Interview with the embroidery artist Mathilde Legrand, born in Brittany, who stitches a world of sophisticated and elegant creations
Interview by Claire de Pourtalès
The 50s / Woolen coat with a vintage cut, and hat in rabbit felt © Photo Honorine Nail-Juré (@Honorinenj) /*1
Flowered Flamingo / Details of a rose stitched with silk, beads, smooth purl and bright check © Mathilde Legrand
What is your story with embroidery and your professional choice?
I will always remember my first stitches with my mother. It was a cross stitch kit on Aida fabric made for children. There was a seal with a red ball on its nose. My mother was a cross stitcher and I wanted to stitch with her. I think the first times she must have spent more hours untangling my threads than stitching herself! She made sure (and still does!) that my work was as beautiful in the back as it is in the front. Thanks to her, I quickly became quite exacting on the quality of my work. But soon I also became bored with the idea of following patterns. I wanted to create my own designs. I chose to learn traditional embroidery. As I am from Brittany, I started with Glazik (see our article on the subject here). Right from the beginning I loved the freedom it gave me to choose my own colours and stitches according to the design, the fabric. I knew I wanted to do a manual job, to create something with my hands. I chose to work with my passion.
Where did you grow, what influence had this place on you?
I grew up between country and sea, in the Finistere. I was always inspired by the beauty and diversity of Nature. The world of plants and animals are really inspiring, as much as some artistic movements such as Art Nouveau, which I particularly admire.
I used this love for Nature to create my final piece for my Degree in Art and Craft, embroidery section. I focused on the beauty of nature, on its fragility and the need, the urgency to protect it.
Eternal Spider webs, stitched gorget / Like hair of light suspended in air, the beautiful works of spiders are stitched with gold and threads as fragile and precious as mummies © @elisadurier /*2
What was your training? Would you like to take other classes?
After my Baccalaureate, I have followed an applied art class to enter an Art and Craft Diploma on gold embroidery at the Gilles Jamain school in Rochefort. Those two years were fantastic. Extremely intense and inspiring. But there were very little offers to work in embroidery workshops, so I had to add another string to my bow and applied to a class on artificial flowers creation, millinery and machine embroidery (Cronely) at the Octave Feuillet school in Paris.
While studying there, I was asked to create an Haute couture dress for the Sorbonne fashion show. It was meant for us to show what we had learned during our year, but it was a hard challenge for me as I had never learned how to sew! But I was very motivated and while doing an internship at the Jean-Paul Gaultier workshop I met some wonderful stitchers who taught me all the basics and helped me to create my first custom-made dress. I felt in love with this technique. I wanted to find a practical way to use my embroidery, to create the whole work from beginning to end and this technique provided me with a real solution. I decided to follow this new idea with a diploma at the Paul Poiret school in Paris, and another one through the GRETA, also in Paris. There I learned how to design clothes from the first draft to the end product.
All those trainings give me the freedom to create whatever I want. I can mix the techniques and know-hows as I need them. I rarely use them all for one piece, but I often use many according to the orders I receive or my own inspiration.
Would I like to have more training? Well, yes: if I could study all the different crafts, I would! I do love all those crafts jobs, with their wonderful techniques. I keep telling myself I can learn my whole life. One day I would like to learn to be a tailor. I would like to create men’s wear, even though I will always have a preference for the women’s wardrobe!
Buried ammonites / Through time, matter crystalizes and sometimes mineralizes or becomes precious stones and other buried treasures © Mathilde Legrand
What is your motivation?
My main motivation with embroidery is to create beautiful things and give dreams to people. When I stitch a custom-made garment, the goal is that the person feels beautiful and unique. I love making people happy! Even if living from your art is a challenge, my will is strong, and I can count on the help of my family and friends. This is indeed a great motivation.
How would you describe your universe, your inspirations, what you would like to create?
This depends on what I’m making. With embroidery, I like to work on the organic side of nature; while sewing – especially wedding dresses – I tend to go for a poetic influence, full of tenderness and femininity. I do love working on chic garments too, with lots of character! I love simple beauty, and fluidity, so I usually work on very supple fabrics, light, transparent and diaphanous. But I do like a nice heavy fabric which immediately creates an elegant silhouette.
The bird / Silk and crepe suite with feather top © Photo Tao Douay (@tao_douay) /*3
How is your workshop?
Right now, it is a work in progress full of boxes! I just moved in the middle of nowhere. But usually it is neat and well organized. I was taught that you needed a clean space to create, to be efficient. I keep my creative fantasy in my notebooks, where I secure all my ideas. Sometimes I add the music I was listening to at the time. Sometimes I like to have only the sound of the needle going through the fabric, and the purring of my cat.
Strange miscellaneous / Small wonders fixed for eternity in resin, creating a cabinet of miniature curiosities © Mathilde Legrand
Do you have preferred or hated materials? Do you create new techniques?
I think I like every material. The choice is essential as it will have a strong impact on the end product. I do have a slight preference for crepe and not a strong liking for hard fabric or too shinny ones.
When it comes to embroidery, I love EVERYTHING! As long as the material is of quality, I love it. Lately, I have come to prefer environmental-friendly material, as much as possible, as this is a question that is important to me.
What influence the pandemic has had on your work?
When the lockdown was put into place, I was working near Paris, on a Haute Couture collection. Everything stopped. I had time to work on my own projects and to start on my own creations that will soon be available to buy.
Samplers / Green urchin stitched with copper Bright Check and Pearl Purl © Mathilde Legrand
Can you live by your passion?
Until recently I worked as a freelancer for different embroidery workshops in Paris. I worked for Haute Couture houses such as Fendi, Céline or Stéphane Rolland. I also worked on decorative panels for the windows of luxury jewelry houses.
I love working for Haute couture, but I would like to create my own work too. I want to develop my custom-made wedding-dress proposition and to create a line of accessories not only for the bride but also for her guests. If I could make those dreams happened, I would be immensely happy!
Here comes the Bride! / Dress made in silk crepe and embroidered lace, worn with a diadem of artificial flowers © Tatiana Anton /*4
Here come the Bride! / Silk muslin short vest with embroidered lace © Tatiana Anton /*4
Flowered Flamingo / The head is made with long and short stitches using oval silk threads; the neck and beak with beads and sequins stitched using a Lunéville hook ©Mathilde Legrand
The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire