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Behind The Stitches: Tessa Perlow

"I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again"

Sam: Where are you from and where are you based?

Tessa: I am from West Long Branch, New Jersey and I live in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a beach town pretty close to where I grew up. I used to work entirely from my apartment but recently I got a workspace in a town a little north of where I live. So I go between the two, working at home a couple days and then doing larger projects in my studio space.

Sam: What was your first WIP and how did you learn how to embroider?

Tessa: I’ve been doing crafts ever since I was a little kid; I learned to sew very young and also grew up drawing, beading, knitting and crocheting,  pretty much experimenting with a little bit of everything. In high school I made most of my own clothing but I also recall doing a little embroidery like putting stars on my jeans. When I started seriously getting into embroidery one of my first projects was putting flowers on a vintage dress I had. I actually took up embroidery mostly because I wanted embroidered clothing for myself, not necessarily because I wanted to start an embroidery based business or career. I do think hand crafts come pretty naturally to me because of the time I spent as a kid experimenting with everything and sewing every day. I’d say I’m self taught ( with the guidance of my mom) and I used the internet a lot for inspiration and as a source if I am struggling with a step. I’m less concerned with technicalities and really just want to get my general theme across. I think embroidery is great when it’s imperfect.

Sam: How much time do you spend working on your crafting practice every day?

Tessa: It's pretty hard to gauge how long each day I spend working but it's a lot, haha. It's pretty rare that I go a day without at least embroidering a couple hours in the morning or evening. I probably work about six-eight hours on and off during the day and sometimes I’ll work up to ten hours.

Sam: Can you walk us through the steps in your crafting process?

Tessa: So I approach embroidering up-cycled garments differently from art pieces. If I’m working on clothing first I have to source it ( go thrifting) and then wash and make any alterations necessary. I let the garment determine where I go with it as far as design motifs or subject matter. I draw free hand on everything and then just go for it. For art pieces or hoops I do a bit more planning. I keep a variety of journals and sketchbooks that I make notes and rough drawings of themes and ideas for art pieces I want to make. So depending on how I am feeling and what is inspiring me I will choose something from there to embroider on a hoop or larger format. I’ll make a general plan of color story and whether or not I will incorporate beading or the size of it but I also pretty much just go for it and don’t take my plans too seriously.

Sam: I think that I know the answer to this, but which do you enjoy the most: beading, crocheting, or embroidery?

Tess: It's hard to choose what I like the best! Since hand crafts are so time consuming it's nice to take a break from embroidery and do some crochet projects and then alternate to beading etc. I really love them all and enjoy challenging myself with different mediums. Honestly I think sewing is my all time favorite. Now that I have a separate work space for my sewing machine I’m getting back into sewing garments and experimenting with appliqué and quilting. I also really love drawing.

Sam: What is your favorite object to embroider on top of?
Tessa: For a while my favorite thing to embroider on was mens button downs from thrift stores but I’m pretty open to anything. I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again so that’s why I alternate from types of garments to hoops and stuff. Linen is my favorite fabric to work on.

Sam: Do you have a plan when you start a new project or does it come to you naturally?

Tessa: A little bit of both. I’ll make a plan but I usually don’t stick completely to it. I am by no means a perfectionist.

"I’m trying not to spend too much time on Instagram and to stay focused on why I make stuff, what it does for me and how I can put meaning into my pieces, not just making stuff to be posted online"

Sam: Tarot motifs seem to show up a lot in your work. What is it about them that you’re drawn to?

Tessa: I love the subject of magic and I think for me at least having an interest in embroidery goes hand in hand with having an interest in history & historical garments. Embroidery is pretty magical and referenced in so much fantasy so I pull a lot of inspiration from fantasy books and movies. I’ve always had an interest in stuff like astrology and alchemy and tarot. I’ve been reading a lot about occult history the past couple of years and using tarot as daily meditations. A good way for me to learn more about something is to work on a project about it so that’s what I’ve started doing with tarot to learn more intensely what the meaning of each card is. I would love to create a deck one day with embroidered imagery. I’m drawn to tarot because of the spiritual guidance they give me not to mention how beautiful the decks are.

