A new book by Charlotte Vannier considers how embroidery has evolved from a domestic task mostly done by women into an art. Comprised of the work of 84 contemporary artists from around the world—including Elisabeth Bucht, Rossana Taormina, Diane Meyer, and Aline Brant—From Thread to Needle: Contemporary Embroidery Art features full-page illustrations of embroidered pieces utilizing cotton canvas, photographs, plastic, and wire mesh. The 368-page book highlights work that is particularly distant from the decorative needlework of previous generations and ranges from fully embroidered cloth to sparingly stitched images to threaded toast. Often, the artists reinvent the craft by altering the methods and materials they use and rejecting the outdated notion that embroidery is only a feminine past time.
In an interview with VC Projects, Vannier described her obsession with thread and embroidery. “I am fascinated by the idea that a simple thread becomes a piece of art completely, and how many artists use it. Thread is like a pencil,” the writer says.
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Calligrapher and fiber artist Han Cao repurposes old photographs by stitching brightly colored flowers and landscapes directly onto each black and white image. Based in Palm Springs, the artist works with found photographs that are 5×7 inches or smaller, attaching multi-colored threads that she hopes alter the old narrative and give new meaning and life to each piece. Often, Cao covers people’s faces, adds tiny, repetitive details to their clothes, or blurs a landscape with her stitches.
Cao writes to Colossal that she purchases most photographs from the flea markets and antique shops she visits while she’s traveling.
There’s thousands upon thousands of vintage photos stuffed inside dusty boxes at these markets—long lost and forgotten by their families, so my work is an attempt to bring them back to life and renew their stories. I’m particularly drawn to images that offer a deeper story—photographs with haunting faces and figures, simple landscapes that can be magically transformed with added dimension and color.
The artist says her plans include creating larger-scale works that use “alternative photograph reproduction methods where I will have more space to explore texture and create extended narratives for these images.” You can follow her mixed-media projects on Instagram and purchase her work on her site.
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Using small polymer clay shapes, Justyna Wołodkiewicz (previously) creates embroidered works that extend beyond the fabric within the hoop. The Poland-based artist molds clay into tiny colorful pieces that she punctures with holes, positions at various angles, and binds with multi-colored thread. “What you see in my embroideries is highly filtered visual and sonic information'” Wolodkiewicz tells Colossal. “It travels through my eyes, brain, and hands, landing in the physical world again, this time in the shape of my hand-stitched pieces.”
The artist’s choice of color, composition, and texture are crucial components in her “micro-worlds” because “they convey a strong emotional message innate to human beings. They suggest very complicated nets of relationships. The upward stitches symbolize the way people are bonded with all that surrounds them,” she says.
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Humble fields become abstracted artworks in thread paintings by Victoria Rose Richards. The artist uses a combination of tight, straight lines and lush French knots to emulate the rural patterning of closely-cropped fields divided by hedges and woods. Richards, who is 21 years old and based in South West Devon, U.K., draws inspiration from the natural beauty that surrounds her. “My art is influenced by my love of the environment and conservation, which I developed during my biology degree I completed this year,” Richards tells Colossal.
A lifelong artist who also manages chronic pain and Asperger’s syndrome, Richards landed on embroidery during college as a way to lift her spirits and engage her mind between classes and studying. “I pulled some nice blues and greens out of my grandmother’s old embroidery tin and had my first go at an embroidery landscape in October 2018,” Richards explains.
The artist is constantly learning new techniques to broaden her range of textures and patterns, finding community and inspiration through the global network of embroiderers who are connected through social media. You can follow along with Victoria Rose Richards’s thread paintings on Instagram.
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Artist Diane Meyer has spent the last several years meditating on the Berlin Wall and the physical and visual divisions between, and within, cultures. In her series Berlin, Meyer embroiders 43 photographs with meticulous stitches that overlay pedestrians, walls, and forests. Each embroidered area represents the former wall, which would have bisected or blocked the views now seen in Meyer’s photographs.
