Born in eastern Zhejiang province in China, Yan Inlow attended the prestigious Academy of China in Hangzhou, in the scenic West Lake region. Majoring in textile design, Inlow began creating pieces using the decorative art of embroidery, an art form practiced for thousands of years in China.
Fifteen years ago, Inlow immigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area. She has lived in Alameda since 2002 with her husband and two daughters.
How did you learn to embroider? My mom taught me. When I saw her embroidering, I wanted to try too. I don’t remember exactly when I started but I was pretty young, not quite 10 years old.
When I was little, I would wait and wait for New Year’s to come. My mom would make new clothes for me. She would embroider them. No one else at school had anything like what my mom made for me.
What was it like growing up in China? It’s not like now. We had no cell phones, no Internet, no TV. All the local girls gathered and we hung out doing crafts. We had our own group, a government-sponsored art club — kind of like Girl Scouts here. We rode our bicycles to different places and painted using watercolors and acrylic paint. We would go into the garden and draw the flowers. That was really fun.
One winter, I was standing painting in the snow for four or five hours. I could not move. It was so pretty. Afterwards, my feet were all red and swollen. We didn’t care though. We just went out and painted.
When did you decide to pursue art? I don’t remember deciding to be an artist. I just kept on taking art — watercolor, fabric design — and doing more and more. I loved school.
I went to the Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Now it’s called the Academy of China. Then I went to Japan to study at Kobe University. I love Japanese art and the embroidery on kimonos.
Where do you get the ideas for your designs? Everywhere. Gardens, flowers. Sometimes I travel to places like Yellowstone and take pictures. My daughters will also take pictures of things they think I will like.
I use my imagination. Sometimes the picture is not of a real place. Maybe I’ll put a few places together. Rather than the steep hills in China, I prefer the rolling hills of California like the ones around Mount Diablo.
Your subjects often transcend the bounds of traditional Chinese art. I live here. So I do a lot of Western scenes. I also do traditional Asian images such as lotus flowers, peonies, cherry blossoms, bamboo.
What are the steps for creating a piece? First, I paint the scene on silk. Then I stitch. My technique is simple, mostly satin stitch.
How long does it take to complete a piece? A small piece can take a month to complete. Sometimes I get commissions for larger pieces. Those can take up to three months.
I embroider most of the day. I average about eight hours a day. I like to work later when it’s quiet so I can concentrate. No phone calls. No emails. When I am embroidering, I don’t notice the time passing. Then when I stop, I feel so tired because four or five hours have passed.
What do you do to rest your eyes? I take a walk on Park Street. Sometimes I get something to eat at or .
Where do you display your work? Mostly at local shows. I used to do shows in Japan but with kids, it’s hard to travel. I have the American Craft Council show coming up on Aug. 12-14 in San Francisco.
To see pictures of Inlow’s work, click here.