Leeds embroidery artist teaches patchwork and darning workshops as a Habits for Life project to wear and love our clothes forever

Embroidery artist Elnaz Yazdani talks to Stephanie Smith about passing on her skills, bringing people together and saving much-loved clothes from the bin. Main pictures by Simon Hulme.

Stitching is about connecting, says Elnaz Yazdani. Not just cloth, but people – people who, on the surface, might have little in common, but find they have a bond as they pull needle and thread through fabric.

“You are not thinking about anything else,” says Elnaz. “You are focusing on a new skill, holding your needle, holding your fabric and, because you are so focused, the conversation starts to come, and people start to open up and connect in ways they would not have done if they were just staring at each other.”

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Elnaz is an embroidery artist and educator who dedicates herself to sharing her skills and promoting embroidery as an art form, a creative mending intervention and an aid to mental health and wellbeing.

Embroidery Artist Elnaz Yazdani pictured in her studio in Leeds. Picture: Simon Hulme

Her main job is at the University of Huddersfield, where she is an embroidery technician and demonstrator teaching hand and digital embroidery techniques to Costume, Fashion and Textile students.

But her teaching also reaches into her own local community. Elnaz is also a super- crafter with the Leeds-based Love Your Clothes Habits for Life project, part of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a UK sustainability charity that works with government, businesses and communities to transform the way consumers and the fashion and textiles industries buy and use materials and clothing. The two-year project, launched last year and funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation, helps people learn skills including sewing, repairing, alteration and refashioning.

“Techniques like patchwork and darning are not only giving someone a physical skill but are also habits for life that they can come back to, to add value to their clothes, and also offering an opportunity to repetitively do something, and being mindful about that,” says Elnaz.

She encourages decorative darning, perhaps using a contrasting colour. Anyone can pick up a darning mushroom at a haberdashers, and then you just need a needle and thread and you are good to go, perhaps looking up patterns and tutorials on the Habits for Life website.

A close-up of Elnaz's work

“It’s brilliant for mending holes in garments, like a favourite pair of jeans or jumper,” she says. “People will come up to you and ask how you did it, so you can show off your skills as well.”

Elnaz, who was recently commended for a Teaching Excellence award via the Embroiderers Guild, also works with social enterprise Stitch Up, a craft school with a social purpose, based at Meanwood Community Centre. “We specialise in textiles and teach valuable, practical craft skills but also focus on the power of craft and creativity to bring people together and help improve wellbeing,” she says.

“My work is looking into that community connection, especially in a post-Covid context, how we can mentally and physically repair after being at home for so long. It has left people feeling incredibly lonely and isolated.

“I am looking at how we can use embroidery and stitch as a way to connect the community back together, so there is also a metaphorical thing there, but also physically in terms of the techniques, physically connecting thread to fabric through patchwork and darning and mending techniques.”

Elnaz likes to create embroidery worlds.

As a respected embroidery artist, in her own creative work Elnaz specialises in transforming traditional embroidery techniques through unusual materials. Last month, her pieces featured at the prestigious Art of Embroidery exhibition at Bankside Gallery in London.

“I like to create an embroidered world that people can get lost in – aerial views or areas of condensed, connected techniques that often end up looking like women or faces, so it’s up to the viewer to interpret how they want to see it,” adds Elnaz, who makes jewellery too.

“I am half Iranian and half English. My dad moved to the UK from Iran in 1978, and met my mother, and they settled in Lancaster.

“I am dyslexic, so I soon realised I learned much better through doing and being crafty. My mum would encourage me to explore textiles and sewing from a young age. We used to visit lots of local heritage sites, craft centres and art shops together.

Elnaz has a studio at her home in Leeds.

“My mum also encouraged my confidence. I used to be very shy and unconfident as a child. I’m a real people person now. I love working with others in my community, getting to know people and chatting about textiles and craft.”

After taking Textiles and Art at A-level, she studied Textiles in Practice at Manchester School of Art and spent a year in Amsterdam on a textile internship. Now she lives with her partner in Leeds, and has a studio at home where she works on her own embroidery art.

Elnaz’s grandfather had a fabric shop in Iran while her mother’s mother was a dressmaker. “There is obviously something in my genes,” she says.

“I get so much joy from seeing others learn something new and enjoy what they learn. I know those techniques will stay with them for a long time and encourage them to be creative and resourceful. I believe crafts can make you feel powerful and the satisfaction you get from learning something like embroidery is fantastic.”

* Elnaz sells her artwork, workshop kits and jewellery via Elnazyazdani.com. Follow on Instagram, facebook or twitter @elnazyazdani

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Elnaz likes to use contrast stitchwork when darning.

* The Habits for Life workshops start on March 19, see loveyourclothes.org.uk/habits-life

* Check out adult and children’s workshops at stitch-up.org.uk

Elnaz used a variety of unusual materials in her work.
Elnaz's beautiful statement pieces can be found on her website.