Community Spotlight: Taylor Wells of Tay Dismay Designs

Quote from OluTimehin Adegbeye

Taylor Wells is a mixed media embroidery artist creating beautiful hoop embroideries out of Atlanta, Georgia. Transmuting the thoughts of poets and writers, feminist thinkers, and fellow artists, and inspired by the world around her, Taylor stitches bold, unique designs in a radiant palette of colors and with a mixture of materials, from beading to watercolors to applique and more. Taylor’s work endeavors to imbue embroidery, needlework, and the act of making with powerful messages and beliefs. It’s a process that feels akin to practicing magic—turning thought into action with each laid stitch. We sat down with Taylor for this month’s Community Spotlight to learn more about her intuitive and thought-provoking process!

Your embroidery pieces offer a singular combination of forms: bright, vivid colors outlined by bold line work, sometimes in geometric groupings, and often overlaid with quotes or snippets from poems. Sometimes, you also include watercolors and beading! How did you discover and develop your unique personal style?

I think it takes time and self-trust to develop your own style. When I first started embroidering, I kept looking to the work of others to guide me. Sometimes it was helpful, other times it was limiting. But that’s all part of the learning process, especially for a self-taught artist. I had to get comfortable with trying new things (like adding watercolors, acrylic paint, beading, etc.) and even being bad at those things for a while before I could get to a place of feeling confident in my own style. My inner critic used to be very loud and noisy, but in time it faded and it’s such a relief. Its absence has given me the creative freedom to just play around with new ideas and challenge myself.

Poem by Rupi Kaur
When did you first start embroidering? Are you self-taught, did you take classes, or is it a skill that was handed down to you?

I started embroidering eight years ago, not long after I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics. I enjoyed learning everything I could, but I particularly devoured the work of queer writers, Black feminists, and women of color. When I was in school I was constantly studying and working, and once I was done I suddenly had so much more free time than I knew what to do with. I picked up a cross stitch kit on a whim and became obsessed almost immediately.

Quote from writer Warsan Shire

At first I had no intention of creating my own designs, but I found myself feeling uninspired by the designs and often bland color schemes of pre-packaged kits. At some point it occurred to me—what better source of inspiration than the writers, poets, and texts I was so enamored with in my education? It’s that realization that turned what I once considered just a fun hobby into my creative outlet and art form.

Quote from Alice Walker
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

The majority of my designs are built around my favorite passages/poems/quotes from various writers. Sometimes the designs I create to accompany these quotes are closely related to the text, other times I just focus on what feelings it brings up for me. Doing so offers me a chance to meditate on words that I want to remember, or messages that I wish to embody more fully.

Outside of the choice of quotes, I find inspiration by looking at many different art forms. I love looking through abstract fiber artwork, stained glass art, printmaking, beading, mosaics, even pottery.

Poem by Alexis Pauline Gumbs from the book Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugivity
How do you approach a new design? Do you work freeform, or create a template?

I suppose I work freeform—I often begin by selecting a quote and determining how I would like to format and place it in the design, and then I build from there. Sometimes I spend a long time meticulously planning out a design, other times I push myself to just create as I go.

Quote from Xan Oku
Related to the above question: Your pieces often feature beautiful and diverse arrays of color. How do you approach creating a color palette?

I’ve always loved bright colors and bold patterns/designs, and that definitely comes through in my embroidery. Sometimes I’m drawn to certain colors as it relates to the design, other times I push myself to find new and different color combinations.

Quote from Eartha Kitt
Are there artists you admire in the fiber community? Related to this, are there visual artists you admire that have influenced your style?

I’ve connected with a lot of fiber artists on social media and I always enjoy seeing just how much variety there is when it comes to design, content, and style. As the embroidery community is often a very white space, I especially love to see the work of other Black embroiderers. It warms my heart to see us out here and to see how rich and different all of our work is. A few of my favorites are @bantuknotembroidery, @sirenssongstitchery, and @prettystrangedesign.

What are your must-have embroidery tools?

Needle minders and beeswax! A+ time savers.

Quote from Oroma Elewa
Do you have any fun projects or pieces planned for the future?

Oh so many—I have a notebook full of design ideas and quotes I’d eventually like to use in embroidery pieces. The one design I’m very excited about (but am actually procrastinating) will be focused on kintsugi (golden joinery), where I plan to include paint and beading.

But the project I really want to focus on is leading an embroidery class or workshop, specifically where folks create their own design centralized around a quote or poem of their choosing. I’d love it to be an ongoing offering that’s discussion based and intended to build community. I still have much to work out to make that happen, but it’s something I’m passionate about.

Thank you to Taylor for sharing her work and inspirations with us! You can find Taylor and her designs on Instagram at @taydismay and on Etsy at TayDismayDesigns.


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