canvases of colour and pattern. I spent ages making a cushion cover, my friends all thought I was a mad Nanna, but I made a mental note to continue using embroidery in some way. I seem to prefer grid embroidery, cross stitch etc, it must be my love of symmetry and millimeters! 

'Chinoiserie' with machine knit sock detail, 2006

Now that I've studied footwear and leatherwork, I enjoy combining these skills with embroidery in a contemporary way. I've made shoes and accessories with embroidered panels, as a way of featuring embroidery in a n economical way. Obviously covering huge areas with stitches is very time consuming, and therefore can (and should!) be very expensive.

Could you talk a little on the process of creating your work?

'Tour de France' sneeks, 2005

I start with an image in my head that I draw in a wafty, sketchy way. I'll go away and research shapes, styles, colours, details, and come back to the drawing, refining and refining until it crystallises into the final image. From there I find a last (the form upon which a shoe is built) and modify it to the desired shape, then cover it in masking tape and draw the upper design directly onto the form. I peel the tape off in two halves, lay it onto card and spend a while making a pattern, obsessing over millimeters and gnashing my teeth a bit!

'Tour de France' sneeks detail, 2005

The pattern is cut in leather, stitched together and then wrapped over the last and left to rest for a few days. After that the sole and heel go on, and then there is a bit of cleaning up and finishing before the shoes are complete. There can be many processes, depending on the style or level of detail, shoemaking is like tailoring for the feet. Everything is done by hand, using traditional tools and techniques, the only machines I use are a sewing machine and a sanding machine. 

Embroidered panel for 'Tour de France' sneeks, 2005
If the work includes an embroidered detail, I use the relevant pattern piece and cut it in canvas, and spend many nights stitching in front of the TV before taking all the pieces to the sewing machine (how ironic!) given that in my intro I talked about not having a TV as a kid..

Can you tell us a little about your inspirations?
Well I’ve never been a minimalist, and I do tend to research my designs a lot in terms of key features. I’ve been drawn to costume books from history and film; I really enjoy all the details, techniques and character design. 

The other inspirations I draw from are diverse, including royal and military regalia, decorative patterns from many cultures, art and history, and both pop and hip hop culture. 


  1. So wonderful to read more about your work and process Emma. An enrollment bungle that worked out for the best too! xEvie

    1. Thanks Evie, it's shoemaking via serendipity!