The punch needle community is filled with creative, talented makers who constantly amaze us as they create beautiful works of art and push the medium in new directions. In this series, we go "behind the skeins" to learn about various artists and feature their work to our community. Read on to be inspired!
In this month's Behind the Skeins artist feature, we introduce you to Heli Savila of Lemons & Yarn. I have seen Heli's work for years on Instagram, and became especially interested as she started exploring with different sculptural shapes, and most recently, her work combining punch needle and painting! I have loved seeing this evolution, pushing the boundaries of punch needle application, and I was excited to learn more about her work and her process. I found so much to be inspired by in this interview and I'm sure you will too!
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. What led you to the work you do today?
I cannot say that I was an artistic child. I wasn’t interested in drawing or painting. Even when I, out of random coincidence, started my first class in a school with art classes as an after-school activity – I wasn’t anything special. But what I remember, as long as I remember myself, is that I dreamed a lot. I dreamed about the future, business plans and projects that I could do (weather monitoring, house designs, book ideas). Sometimes I tried them in reality as well. I was probably 7 or 8 and with a couple of friends from my neighbourhood we would take the free local newspaper and start to sell them to random people passing by. Back then I thought that this was the best idea ever!
I have always been torn between two sides – analytical and creative. I was relatively good at maths at school and always thought I should go and study something in the natural sciences field. At the same time, I was always in and out of different art classes or art school, having a good skill set by the end of high school but a very limited understanding of what a creative career can be.
Everything that I am today, how I see things and what comes out of my hands, it is all practice and training. And a habit that now is more like a need to create with my hands.
How did you get started with Punch Needle? What about this technique appealed to you?
I had my second missed miscarriage in 2017. Just days after being in the hospital I felt this immense feeling that the worst thing had just happened. I was shattered in this black bubble and things that before would seem hard or scary now looked so small and pointless. It is on one hand a simple story but also a complex one to describe. What I can say is that, I knew that I had to find balance to this pain. I was a shadow of myself and this dark period lasted quite a long time, enough to eat away my self-confidence and my self-trust. I had to find a way to guide myself through the grief of losing my babies, losing my past self and also losing the idea I had about the world. It was shocking to experience how miscarriage and infertility is seen in our world.
So long story short – I started to knit and crochet to gently process my raw feelings and thoughts. My hands would repetitively move and at the same time I could process everything in my head.
At one point I saw, somewhere on Instagram, a video about punch needle and it reminded me so much of the painting process I had loved in art school. At that time there weren't so many kit sellers in Europe so I ordered one for my birthday from Canada, from Ariane (@blanc_laine). So happy I did – the kit is so well put together! Right away after finishing with the kit, I knew that this is exactly what I was looking for. With my new sense of what is hard to do – I knew I wanted to create my own company. It took me about four months to be sure that this is my craft, something I want to devote myself to and another six to open my Etsy shop.
There were many parts that appealed to me about punch needle. Probably the most important was that I didn’t have to have a plan to start. I could very easily get stuck in myself if I had to make too many decisions. With punch needle I could just start from scratch and let it go where it wanted to go.
We'd love to hear about your creative process. How do you come up with new ideas? What inspires you? Do you have any practices or processes around this?
Great ideas struck me at the most random moments – walking, taking a shower, being on a train. But also – after making the crappiest piece. I have a pile of work that is just boring and bad, but I cherish them. It’s because after every piece I want to light on fire will come one I feel the most connected with. It is funny, but this is a pattern I’ve noticed. In the beginning of my punch needle journey, these disappointing works would make me very insecure. Now I just smile, because I know that this is the tax for good work to come.
Textures inspire me. Light, shadows, compositions I see in everyday random moments. My best muse is nature. Being in nature relaxes my brain, refreshes my view, and helps me see colour, contrast, and shapes. It is all about sight and practice.
I also very much like to work with materials that I dislike. That brings out weird, sometimes even off-putting feelings. It is very satisfying to try to use them in a way that in the end they look pleasant and purposeful.
Also, I taught myself to enjoy mistakes. I very often leave something in the work that I see as a mistake. This is on purpose. Leaving mistakes in makes me more comfortable in making them, being okay with them. And surprisingly very often these “mistakes” turn out to be the best parts of the work. I also enjoy feeling puzzled, feeling that “it doesn’t make sense, but I enjoy it”. I enjoy this play.
How has your work evolved over time?
Quite a lot. I always love to experiment. I sometimes don’t like this about myself, but I cannot seem to stay put with one style or theme. Probably the most visible difference is in colour. I started with more colourful work and now I have drawn back to more subtle tones. I guess I needed to wake up my creativity in the beginning. Now I am more balanced myself and find the harmonious combinations more interesting to work with.
In high school I attended art school after classes. There were all sorts of subjects – drawing, composition, ceramics and painting. I learned a lot from these classes, painting was something that I always connected with the most. I just loved the way I could stare at an object for hours and what colours my eyes picked up from that object. The whole process of mixing colours, creating texture on a surface. I didn’t really understand at that time how rare this feeling is. Later in life I have been missing it. When I tried punch needle for the first time, I finally experienced the same feeling.
Since last year I have slowly started to bring painting into my work. I have always been curious about how I can better display my work and how to bring in different surfaces. Sometimes the fully covered fibre pieces are a bit too busy for my senses. Displaying a tactile fibre surface with a cold painted surface is the right balance for me.