The project is part of Meyer’s broader practice of “combining a traditional, analogue process with the visual language of digital imaging,” the artist tells Colossal. “At one point, I was experimenting with large landscape images using thousands of little tiny squares of carpet remnants which functioned as pixels. I think these early experiments ultimately led me to the work that I am doing now.” Meyer explains that for the Berlin series, she sought to evoke how the wall continues to exude a felt presence in the city, despite having been removed decades ago.
I started thinking about the relationship between forgetting and digital file corruption, particularly given how photographs are strongly tied to and ultimately often replace memory. By re-inserting the Berlin Wall through embroidery, a pixelated view of what is behind the wall is seen, creating the effect of an almost ghost-like trace in the landscape.
Meyer shares with Colossal that the materials of her artistic practice have evolved over time, shifting from straight photography to more multimedia approaches, but that she has consistently returned to some core concepts. “My work has long been defined by explorations into the physical, social, and psychological qualities that characterize place,” says Meyer, shifting genre and medium depending on the conceptual framework she is working within.
Her current undertaking is Reunion, a series of elementary school class pictures from the 1970s, which Meyer explains is an outgrowth of a previous project centered around family photographs. With Reunion, the artist seeks to focus on body language by obscuring the normal focal point of facial features with stitched interventions. “I am interested in exploring these details to reveal not only the relationships between the various figures, but also how, even at a very young age, children were taught and instructed to pose in particular ways, often based on gender,” Meyer tells Colossal.
Marking 30 years since the fall of the wall, Berlin is on view through January 10, 2020, at Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. See more of Meyer’s current work on Instagram and explore the artist’s archive on her website. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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Over 100 Stitchers are Collaborating Across the U.S. to Complete an Unfinished Embroidered Quilt by Late Crafter Rita Smith
Chicago-based fiber artist and activist Shannon Downey has a particular affinity for unfinished projects. She seeks them out at estate sales, helping women who’ve passed complete their work. Although this has long been an area of interest for Downey, one recent discovery has catapulted to the front page of news sites around the world.
On a visit this September to a Chicagoland estate sale sale, Downey happened upon a framed embroidery (pictured above) that maps out the United States and illustrates all fifty state flowers. A casual conversation with the cashier at the sale led to Downey finding a large-scale project related to the framed work. An unfinished queen-sized quilt was meant to incorporate another U.S. map along with hexagons featuring each state’s bird and flower along with the year they entered the union.
Rita Smith of Mount Prospect, Illinois, had begun the project a few decades ago, according to her son, whom Downey subsequently connected with. Smith, who was a nurse, passed away recently at the age of 99. “I have an annoying habit of having to purchase and finish unfinished projects if I think that the person has passed on … but usually I’m just buying a half-done pillow that needs half an hour’s worth of stitching and then it’s done,” Downey told Block Club Chicago. “But this one was massive and it just felt really significant for some reason. And so I bought it.”
Downey has a substantial following thanks to her work as a community organizer and resource for people looking for an alternative to digital distractions. The self-described ‘craftivist’ tells Colossal that after running a digital marketing company for a decade, she was burned out and needed a break from technology.
I started stitching to find some digital/analog balance. I was hooked. I am an activist and I quickly fused the two. At first, it was about creating space for myself to think substantively and reflect on various issues and topics. As I started to share my work and thoughts, I found a community of folks on Instagram who were engaged and engaging. I have found ways to move those communities offline and into real life communities through my stitch-ups. Those communities are what inspire me to keep going, level up, find new ways of building and connecting, having hard conversations and tackling challenging topics.
Once Downey shared her unexpected find on Twitter, inquiries from potential collaborators began flooding in. Now she is coordinating between dozens of stitchers across the country who are volunteering their time to complete Rita’s masterpiece. Downey describes the effort as a strongly feminist project. “It is an opportunity for folks to consider how we define and assign value and meaning to craft,” she tells Colossal. “So many of the stories that people are sharing with me on twitter after reading about #RitasQuilt are about memories and connections that they have to the women in their lives who are/were makers and the significance that their art has come to have for them.”
The National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky will be displaying the completed quilt, and Downey hopes that it will be able to come with her for a planned 2020 craftivist tour around the U.S. Keep up with Downey on Twitter and Instagram to see how you can get involved in craftivism in your community, and follow along with the #RitasQuilt hashtag.
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