Welcome to the strange, surprising and delicious world of Mary – Little Pin Studio.
Photos – © Little Pin Studio – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
Who are you, what sort of landscapes saw you grow? Which forests, tribes?
My name is Mary, in Russian it sounds like Masha or Maria. But I prefer when people call me Marie – I just enjoy how the French form of my name sounds. The place where I was born is surrounded by fabulous, picturesque nature, with lakes, rivers, mountains, deep forests and rich wildlife. It’s located near the Ural Mountains.
I carried into adulthood strong memories of my grandparents’ garden. And the images of lovely sunny days spent there will always be with me. Our garden was beautiful and had everything. It had lots of fruit trees, plums, cherries, and sea buckthorns … We grew strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries. Since childhood I enjoyed being outdoors and liked digging in the soil, watching how plants grow and caring for them. I helped a lot and since then I love planting and gardening. The favourite spot in my childhood garden was a cosy place near the blackcurrant bushes and under the spreading apple trees. I played with leaves (I pretended they were little swans), bugs and made up fascinating stories about them. It was my private corner, sheltered from looking in from the outside, full of whimsical fantasies.
I’ve always enjoyed reading fairy tales which took me to far away magical lands and revealed amazing creatures. Wise and talking animals had a special place in my heart, especially lions, griffins and dragons. Fantasizing about fabulous secrets of mysterious lands took up almost all my free time in childhood and did not leave me even in my dreams. I carried my love for fairy tales and woods through my youth. After many years of searching for the way to express myself in art, the idea of the Mysterious Forest was born & my embroidery & sewing journey began.
How would you call yourself?
I am the immortal soul, a part of the Universe, entered into the human body, living on the Earth planet as a human being, searching for myself, creating things and knowing the world.
How did embroidery come into your life?
I’ve been drawing since I was a child. During all my life I tried dozens of ways to express my ideas from a pencil sketch to something complete, but for years I could not decide on the material. I drew in pencils, pastels, black ink, digital drawing. Oil painting was my big passion for several years (and I am still into it).
In general, it is important for me to make tangible objects, because I am a very tactile person. In 2010 I tried my hand at making soft fabric toys and clothes for them and created a lot of presents for my relatives and friends. At that time, I learned how to sew and bought my sewing machine. Then I realized that I want to make use of things: it’s a special pleasure for me when my presents do not only stand on shelves, but people could carry them, use it somehow or even wear a piece of art every day.
And one day I found embroidery floss at home and just tried simple stitches. My first embroideries were different kinds of flowers and little birds, it all started with small brooches. I dreamt of creating clothes and the medieval, Victorian & renaissance epochs blew my mind and inspired me a lot. Over time, with practice, I became more confident, and my work started to be bigger and more complex. Little by little I figured out that dark fabrics, forest creatures and bright & rich colours give me a lot of pleasure and I focused on them. Amazingly, but stories for my embroidery art just started to appear in my head one by one.
I adore embroidery because it brings together two of my favourite practices in art: drawing and craft. Drawing is about an idea, searching for colour combinations, composition and shapes. It is about thinking and sketching. But crafting is all about feelings and tactile impressions. Your hands just know what to do. It is when you take a look at the materials and ideas come by themselves!
I’m very inspired by ceramics, old calligraphy, working with wood, stamping and I want to try watercolour… I don’t know where that will lead. But I know for sure that I want to carry my love for everything magical and unknown, my love for nature and animals, my admiration for culture, mythology, metaphysics and the universe, my aspiration for aesthetically pleasing things with practical use – I really want to carry it all through my creativity. It’s just my journey of self-discovery and perceiving the world through it.
You seem to be a very good photo master too. Colours, elements, it all seems to bring a story. Are you a storyteller?
Photography is my biggest passion! I am completely self-taught (and I’m still learning) and the process brings me a lot of joy. It’s my way of knowing nature, to some extent. For example, it never ceases to astonish me what a micro-world of surprisingly fascinating plants and organisms can open up just under your feet. I am amazed by the abundance of flora & fauna on the planet Earth, how well they are adapted to the different conditions of life! I love to fantasize about the fabulous secrets of secret lands that could be revealed in the forest. Sometimes I draw on my photos and make up little stories.
Why the name of Little Pin Studio?
My embroidery journey started with making small wooden brooches. For my studio I wanted to create a name, which could be memorable and simple. At first glance, the story of the name Little Pin is not very poetic: a pin is a safety pin, used for attaching a brooch to your clothes, or (as a verb) – to attach or fasten something with a pin. But in a deeper sense it has a greater meaning: keeping the darling memory, that you treasure, always near you. It’s like a little secret, your little pin.
