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The spectacular work of Lily Adelaide Upton

Lily Adelaide Upton’s work is a contemporary celebration of Aussie natives. Drawing on her diverse surroundings, she captures the essence of Australia’s spectacular flora and fauna in rich embroidery. While riding her bike to work, she spots rainbow lorikeets, honeyeaters, rosellas, galahs, corellas and many eucalyptus varieties, which fill her head with lots of creative ideas.

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“I would describe my work as colourful, detailed, textural and ever so slightly kitsch,” says the South Australian artist. “This is because I love to clash colours, which is not always up everyone’s street. In saying that, I do also love using natural and earthy tones. My work really does reflect nature in that way.” Lily puts a fresh spin on botanical and avian designs, creating pieces that are both beautiful and functional. Her embroidered birds and plants find themselves in diverse habitats — on upcycled denim jackets and jeans, embroidery hoops, earrings and brooches.

Lily’s go-to stitches are stem stitch, back stitch, straight stitch, satin stitch and French knot, and occasionally she uses split stitch and chain stitch. As she uses basic stitches and contemporary designs, Lily has created kits that are suitable for beginner stitchers and she sells these on her Etsy store.

For each embroidery, she begins by sketching the design on paper or on her iPad, then traces onto cotton broadcloth and starts stitching. The embroideries then go onto self-cover buttons (for her earrings and brooches), with a finding glued to the back, or they’re positioned in an embroidery hoop, ready for hanging. “The process for my upcycled pieces is a little different. For these I trace my design onto water-soluble interfacing (denim is way too thick to trace through). When I’ve finished stitching, I have to wash it away, then wait for the piece to dry. I would have to say that is my least favourite part. Getting rid of water-soluble interfacing is such a chore!”

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Sewing is both Lily’s passion and livelihood. She works on her embroidery business in the mornings and on weekends, creating designs, sending out orders and doing admin tasks. During the day she swaps hand sewing for industrial machines, working for a small business in Adelaide as an industrial sewing machinist. Her specialised area is flag sewing. “I do a bit of everything, but my main job is sewing flags whenever they come in. We do all sorts of flags — big, small, standard flying flags, upright feather flags etc. I sew on three types of machines, working on jobs big and small.”

But it’s the meditative and repetitive nature of embroidery that she keeps coming back to. When she gets a chance to work on her own designs at home, she surrounds herself with the things she loves. Her studio is thoughtfully designed, comfortable and inspiring. The walls feature postcards, business cards and art from her favourite artists and makers, as well as her own embroidery hoops. Above her desk are shelves filled with boxes of embroidery floss. Her embroidery stand is in front of the window, offering views of her herb garden. The cosy vibe is enhanced by fairy lights, a mint green swivel chair and a fluffy white blanket. “To have a space that is dedicated to creating is so special and I feel so lucky to have that! Everything I need is at my fingertips, which allows so much room in my head for creating.”

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And the more headspace for creating, the better. We’d love to see how Lily portrays more of Australia’s unique species in fabric and thread. “There are so many ideas floating around in my head, and so much to do (business admin, full-time work, day-to-day chores etc). It’s difficult to find time to be creative, let alone get in the headspace to be creative. So when it happens, it’s such a good feeling. I can get one idea out and then on to the next one. Of course, these ideas don’t always work and come out perfectly, but the fact I got to try them out is just as rewarding.”

To find out more about Lily Adelaide Upton and see more of her hangable and wearable art, visit her Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/au/shop/lilyadelaideupton and follow on Instagram @lilyadelaideupton.

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