Words in Stitch

15th October 2022

First published in Inspirations issue #106 in April 2020, written by Ansie van der Walt

‘As children, we were good at making our own toys. We made our own dioramas out of cardboard boxes pretending that they were dollhouses. That sort of resourcefulness, using what is available, has been a constant in our work.’

Sydney-based twins and design duo, Maricor and Maricar Manalo were born in the Philippines but have called Australia home since they were two years old. ‘We had this crazy 1970s house, where there was different wallpaper in every room. The carpet was a crazy floral mishmash. We used to look at all the patterns and tried to see different things. It made us visualise things a bit differently – we saw things in patterns.’

They both completed a Visual Communication degree at the University of Technology in Sydney, studying graphic design, animation, photography and illustration. At this stage they had no knowledge or experience of embroidery and had no idea that this would be their future.

It was early in their careers as graphic designers that they had the opportunity to work on a music video for the band Architecture in Helsinki for their new song Like it or not. Their boss at the time suggested that they make an animated video using embroidered graphics. They jumped at the challenge and did a selftaught crash course in embroidery using books and YouTube videos.

‘We learned how to embroider while we were designing the characters! The quick turnaround for the video almost destroyed us and we didn’t pick up a needle and thread for the next three years.’

It was only when the two sisters started their own studio, Maricor/Maricar, that they began focusing on handcrafted and bespoke embroidered designs and illustrations for the publishing and advertising world. They were already exploring lines and patterns in their graphic work and could now combine it with their other interest, lettering and typography, executed in needle and thread.

Their careers started in the digital age, but Maricor and Maricar were the one in the office still playing with the copier, photocopying stuff and ripping things up. ‘We illustrate, we use paintbrush and ink. That is our background – a love of analogue.

Because we were self-taught, we were okay with making mistakes and not following the perfect technique.’

According to Maricor, it is the playfulness of embroidery that first inspired them to work with it; now it is the colour and tactility that motivates them to keep on experimenting and trying out new ideas and designs.

They started experimenting with embroidered typography and lettering, a personal favourite. Their first commercially commissioned work was the words Go Play in their signature patterned style for ESPN Magazine. It captured the sort of joyful energy and whimsy that they like to communicate in their work.

All Maricor and Maricar’s work starts out as sketches and, depending on the style, they will either vectorise it or use watercolours to create the gradient colour mashups. The design is then traced onto the fabric, usually cotton plain weave although they have used linen twill and denim for special projects.

‘Our favourite stage of the process is choosing the matching cotton thread.’

These days, the sisters each work at their own home office, fitting projects and stitching around their young families’ needs. ‘We work remotely but share everything through apps like Google Drive and we are constantly in contact, asking advice and feedback on designs. We typically both provide initial concepts to present to the client. Whoever’s design gets chosen then becomes the lead for the project and will execute the embroidery. For bigger projects with multiple elements, we’ll split the work. Only once or twice have we worked simultaneously on a large piece, but there’s too much risk of rogue needles in the eye!’

Maricor and Maricar have been doing everything together since they were in the womb. They went to the same school, studied the same course at university, and entered the workforce at the same agency. Now they are business and creative partners with their own distinct style of commercial design work. ‘We had each other as cheerleaders when we needed a reminder not to give up,’ Maricar says. ‘In terms of working well together, I think we would have always ended up working side by side. We joke that we’ve been joined at the hip, metaphorical Siamese twins. Our different strengths complement each other but we also have a shorthand way of discussing ideas, we get each other’s references and riff off each other.’

It has been a dream since high school to be book cover designers, so working on these projects as illustrators and embroiderers brings the twins great joy. One of these dream projects was the cover for Clare Hunter’s book Threads of Life (at the end of the page HERE). ‘We were approached by book designer Will Speed to create the cover image. Will gave us a pretty clear brief to work from as he had in mind a globe motif inspired by pieces from our portfolio that are based on patterns and colourful stitches. The idea was to incorporate little icons into the pattern that related to the contents of the book. Will liaised with the author on which icons she would like featured.’

Their commercial clients include, British Council Australia, Hong Kong Airport, TOMS Shoes and magazines, Wired UK, Esquire UK, ESPN and GOOD and they are currently working on a collaboration with a home furnishing brand launched in 2020. When they are not working on commissions, the sisters enjoy working on personal projects, trying out new stitches and techniques and just having fun.

The two little girls who saw imaginary worlds in carpet patterns are now established commercial designers, yet they don’t refer to themselves as illustrators, designers or artists, but rather as makers of things. Just like their childhood dioramas, they used what they had and built a career that can only belong to them.

> Website: https://maricormaricar.com/

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