Sometimes I have an urge to change the name of the studio to something mystical, more complicated and exceptional, but the most suitable words haven’t come to me yet. Maybe the right name needs to find me.
Can you live from your art?
Thank goodness, now I can! But to be honest, it was a long and difficult way through trial and error. I never focused on money. My main goal was to find my own way of expressing myself in art.
I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator, when I went in for embroidery in a big way. I kept working with my clients and when I got spare time, on weekends or evenings I stitched. I didn’t like the result of my embroideries at first, but I tried again and again. Sometimes I felt so exhausted, it was complicated to work on different projects at the same time. But I practiced a lot and was motivated to master hand embroidery one day. Something within me whispered: ‘You should keep trying, it’s yours’.
After a while I decided to quit my main job and it was a difficult decision – a path into the unknown. The most challenging part was dealing with my never-ending doubts and with my perfectionism. Even though I worked really hard, in the beginning I could barely pay my bills. But I never gave up. I had plenty of ideas and so much enthusiasm!
Thanks to all the people who supported and still continue to support me – my parents, my husband, my first customers and all the lovely people on Instagram, who share my posts and purchase my artworks… Their endless kindness plus my deep love for embroidery give me a freedom to create, to dream big! And it all brings me strength, joy and the desire to live!
Do you stitch every day?
It is only me doing everything in Little Pin Studio – drawing, embroidering, packing and shipping, taking photos and editing, writing tutorials and posts & much more – everything needs to be sorted out. Usually, I stitch 3-4 days a week. It’s important for me to spend all day long on stitching, without any distractions. But sometimes after a hard day’s work behind a computer I take my embroidery and just dream away – it’s my way to relax!
How do you create your patterns?
Usually, I make one tutorial in 2-3 months and it takes me quite a lot to draw, to test and create the pattern, because each one is unique and sometimes, I even use different techniques. It’s of high importance to me to stitch and create with thoroughness and to make a high-quality product as a result. My tutorials are comprehensive & informative. I am truly honoured to say it is not only my vision but the views of my customers. I care about teaching not only how to embroider a pattern, but how to bring an artistic vision to the whole embroidery process.
My dream is to make a book with photos of my embroidery and drawing tips, explaining how to think when you are going to embroider an animal, to give useful tips on choosing colour palette and planning composition etc. It will be great to find a good publishing company one day.
How do you stitch? Do you stitch outside?
My usual workplace is my home studio. It is a small room, which looks like a vintage-filled Hobbit hole! It is full of all the essential instruments I need for creating. Sometimes I watch series or listen to audiobooks or turn on my favourite music. My cat Little Carrot usually sits on my lap and purrs.
However, when I am outdoors, in the countryside, in the wilderness, I just can’t concentrate on embroidery! Because so many amazing insects are buzzing and flying around me, so many beautiful flowers bloom. My only wish is to take my camera and go deep into the woods or to walk along a river, to climb a hill – just to go for adventures. Hopefully, one day I’ll be living in our own house and I’ll be able to stitch in my backyard under a pear tree – oh, how awesome it would be.
What is it that you wish to give us with your crafts?
Oh, that’s an interesting question, but also not the easiest.
First of all, I just can’t stop creating. Art has always been a part of my life; this is my weakness and this is my gift.
I do not only embody a forest fairy tale through the idea of the planet Mysterious Forest. It is important for me to implement human reflections, feelings and emotions into my works, to tell stories about ways to comprehend the vastness of the Universe. All my embroidery creatures have souls, and they live in the spirit of Nature. Each one has its own character and story. Some of my works carry lyric and drama, some (I think the majority) are heart-warming and kind. All the creatures from the Mysterious Forest – the light and dark ones – need to coexist to keep the balance of the Universe. It’s like in this world – there is no light without darkness. I never wanted to give a feeling of escaping from reality with art. The ideas of my works say: You’re never alone and the Universe supports you in amazing ways! Be conscious, stay in the present, understand yourself better and show others who you really are – a unique and magical soul!
It’s also a pleasure to pack my parcels as gifts, and I’d like my customers to feel this sense of joy and anticipation while unpacking a parcel. I would like to spread hope, happiness and dreamy mood with my art, the feeling that every day is a gift, like in childhood. My wish is to create beautiful things, which make everyday life special.
What are the other arts that surround you: type of music, paintings, books, poetry, etc.?
