KOEL Stories

Meet The KOEL Kids: Sara Pastrana

KOEL Stories

Bearing the unemployed status isn’t a pleasant label to don, but Sara Pastrana proves to the world that as long as you’ve got a will, there will definitely be a way. In fact, it was this lost shot that gave rise to other wonderful opportunities: the return of her craftsmanship and the opening of Flourishing Fibers! Sara combines two materials that are on opposite ends of the spectrum — wood and thread — but sew in it the beauty and harmony that most would be sure to miss. See the world through Sara’s eyes from the chat we had with her!   

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1. Tell us more about your background and what led you to choosing wood embroidery as a craft?
My background is in graphic design. I've been a full-time designer for over 10 years. I learned how to embroider as a teenager, but never considered it a passion and only did it periodically over the years until 2008. As many might recall, that was the year of the economic crisis and like many, I found myself in the unemployment line. Not only was I unemployed, I was also pregnant. Being home, bored and with the need to nest, I picked up the needle and thread and began embroidering once again. I soon grew bored with the traditional designs I found in books and decided to try my own designs. After a few months, my inquisitive nature kicked in and I began exploring embroidering on unconventional materials like paper, plastic, wood and found objects. During that phase, I realised that not only did I enjoy working with wood, but also loved the interplay of wood and thread. The past few years have been a journey of learning and honing my skills as a woodworker, embroiderer and CNC enthusiast. 

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2. What makes you a KOEL Kid?
When people first view my work, one of their first thoughts is, “How is this possible?” I think they are quite surprised that the two materials — that are not frequently interlaced with one another — work so harmoniously. Historically, both crafts (woodworking and embroidery) have been associated with a distinctive gender role. I believe that my work sets itself apart because it sparks a moment of wonder caused by the juxtaposition of the two crafts.  

3. Share with us the creative process behind each of your projects.
Every project starts as a very rough sketch. I then take that sketch into Illustrator to refine the design and plot the holes. As I develop it further, I make notes on the types of stitches I want to use. I then figure out how to achieve those stitches with minimal holes. Selecting the wood I’m going to use and then milling and drilling the holes is an especially satisfying part of the process. After sanding and waxing the piece comes the final step, stiching! No two pieces of wood will ever be the same so thread color selection is always trial and error. Same goes for the plotting of the holes. There has not been a single piece that I have completed that did not require modifications during the embroidery phase. Every piece is an experiment and I love that about my work. 

4. Pick one of your favourite designs and answer these quick questions:

This isn't easy to answer because I feel a real connection to every piece and each one has its story of how it came to be. So I will say that my favourite will be whatever piece I’m currently working on. At the moment that would be a butterfly design.

The inspiration behind this design is… Nature and the concepts of renewal and independence.

The dream store in which I would like to stock this design is… A store that features and values handmade artists and their work. A good match could be a museum gift store like the LACMA Store or the Craft & Folk Art Museum Shop.

Which celebrity house can you picture your design at… Kat Von D.

If this design made it big, I would… Be elated! It would definitely give me encouragement to continue exploring and growing in my craft.

If this design could talk, it would say… Look closer! 

5. Great things take time, so how much has changed since you first started wood embroidery and where do you see it in the next five years?
There is so much potential for growth in both woodworking and embroidery. So many possibilities! But I think what I would like to see is an even finer level of craftsmanship, no tiny detail overlooked. I want to create artworks that will be passed on and valued for generations, like an heirloom. Is that too much to ask?

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Photo Credits: Sara Pastrana