Maricor and Maricar: Threading Ahead

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Published:  November 18, 2013
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Sydney sisters Maricar and Maricor work with one eye on the future and the other on the past, their embroidery weaving together time-honoured hand skills with contemporary ideas. In their work, one can observe traditional crafts bonding with contemporary visual communication, with a certain warm and comforting success.

 

 

M/M comprises two sisters, with different creative backgrounds, working together. How has this worked out creatively?

Maricar: We have been very fortunate that our different skill sets complement each other well and have enabled us to collaborate in a variety of mediums. These days we concentrate more on our embroidery work, but we still find that we have different strengths that allow us to cover a variety of the graphic and lettering styles that clients desire.

Maricor: After graduating, we went on to work in studios focusing in different fields, but we’ve always shared the same aesthetic sensibilities. So although in the beginning Maricar worked primarily in print and I was in motion and animation, we continued to collaborate on illustration and personal artworks on the side. Our embroidery skills are equal, so depending on our schedules we’ll each take on responsibility for finishing an embroidery from start to finish. We both have particular lettering styles that come more naturally to us, so it’s quite handy to be able to present clients with a variety of treatments.

How has this worked out personally?

Maricar: We have more similarities than differences, so for the most part we work well together. It means though that the times where we do disagree, it comes as a surprise and debates can be fierce.

Maricor: Our temperaments are very similar and we share a harmonious environment – there are no fights over what plays on the stereo! There aren’t huge differences in our approach to a project, but when they happen we can get quite heated! But I think it’s healthy to have these discussions and arguments. It might sometimes be a negative thing that we think so much alike – these arguments are refreshing and ensure that we’re challenging each other and ourselves to think differently.

Has there always been something of a collaborative spirit between the two of you?

Maricar: We’ve always been a team and there was an unspoken expectation that we would one day work together professionally. Having studied our entire lives at the same schools could have made us competitive, but thankfully it was the opposite. We’ve always been motivated by each other’s achievements.

Maricor: Yes, there’s always been a collaborative spirit between us and it’s always been a positive thing. Less competitiveness and more motivation to improve on what the other twin is doing.

The typographic embroidery you have produced over the years is unique to M/M, how did it develop?

Maricar: Whilst working in our last studio, Mathematics, we did an embroidered project for the band Architecture in Helsinki. We fell in love with embroidery, but it was such an intense project that we didn’t touch it again for another few years. We’ve always been interested in hand- generated graphics and we knew that was what we wanted to focus on in our new venture, but it was a happy accident that we picked up needle and thread again. It was in the early days of M/M, and I had some lyrics stuck in my head. They were like my personal mantra/motto, and I decided to embroider it for my boyfriend as a gift. I needed a quick way to figure out the colour palette before embroidering – previously I would have done this digitally using Photoshop, but instead I used some watercolour pencils, which were lying around. The colour bleeding and transitions inspired the gradient sewing technique and painterly approach to sewing that we’ve worked with ever since.

Maricor: Music inspires us and it was lyrics and mixed up expressions that formed the basis of our first personal embroidered artworks. The painterly style we explore with embroidery developed from the watercolour sketches we design lettering with. It translates well with needle and thread and allows us to explore colour in a more fluid way.

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What was your first piece like?

Maricar: That first typographic piece was based on a Unicorns’ lyric ‘Hungry colours surrounding me’. But I realised only much later that I had mistaken a word, and what I heard as ‘colour’ was actually ‘cougar’! Happily my version made much more sense to me and fitted well with our new interest in embroidery.

Maricor: My first piece was ‘You gotta keep cheering’, which is a studio motto of ours. It was a personal work we submitted in our application for the British Council Australia’s Realise Your Dream award, in which I combined several lettering styles. The response we had from the panel was so positive we decided to keep on sewing and exhibit some of these pieces.

Is the needle and thread more of a tool to you? Are you not ‘embroiderers’?

Maricar: We like to think of it as a mark making tool and find we can be more experimental that way. Also, because we’re self-taught, we don’t feel entitled to call ourselves embroiderers. There’s a lot to the craft and we’re still novices.

Maricor: It’s only after we’ve gone through sketch rounds, or watercolour or digital colour mock-ups that we pick up a needle and thread. We always struggle to describe what exactly it is we do. It’s probably more accurate to describe ourselves as designers who illustrate and illustrators who embroider.

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There is a common sensibility and aesthetic that carries through all your work, whether it is a piece of graphic design, animation or embroidery. Where does the geometric repetition and textile pattern originate?

