Laura Lees is bringing tapestry to the masses from her studio in Queen’s Crescent. She specialised in it at Dundee’s renowned Duncan of Jordanstone college, yet ended up working in the world of fashion.
“I arrived in Gospel Oak fairly despondent,” she says. “My fashion label hadn’t survived in the 2008 financial crash, and the whole treadmill wasn’t really for me anyway.”
Fortuitously, she found herself sharing studio space with an upholsterer, which proved to be the inspiration to return to her first love. “I got really into stripping down furniture to see how it was made,” she says. “I’d much rather make a big pattern for a really complex chair or sofa than working with the body.”
These striking pieces take inspiration from her other passions, including architecture and the urban environment. One project saw her walk through the City of London with her Gospel Oak neighbour, Guardian journalist Joris Luyendijk, author of financial sector expose Swimming With Sharks.
“The City has always been a massive part of my life,” says Laura. “I wanted to hear from Joris how these temples of money are really just smoke and mirrors. My aim with my work is to represent the feeling that we’re are all victims of the complex systems created here, through images of confusing reflections and architectural patterns, which have then formed the basis for geometric panels for daybeds.”For over four years, as the Mighty Stitch, Laura has also been running embroidery classes in her studio, drawing in a really diverse range of novices, from mother-daughter combos to stressed-out corporate CEOs keen to give stitching a whirl.
“My approach is not to tell them too much about what they are doing,” she reveals, “just to pick up some fabric and some stencils and respond to whatever grabs the eye. In a couple of hours, they are generally astonished by their own achievements.”
This tutoring has now flourished into teambuilding sessions with local schools, community groups and also back in those corporate HQs that dominate the City skyline, where Laura now rocks up with sewing machines and fabric to run the Mighty Stitch for Corporations.
“I was overwhelmed by how utterly devoid of anchorage and human soul the inside of these buildings can be,” she says. By getting everyone to participate in stitching embroideries, then joining them all together into a big tapestry that hangs in the office, Laura is injecting some of her own boundless passion into these sterile spaces. But how do the big-balls bosses or penny-pushing accountants take to downing tools?
“They actually find they have more creativity than they thought,” Laura says. “They end up bit like ‘oh my god, there’s actually so much expression in what we’re doing here, and we simply hadn’t realised’.”