Saima Kaur and The Monsters Who Munch

I first saw Saima Kaur's work about 12 months ago at a Christmas market at the Egg Factory in Hebden Bridge.  It was her use of text (and swear words) combined with playful imagery that really caught my eye!  We decided to arrange an initial meeting to chat about how we could work together and slowly over the last year, we have created her printed panel for you to embroider and embellish, The Monsters Who Munch!

This version stitched by Barbara Blackburn

I asked Saima to share a few words about her love of embroidery, the design that we decided to print and also the trials and tribulations of getting through 2020!

Grace  - So tell us a bit about how you got into embroidery and textiles...

Saima - I grew up India where shopping for clothes was always a very sensory experience. You'd sit in tiny shops stacked high with fabrics of all colours and prints. The shopping process involved pointing at something you liked and the shop keepers would unfurl the rolls with great theatrical gestures. You got a chance to touch the fabric, drape it around you thinking about the innumerable ways it could be stitched. My mother had great taste and would love to shop while I would accompany her mainly for the free fizzy drinks the shopkeepers would offer me.

Although I never stitched or embroidered at home as it wasn't a fashionable thing to do, I did learn to cross stitch and later embroidery at my Army boarding school. The class was held twice a week as part of one of our extra curricular activities, the others being karate, music and basketball, and I loved it from the moment I tried it aged 11 years. I remember one year my cross stitch of a Holly Hobbie girl with a bonnet was chosen to be part of our Annual Day exhibition and presented to the General's wife as a gift. Fame!

After moving to the UK aged 13, I never did any textile related work until I was 28 years old. I had worked in Museums for nearly a decade by then and had the opportunity to participate in some free embroidery workshops run by an artist called Munni Shrivastav. I am assuming that muscle memory kicked in as did my intense love for embroidery. I know 'intense love' sounds a little weird (!) but doing embroidery made me kinda wanna weep with joy. I continued to embroider over the next two years, one of those years was spent in India and another on maternity leave. I did however stop as work and life kicked back in alongside the dawning realisation that my first born had significant developmental delays. The developmental delays were eventually diagnosed as severe autism and the embroidery stopped.

 As things began to settle over the next five years, paid work stopped, a second child came along, we moved to Hebden Bridge and I began to tentatively embroider again, but this time I kept at it. Initially I did it in private, then joined Instagram and it became a practice of creating and sharing. I used this skill as the basis of teaching community groups and kept playing with the artform. I had my first solo exhibition 'Autism: This is Me' in early 2019 where I explored the experience of being the mother of a child with severe autism. I had some lovely feedback but chose not to create more work on the theme of autism as it was emotionally a very intense experience. Instead, I started making work that was playful and full of joy and daftness, mainly for my own pleasure. I suppose it's my way of laughing at my own jokes.

Over the years I have found my artistic voice through practice and more practice. This 'artistic voice' didn't exist a few years ago, but I am happy to say that it's constantly emerging and the love of embroidery has stayed with me. I still have the moments of intense love when I make something that I never knew I could and want to shed a little tear of joy.

Grace - You can't fail to smile when you see The Monsters Who Munch Design.  How did it develop and how do you feel about seeing your designs interpreted by others?

Saima - This design came when I was creating a flurry of work on the theme of love. This particular one was inspired by some monsters drawn by my daughter when she was five years old. As my drawing skills are fairly rudimentary, I was trying to copy her style. I ended up adapting her monsters and adding text that implies the jilted impulsive monster ate her lover because he was just too damn delicious! I'd like to think that it's a very playful meditation on love. The tummies had to be big because she had only just eaten and I liked the thought of them sharing a bellybutton and holding onto each other as though they are the best of friends. The original embroidery was done in a bright red outline on calico, but it was such a surprise and pleasure to be asked to turn them into a sampler for others to embroider. More than anything, I was over the moon that someone so professional shared my happily childish sense of humour!

We worked through together (with Grace), developing a clear design and had it screen printed locally on organic cotton. The attention to detail in every aspect of creating this product has been commendable.

I hope this design makes people smile and also challenges them to try stitching small details and text using only one or two strands of thread. I also hope that some try stitching different backgrounds and find ways to include beads or paint into their work. I can't wait to see the outcomes.

This version stitched by Jo

Grace - 2020 has been a challenge to say the least!  How have you been coping?

Needless to say, this year has been mindbogglingly strange. I had to stop teaching my community groups because they are all in vulnerable categories and take on full time childcare duties. My older daughter's special school was closed adding an additional layer of childcare. The downside is a loss of income, but it has given me a chance to focus on my artwork.


Alongside this sampler, I have written an article on the history of Phulkari for the Modern Quilt Journal, created my first embroidery collection for an online gallery called 'The Shop Floor Project', designed some lampshades, sold a few original embroideries, prints and cards and launched my  online shop. It's all a bit feast or famine both financially and emotionally, but I suppose that's to be expected in the midst of a pandemic?

You can find Saima's Monsters Who Munch in our shop, and Saima's designs and prints in her own shop here.  I hope you enjoy learning more about Saima and maybe stitching her design.

Grace x

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