Sam: What does your work space look like?

Tessa: To a stranger my work space probably looks a little chaotic. I tend to have a bunch of projects I am working on at once. At home I keep my embroidery and beading projects and at my studio all of my sewing supplies, drawing stuff, yarns and paints. Now that I have two separate spaces my apartment is slightly more tidy.

Sam: Has sharing your work through social media changed the way you look at your art?

Tessa: Well it's weird because when I started taking my work seriously, I had already had a social media account and pretty much only used it to share creative projects since that’s always been a huge part of my lifestyle. I’m pretty grateful that it exists because of how its helped me develop a business and do art full time. It's really crazy and I do feel very lucky. But of course I also think social media can be maybe not super healthy. I’m trying not to spend too much time on Instagram and to stay focused on why I make stuff, what it does for me and how I can put meaning into my pieces, not just making stuff to be posted online. It's a weird world we live in and I don’t really want to contribute to the intense marketing we are subjected to all the time online. I guess I’m still figuring it out and working on the balance of wanting to make authentic art and also trying to support myself. I don’t think Instagram really affects how I look at my art anymore. I’m already obsessive without social media and would probably work as non-stop as I do even if it didn’t exist.

Sam: Why is using recycled materials so important to you?

Tessa: Using recycled materials is extremely important to me and keeps becoming more important. I fancy myself an environmentalist and I really want to do the best I can to not contribute to more waste on our planet or using materials that have been made in sweat  shops. I feel like I still have more work and adjustments to make to my craft to be more sustainable but it is the biggest priority of mine. I want to show that you don’t have to use new materials to make cool stuff. In my instance I think it makes me more creative to upcycle as opposed to buying new stuff for material.

Sam: Your earnings are awesome! Where did the inspiration for those come from and how did you get into jewelry making?

Tessa: Actually my sister makes the earrings I have on my Etsy! She is really talented and creative and whenever she wants to make things to sell on my Etsy I welcome it since it's hard for me to keep up with the demand for embroidery on my own.

"We all have to start somewhere and learning is part of the fun."

Sam: What has your crafting practice taught you?

Tessa: I think something I’ve learned is to be patient about creativity and ‘good ideas’. Sometimes I get stumped or designers block if you will. My method for dealing with that is just to work on some low-risk projects like small novelty hoops and eventually ideas just come. Also I’ve learned it's always better to make what you want to make as opposed to making what you think people want to see you make. Life is too short. You have to work on stuff you believe in and make the kind of art you want to see.

Sam: Are there any books or classes that you would recommend for newbie crafters?

Tessa: I really don’t know any specific titles of embroidery books. A lot of the stuff I used growing up were old books or pamphlets from the 70s that my mom held on to. I also go to the library very often and have taken out every book I possibly could about crafting or historical dress. I think nowadays just searching online for help is so easy and you can tailor it to your learning process - videos, step by step, or image referencing. I recommend not worrying too much about how your projects turn out in the beginning. We all have to start somewhere and learning is part of the fun.

Sam: What do you like to binge watch or listen to while you craft?

Tessa: I always have something playing while I’m working! I love music and right now I’m listening to Solange’s newest album. I also love movies and shows, especially sci-fi and fantasy. I just finished watching Stranger Things and have a list of movies I want to get from the library. And I also love podcasts about magic like the Witch Wave.


If you want to see more of Tessa's work you can follow her on Instagram @tessa_perlow, shop her temporary embroidery tattoos (I freaking know right!), and through her Etsy site. Who should I talk to next? Leave your suggestions in the comments section along with any thoughts you have about Tessa's interview. I’m always on the hunt for inspiring crafters. Also, don't forget to follow along on my Instagram account @bobbleclubhouse for your daily dose of all things fiber. Until next week, happy crafting!


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