Imagine your favourite childhood food. Imagine it bigger. Now imagine that it’s embroidered in thread. You actually can’t eat it at all, but you can still look at it and reminisce. It’s not a dream – it’s Chloe Avery’s work. Yep! Chloe creates large-scale, intricately detailed pieces themed on classic British household foods and childhood favourites. From fish and chips to Marmite, Jammy Dodgers to candy floss, she embroiders it all. Actually – our personal favourite is the fairy bread she recently completed – reminds us of home…
Embroidery is a very traditional craft with typically decorative or classical subjects – what gave you the idea to embroider food?
Oooh, tricky…I love food.
Haha yeah! So, we [Chloe and her husband] were living abroad in Amsterdam, and of course you immediately miss family and friends. Then you begin to miss other things that are familiar, mass produced stuff that you can buy at the supermarket – Marmite, Cadbury’s. And I thought, “Hang on, there’s something here.” There’s something about food that is such a big part of who you are. When I asked other people what they missed about their home countries it was always food that you could only get there. Food that didn’t mean anything to me, coming from Britain, like my Korean friend really missed a particular brand of noodles, and a Hawaiian friend missed poké.
I started embroidering British staples that would mean something to me and my family, but maybe not other people that have never had the food before. Most countries still have the same fresh produce, but it’s the mass-produced items that carry more of a cultural identity.
Had you already been embroidering as a hobby?
No, actually – I studied Fashion and Surface Textiles, embroidery and print. For years I had been making made-to-measure occasion wear. It was never creative enough for me personally, and I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I wanted to make art pieces that people could keep, not just fashion items that are good for a season. I loved embroidery and creating colour and texture on fabric, and I also loved food, so I brought them together!
Did you practice before you started on the final pieces?
I always go straight in! If I overthink something, it always goes wrong. I roughly map it out, no details, and then get stuck in. I’m constantly editing the work; I don’t want it too structured.
Our favourite is the English fry-up.
I’ve sold that one now! It was heart-wrenching to see it go.
How big is it?
About 60 x 60 centimetres, I’d love to do some bigger ones but I think I’d have to approach it in a different way.
I like to cook the food first, so for example with the cooked breakfast and the fish and chips I cooked it first and then arranged the composition, got the right light, and photographed it. The kids would be eating theirs and mine was getting cold, being photographed! But it means I can get it looking just how I want it, with the right light and totally my own.
That’s so much better than just Googling a reference.
I made a few mistakes with the burger, I did some sketches and took some photographs but not of the whole burger. That was a difficult learning curve, asking myself why I didn’t photograph the whole composition in the first place!
Food styling is a difficult skill – apparently professional food stylists only half-cook the food.
Then they spray it to make it glisten more! I’m working on a bowl of fruit now, so I oiled the fruit to make it extra shiny, and then sprayed it with water so the fruits have droplets of water on them. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but it’s fun!
How long does it take you to do one of the larger works?
I normally have several works on the go – I change it up to keep it interesting – but each one I would say close to 100 hours. Smaller ones, like the M&Ms and Skittles, about 25 hours. I never work on one piece for more than 4 or 5 hours straight otherwise it’s too much strain.
That would make us move into miniatures, too. But why the bottle caps?
I like the idea of recycling things, and I wanted to do little miniatures but with something that is typically disposable. It becomes a nice frame for the miniature and works as a great keepsake.
I’d love to do bigger pieces, but I have a problem with storage at the moment. It would also be quite labour-intensive; I have to be able to get my arm around the side. I think it would also need to be a simplified design, something that’s so recognisable that it doesn’t need much detail. For example, a Heinz ketchup bottle you can recognise just from the shape, you don’t need to see the label. Or a tin of Heinz baked beans – you can tell just from the shape and the colour what it is.
Have you exhibited any of your work?
Only one so far – at Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel.
Ahhh we love that cinema! We had no idea that they host exhibitions…
They have a gallery space at the back, and they curate young, new, local artists to showcase their work. There’s such a mix of people coming through the door, which you wouldn’t normally get in a gallery. I want my work to be for a wide range of people – I don’t want it to be taken too seriously. It’s meant to be a bit of fun!
Would you do an exhibition in a ‘serious’ gallery then?
Definitely – but curated in the right way, so that it’s a fun experience. I don’t want my work to be elitist.
So, what are you working on next?
I’m working on a bowl of fruit at the moment, then I’m going to do a mini serious of 80s party food.
Like Party Rings?
Yeah! I started taking photos of the food, but I want to take it back a step and do a series of kid’s party straws, birthday cake, jelly and ice cream. No hummus and carrot sticks here! I would also like to branch out a bit into other iconic and nostalgic items like birthday candles, party straws, Crayola crayons.
So many ideas, so little time!
For more information about Chloe and her work, visit her website.