Maricar: I find pattern and repetition very calming and search for it instinctively. I guess that’s influenced the forms that interest us, as well as the mediums we like to work in. Stitching is, at its core, a series of repetitive strokes, and what interests us is exploring the different texture you can create with that basic mark.

Maricor: We grew up in a 70s era home, which had clashing patterns on every surface. Maybe that’s where our pattern obsession comes from! I would see faces in the floral wallpaper and play a game of Tetris in the tiled flooring in the bathroom.

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The use of needlework is quite a traditional craft skill, yet you put it to quite untraditional use – what tone of voice or visual language do you think that embroidery lends to the phrases or images you produce?

Maricar: There’s a nostalgic quality to our work, which people often respond to because either they or a family member used to knit or embroider. We often play with visual puns and cheeky wordplays, so working in an unexpected medium like embroidery adds another dimension of playfulness.

Maricor: There’s perhaps an unexpectedness to the embroidery that people find charming when they see it in the flesh. We also like to imitate a painterly style, so there’s a playfulness in how we approach needlework.

What moment in your career has given you the most pride?

Maricar: I’m equally proud of and thankful for that moment when Maricor and I took a chance and started MaricorMaricar. We’re usually control freaks and plan everything, but when we started M/M we had no plan, so it was a huge risk for us. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Maricor: Our first commercial commission is something I’m very proud of. It was for ESPN magazine, and I think it was greatly encouraging to have not only found a commercial interest in our personal work, but also for something perceived as crafty or twee to be on the pages of a sports magazine.

You have also done some more abstract works – how do you work spontaneously with thread?

Maricar: Although the abstract pieces look quite structured, they build up organically. With our commercial projects we have to plan ahead meticulously, so with our recent personal work we wanted to try working more organically and let the fabric shape how we used it.

Maricor: Most of my doodles end up as pages filled with repetitive line work, so I guess I like to lose myself in pattern. Translated into needlework, our embroidery is still based on line work. Our sewing style is most similar to crewel embroidery and built up with short and long stitches, which has the same motion of drawing lines. In our more recent abstract pieces, the qualities of the base fabric have guided how we work the stitches into the textile. This has led to a more woven style of embroidery, where the back and front are visible and the threads are suspended within the structure of the fabric.

It is interesting that the digital trends of the early 2000s have developed into an adoption of traditional craft skills, with much of the work warm and comforting. How do you account for this retro transition?

Maricar: We often get asked this and I’m not exactly sure why this transition has occurred. I think when digitally aided design and graphics was first becoming more accessible, it was natural that designers embraced its possibilities. And conversely, following on from such a digitally focused trend, it was natural to explore the opposite in analogue hand-crafted techniques. It’s also happened during a time when there have been revivals elsewhere; for example, knitting, baking and gardening. People seem to be seeking a personal connection with what they are buying; it could be a reaction against the fact that we are increasingly dependent on technology and this is a way to combat that.

Maricor: The warmth and tactility of hand- generated graphics adds another dimension that draws people in.

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How do you see this movement, or revival, developing?

Maricar: There seems to be a nice variety of different styles represented in magazines and design books, so I hope that there will be a continued audience for both tactile and digital-based graphics and lettering. I’m excited by the hybrid styles that incorporate both physically crafted elements and digital effects.

Maricor: It will be exciting to see the next phase, whether these techniques will still be considered niche or whether they will be embraced further. Commercially, there will always be a restriction with what can be made or done with hand-generated graphics as there’s always a struggle with how long things will take to produce. Therefore, I believe there will be more crossovers combining traditional mediums with digital processes. Which I think will be exciting.

What is in the future for you? How do you see your own techniques and aesthetic developing?

Maricar: We get the urge every now and then to put our needles down and try something different. We tried patch working graphics this year and are developing our technique embroidering on paper. We consciously use our personal work to experiment with new techniques to keep our commercial work fresh. We’re anxious of becoming stagnant, so we’re always thinking about how we can develop new techniques to add to the type of work we can offer. We’re experimenting with a looser style of embroidery, introducing non-traditional materials and techniques to add depth to the stitchwork. It will be interesting to see how these turn out.

Maricor: Our personal work usually allows us to experiment and explore new techniques in needlework and different materials. We have tried to allow time each year to work on one or two exhibitions for this reason. This year, we created a new series based on patchwork and abstraction, which was a new direction for us. Weaving is something we’ve been keen to learn and Maricar has been gifted a couple of looms that we would like to experiment with. Patchworking and weaving would allow us to work at a much larger scale than we would normally be able to!

 

Take a closer look at Maricor and Maricar’s latest work 

 

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