I wonder how many people today even think much about hand embroidery? Most people I know haven't really looked at any since they outgrew the pillowcases their grandmothers or great-grandmothers embroidered for them. Is this an art form in danger of becoming too rare or dying out?
This last weekend I flew up to Portland and worked on hand embroidery for little c's dresses while in the terminal and on the plane. Usually I crochet and am used to the acquaintances and questions that come up from people who stop to watch. Knitting and crochet seem to be undergoing a nice resurgence, and I'm always heartened by the enthusiasm I see. Embroidery was very different - odd looks, quickly glancing away when I tried to make eye contact, unusual questions. "Do you like doing that?" "You don't see that much any more." But I couldn't get any conversation going. Partly because the unusual reactions surprised me.
And then I decided to feature contemporary embroidery artists for today's Inspiration. I'm an art education graduate student at a university that has a good fiber arts department and see lots of embroidery used in the undergrad and MFA students' work. I did find contemporary artists when searching, but no where near the numbers I'm used to seeing when searching for other types of fiber artists.
So .... my thoughts right now are running toward the need to keep this art form healthy and alive, which usually means working on teaching the skills and the history to the next generations. If you embroider (you don't have to be at the level of the skilled artisans who worked on Kate's dress!), think about who you can show embroidery to and teach the basic skills to. Two good pieces on embroidering with children can be found at mayamade and Sewing School here and here. And I found fun suggestions on using shelf liner and yarn to give toddlers and preschoolers embroidery experiences at filthwizardry here.
If you'd like to work on your own embroidery skills, the two best stitch dictionaries I've found on the web are Sharon B's here and Johanna's here. I used to embroider a lot more than I do now and am working at getting more of the less often used stitches back. As I use them, I'll pass on tutorials to you.
And I found three examples of contemporary hand embroidery fiber art work that I love! Carla Madrigal's work is so bright and vibrant! I love not only her sometimes unusual subject matter, but also the texture she gets by laying so many different threads and stitches.
Benji Whalen is a San Francisco artists who uses tattoo themes along with many others. The tattooed arm series is great! I don't have any tattoos, but am fascinated with them as an art form.
Kayla Coo's work is just breathtaking! The colors, textures, stitches - everything combines in a way that makes you forget you're looking at stitching. And when you remember, it makes the artwork even that much more amazing. These are not your old fashioned crewel landscapes.
Next time I fly, I'm going to be ready with interesting embroidery AND conversation starters. And little c may not be 2 yet, but I'm already planning her embroidery education!
Happy Creating! Deborah