Interview: Britt Hutchinson

May 31 2015

If knitting had a renaissance earlier this decade, embroidery is ripe for one of its own. This quiet, unassuming artform usually associated with kindly grannies, easy chairs and pancake house-grade “Home Sweet Home” signs can be far more than kitch. Britt Hutchinson is a young artist who as Tinycup Needleworks is leading the way in thread as paint or analog pixel. She describes her work as “for the high lonesome” and uses the medium’s inherent quietness as a major catharsis.  

This week, we talked to Hutch, as her friends know her, about craft and learning through heartbreak. 

Hometown:  Cleveland, Ohio
Current residence: Chicago, Illinois

How do you take your coffee?
Black and sometimes with an ice cube. 

What’s your Sunday ritual?
Wake up around 6, make coffee, walk my dog, throw something bluesy on the turn table, and stitch in the home studio for the better part of the day.

So, we know you taught yourself to embroider. Did you take to it naturally or was your stuff pretty terrible before it got good?

I’ve enjoyed sewing most of my life, so it wasn’t too long before I’d gotten the hang of it. I don’t think it started getting any good until found the proper inspiration though.

What’s your background? What’d you do before embroidery?

Well, I wanted to be a Montessori teacher when I started college, and then I ended up a creative writing major. Some heavy life stuff eventually crashed my junior year, and then I split on the whole college thing all together. At that point my mom had gifted me an old Minolta, and I got really into shooting film for a while. I baked a lot. Made some zines. I don’t really know… I guess I’ve always been a little wayward, so meandering in and out of different mediums and practices has made up most of my adult life.

You romantically describe Tinycup as a product of your “addiction to tedium and inability to fall out of love.” You also connect it to escapism. Is it a catharsis for you?

I would say it is a continued attempt at catharsis. Life is life, ya know? So work just keeps getting made in order to obtain some semblance of solace.

Walk us through your process a bit. Do you sketch things out before embroidering them?

It depends on how the idea comes around. If I’m working on a commission, or a larger piece, I typically work up a barebones sketch with some developmental possibilities jotted in the margins. Mostly though, I’ll just see something in my head and start stitching. You don’t really know how well something will translate from pencil to stitch until you start working it, so I sort of prefer to hit the ground running and let the composition unfold organically. This usually leads to some pieces having portions ripped out and reworked a few times over, or having to scrap and restart something all together. Those sorts of snags only end up serving as motivation to improve my practice though.

There several recurring symbols in the work: skeletons, hearts, hand mirrors and knives among others. Tell us a bit about the narrative behind them.

Innovation sort of caused the development of snakes and skeletons. While I was learning to make certain stitches, I saw possible images in them and with a little manipulation I was able to achieve the look I had imagined. Everything else just sort of manifested through heartache. When all of this Tinycup stuff started taking off I’d been embroidering like mad in attempt to cope with a break up. the mix of symbols just served as way to convey different metaphors for emotions I couldn’t (and still can’t) figure out how to process otherwise.

What can you do when it feels like your heart’s been hog tied and dragged from the back of a truck? Fashion your feelings into a language that people can identify with, and hope that someone will be there to commiserate. So that’s what I did. The cool part is that most of the symbology can stand to mean a million different things depending on how they’re presented. Take a piece that’s meant to depict pain, switch up the colors and maybe use a key instead of a noose, and you have something that reads hopeful instead of hurt.

What is something you dream of attaching your embroidery to?

Some beautifully crafted menswear? Maybe some jackets for a ladies moto club? Something that would help make people understand or feel or anything bigger than themselves. Bruce Springsteen’s wall!?

Photos by Chris Dilts