Hillary Waters Creates Delicate Sculptures Made of Leaves and Stitches

“Through this gentle but intricate stitch work, I want to express the idea that our relationship with the natural world is both tenuously fragile, and infinitely complex.”

American artist Hillary Waters Fayle has a deep respect and admiration for the natural world. Her delicate leaf stitching starts conversations around our relationship with nature as human beings. We caught up with Hillary for an insight into her intricate and painstaking process.

When did you begin working with leaves? What inspired you to try this technique?

About seven years ago, when I returned from the UK, after studying there during college, I was working outdoors at a summer camp in Western New York State which focused on education in environmental conservation. Surrounded by nature with notions of stewardship and respect for the environment on my mind, I attempted to take the stitching I had learned in Manchester and apply it to the most abundant and naturally sustainable material I could get my hands on, which of course, was leaves.


Oak leaves, to be specific. When it worked, there was this moment where I knew I was onto something, and that was the beginning. I’ve explored some other bodies of work and other materials along the way, all in a similar vein, but the leaves have been a constant; I keep going back to them.

Screen shot 2016-02-15 at 11.14.42 PM

What are the greatest challenges involved in working with this medium?

Choosing the leaf is a very important first step. Using very fragile leaves or leaves with certain vein structures can be challenging, and some leaves don’t hold up well at all to the piercing and the thread tension.

I have experimented with adding stiffeners to the leaves to coat them and strengthen them, but I’ve grown more of an appreciation for the simplicity of just using a needle and thread and the leaf itself, with nothing added or in between. There is a purity and honesty in that which I really admire.


As far as actually stitching into leaves, there is a technique to it. I’ve gained a feel for how much pressure is adequate and how much will rip the leaf apart, etc. But other than that, I just keep trying new things with the mindset that sometimes they won’t work. When they do work out, it’s really rewarding.

Screen shot 2016-02-15 at 11.14.11 PM

Is there a message behind your leaf work that you strive to communicate?

Yes, I think the entire reason I started making art the way I do has roots in my desire to communicate a message about our relationship with nature.  The way I think about and make art mirrors the way I think about my life and how I walk through the world. By combining material from the natural world and the rich traditions of embroidery, I symbolically bind nature and the human touch.


Through this gentle but intricate stitch work, I want to express the idea that our relationship with the natural world is both tenuously fragile, and infinitely complex. With this delicately balanced relationship in mind, I consider my use of resources within my artistic practice.  Whether picking a leaf from a tree or cutting that tree down for lumber, I try to always be aware of the weight of my choices.


Could you walk us through the process?

Well first I choose a leaf or some other material to work with, a feather, or a twig, etc. Whatever the project calls for, or whatever is really speaking to me that day. Sometimes the process begins with actually going out into the world and gathering materials, but I have a big stockpile of things to use in the studio as well. Sometimes it takes living with something for a while before it’s apparent what I need to do with it.


When I work with leaves though, I usually prefer to use them fresh, so I gather them and then I’ll either cut into them or just start stitching. I usually have a general plan for how I want them to look, and then I’ll just get down to working.

Sometimes I run into knots or I don’t like what is happening, and I’ll have to carefully undo what I’ve done and start over, using the same holes I’ve already pierced through the leaf. It’s a great challenge.


What has been your most significant moment as an artist?

I think that there is a tendency for a lot of artists to doubt themselves and their work, and I certainly suffer this still. Being featured on some of the websites and blogs that I look to for internet inspiration has been a kind of turning point for me. I felt something switch, like being admitted into a ‘real artist’ club, where I was invited to share my art with the world and inspire other people too.

Check out Hillary’s Instagram page to keep up with her new work: @hillary.waters

Related Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -