Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Inspiration - Hand Embroidery

It was this picture of THE wedding dress that got me thinking about embroidery.  It wasn't until I saw this shot with the lighting just right that I realized the dress was heavily embroidered - and I was guessing it wasn't done by machine!  I was right ... the full official details can be found here, but the gist is, teams from the Royal School of Needlework washed their hand every 30 minutes and changed out to new needles every 3 hours, while working diligently away.  I'm not really that interested in royal "stuff," but I love hand needlework, so I was smitten.

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


  1. Thanks for the inside scoop on Kate's dress! I've been pretty fascinated by hand embroidery lately too, and I'm thinking of starting a project after I finish the 2 sweaters and 1 quilt that I'm already in the middle of :-). I'm also really glad that you are encouraging people to pass on their embroidery skills. I was actually just talking to my grandmother last night about how so many women my age (20's) don't even know how to thread a needle. This encouraged me to teach my 7-year-old niece how to embroider next time I see her. Great post!

  2. I embroider a lot, and I really enjoyed the artists you featured here. My little granddaughter watches me work, and she has just finished her first emboidered picture :)

    1. I love that you're teaching her to carry on the tradition of needlework!

  3. I'm just getting going selling hand embroidery. As a scientist by trade, discovering the artist in me has been an interesting experience. My work is largely science inspired but I also have a love for Georgian embroidery. If interested you can find my embryonic Etsy shop and some of my commissions on Pinterest by searching Asterinidae.