What is your favorite part about the work that you do?
I like to be involved in every part of the process. I am the dreamer, the decider and the executor. I love that! Writing this out now I actually see that I – in a way – have created a world for my child-self. It is comical how often I’ve felt like an oddball, not knowing what I am even doing with my life and where I fit in. I have had these strange chapters in my life that have made zero sense at that time and felt like a waste of time. Looking back, all those chapters come together in this huge puzzle and it makes all the sense in the world.
From the creative process my favourite part is the beginning. The first part when I have outlined the shapes and created the focus point(s). The work is so clean and pure at that stage, without any compromises.
I also love the very last part, the “click” that happens very often after the last stitch. Hard to describe this “click” – imagine you are walking down the street and you pass a person. Something tells you that you know this person, their name is on the tip of your tongue and you cannot stop bugging your brain until it clicks – I know this person! All the memories and details come rushing back. When it happens, it is an amazing feeling.
What do you hope others see / gain / take away from your work?
I hope my work brings out interesting, new, puzzling emotions in the viewer. Whatever the viewer feels, besides nothingness – I am happy.
Tell us about a favorite piece that you worked on, or one that had a lot of meaning to you.
I remember clearly one massive 3-day session where I prepared a piece for an exhibition. Of course, I had left the last piece and also the biggest piece for the last. So, I spent basically three days working nonstop on this huge piece. Working on my kitchen table, day and night, while my cats and husband were sleeping soundly. I would listen to YouTube videos where one person commented vividly and hilariously about the very worst rated movies. It was a mixture of my own urgency and this background noise in my ears about the cringiest movies. It was such a weird and unforgettable memory. I later named the piece Monster in a good way. Just because of the state I was in while making it. It turned out to be one of my favourite pieces.
What punch needle materials and tools do you use? Do you have any favorite recommendations for tools, material or yarn?
Most of my work is done with the Oxford punch needle #10 Regular. Sometimes I add a shorter surface with #13 Fine. In addition to the punch needle I always have a regular needle close by to add different surfaces and for finishing the work. I keep my tools and supplies to the minimum. Working only with a few tools stretches my creativity – how to use the same tool over and over again while still pulling something fresh out of it? I find these puzzles very interesting. Also having few tools keeps my workflow smoother and my focus more on the work itself, rather than spending time finding and deciding which tools to use.
I truly love the Oxford punch needles! There is nothing like it – it is minimal, simple, easy to use and it is super versatile!
What advice do you have for other artists or creatives looking to try punch needle?
Stretch your fabric as much as you can and then stretch some more. Even a tiny pull here and there will affect how your stitches come out and more importantly – how your hand feels.
Other than that – just start! Don't overthink! Don't go to Pinterest or Instagram. It’s not needed to find inspiration from these platforms, because I truly believe that all the ideas are already inside us. We just need to find them from within and bring them out. Looking at other people’s work can have a negative effect – it can narrow our view and suppress creativity. There is a time and place for exploring others' work. But for a start, just staring at the blank fabric is the greatest muse.
Where do you see your work going in the future?
I am moving towards creating work in bigger collections. I feel like working in batches and having my tasks structured and planned keeps the anxiety and questions like “Am I doing the right thing right now?” away. I have experimented business-wise quite a lot, made plenty of mistakes and have heard the word “no” quite a few times. So, I am at the stage now where I know myself better, know this world better and have an idea what works best for me.
Definitely I want to make bigger works. Statement pieces that act like its own “person” in a room. Also, to explore further the ways to display my work better. At the moment, painting is something very often on my mind. Mixing fibre with paint.
How can the punch needle community support you and your work?
I am so happy to have found this part of the world. When I started doing punch needle, I never ever thought that one of the biggest things I would gain from all of this, would be the connections and a sense of belonging. I think the level of work is very strong and unique.
It is so interesting to see how everyone is spinning their own style to this craft. How with the same, very repetitive movement, there can be ten thousand different and exciting projects. Having all this, the community is already doing everything I could ask or think of!
What is something that you are excited or curious about these days?
I took a small break from Instagram this year. Well, I say it is a small break, but it has been going on for months now. The pressure to post new photos and to be active on Instagram started to affect my decision-making when creating new work. Thoughts like “How will it look in a photo?” and “Don’t use too much white, because it is hard to capture!”.
This break has opened up both my time and curiosity for new directions. At the moment I am digging into the world of CMF design. It is a design direction that focuses on colour, material and finish. How they work with each other and how they could be used in the world. Very fascinating world and I really enjoy looking at these three elements in a more analytical way.
I also read quite a lot. Since the beginning of last year, I have purposely developed a habit of reading most mornings and evenings and it has been oh-so-great! Especially for mental and physical health (mainly sleep, which affects everything). Just finished “Earthlings” by Sayaka Murata. I don't want to give any spoilers, so I will just say that it is an interesting experience!
What are 3 other fun facts about yourself that you would like to share with the Punch Needle Community?
- I am Estonian and I moved from Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland in 2018. Fun fact: my home in Helsinki is only about 75km (47mi) away from my last home in Tallinn – just across the Baltic Sea.
- I love watching movie trailers. I see them not as spoilers, but as a separate genre.
- My name – Heli – means “sound” in Estonian.