When I am energetic, I enjoy listening to classic rock, folk rock, blues rock: Jimi Hendrix, Joy Division, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie… When I have a dreamy mood – Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Deep Forest, Fever Ray, modern folk and indie bands. When I cook or edit photos, I usually listen to music of the 50 and 60’s – rock and roll, blues, classic pop. I also love the music of my husband; he creates wonderful melancholic rock songs!
As for the artists, I was always amazed by the paintings of Ivan Shishkin and Victor Vasnecov. Also Ivan Bilibin, Boris Dehterev – I grew up on their illustrations in my children’s books. I love to analyse Leonardo da Vinci sketches; I think they are a special kind of style.
I enjoy gazing at medieval books and illuminated manuscripts and, of course, I am thrilled to meet them not only on the Internet, but in real life, in antique shops or museums. There’re tons of inspiration!
It’s also impossible not to adore the designs of William Morris. He lived in the 19th century, but he really made timeless patterns. William Morris created his own workshop and designed dozens of patterns for hand-produced woven and printed cloth, wallpaper, upholstery, and other textiles.
As for the books, since youth I enjoyed reading fantasy, dark fantasy, science fiction, detective fiction books. The Soviet era was the golden age of Russian science fiction – I love Belayev, Kir Bulychov, the Strugatsky brothers, as well as films from that era. I always loved to read classic works of literature and they taught me a lot and gave me some kind of understanding of life. My taste hasn’t changed too much since youth, but now I read more philosophy and psychology, self-help books – to refresh the way I think and to navigate smoothly through the world. Recently I found folktales and fairy tales which I’ve never read before, by French, German, English and Czech folklorists. Truly fascinating! Now I want to read more folktales from other countries all over the world! I also enjoy reading historical books, for example, the history of clothing.
Who are the other artists you admire?
As for the modern artists – there are so many wonderful artists who inspire me, I am afraid to forget to mention somebody, so I won’t single anyone out – moreover, I follow most of them on Instagram. I could be inspired not only by the techniques or artistic style, but by the productivity, by the passion to create against all odds, by the sensitivity of the artistic vision, by the person in general!
How did the pandemic affect you? Good ways, difficult ways?
At first, I didn’t realize what had happened, and just worked as usual. Then problems with worldwide shipping began. The delivery times of many parcels have been extended to months. I was quite worried about this. Eventually, I made a decision to conclude a contract with another, more reliable company, which provides universal shipping with insurance (now I use PostNL). Although at first it was difficult to figure out how to design labels, how to register the parcels etc, now I can say with relief that these problems helped me to improve my shipping.
When summer came, I felt like I was literally trapped inside four walls. It was difficult for me, because I constantly wanted to walk and breathe the fresh air, to meet my family, to swim and enjoy the warm weather… To some extent, my productivity has increased. I drew a lot and even created a few patterns.
Then both of my parents fell ill with Covid 19. I was stressed out and frightened and tried my best to stop all negative thoughts. Our family needed to be patient to wait till their treatments helped. It became tough to focus on creating. At the same time I took driving lessons at driving school and a big part of my energy was concentrated on learning and practicing to pass the final exam. Short and rare forest walks helped me to take a break, to get some fresh air, to clear my head. Thankfully, both of my parents recovered (I don’t dare say it completely, because we don’t know about all the consequences of the Covid 19, but I strongly hope for the best). The year 2020 gave me a deeper understanding of my priorities, a deeper meaning of life. The embroidery and the whole creating process helped my mental health, helped to deal with anxiety.
What are your projects?
Oh, there are so many projects at the same time and I’m in a constant state of being so excited about everything, but also a little nervous…
I am in the process of designing new embroidered purses and collars. I want to try new shapes for collars, inspired by different historical dresses. Also I am planning to make new embroidery patterns for beginners and for experienced stitchers.
For quite some time I made the embroidery process a bit cosier with wooden bobbins for embroidery floss and sewing boxes. I sincerely believe they could brighten everyday crafts and make you feel like a castle’s dweller each time you use it. This winter I even created a new kind of wooden bobbins, inspired by cottage core aesthetics. Now there are 3 types of Little Pin bobbins and they go together well, and they all fit the wooden boxes.
This year is especially notable because I am finally launching my own website, where I will share stories about the Mysterious Forest and sell my works! I want it to be a friendly place for my customers and followers, filled with lovely photographs and magical atmosphere.
I also have a very important project, but I am not ready to reveal it now – maybe later, let it be a small intrigue…