via My Modern Met
The art of embroidery has existed throughout time, dating as far back as 5th century BC. Despite its centuries-old origins, this timeless craft has continually been reenergized by visionary artists who push the boundaries of its meaning and limits. From hyperrealistic embroidered portraits to cross stitching on cars, creatives have taken the field to new and exciting places with their artwork. Scroll down to see some of our favorite artists who take the art of embroidery to the next level.
Ana Teresa Barboza
Textile enthusiast Ana Teresa Barboza doesn’t allow her art to be confined by the boundaries of her embroidery hoop. The artist’s work is similar to an untouched landscape that grows wild and untamed—so it’s appropriate that these environments act as Barboza’s muses. From her cloth canvas, rivers flow in a surge of motion as green hills and textured rocks reach out to envelop onlookers in a thread-based universe. There’s a distinct sense of movement that makes Barboza’s work feel as though it’s a familiar part of our real-world surroundings.
In collaboration with fashion designer Olya Glagoleva, artist Lisa Smirnova transformed a collection of clothes into a series of art. Spending a maximum of 100 hours on every garment, Smirnova hand-embroidered bursts of color onto the fabric, telling a story with her work. This project, called Artist At Home, aimed to converge two worlds: the painter’s home and her studio, or her closet and her artwork. By working together, both Glagoleva and Smirnova demonstrate that art doesn’t have to be stationary, that it can indeed be worn on-the-go. Additionally, the artist takes an Impressionistic approach with her brilliant hoop art. Each colorful strand works in unison with one another, like paint off the wispy hairs of a brushstroke.
Lithuanian artist Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė applies floral and decorative patterns to unconventional objects. Instead of going for fabric, she sews cross-stitch patterns onto metal buckets, utensils, and car doors. Each chosen canvas is an attempt to subvert traditional embroidery culture, which is often associated with sweetness and sentimentality. Here, the hard edges and rusty metal balance the cozy appeal of stitched thread.
Art of Silk
US- and China-based company Art of Silk produces breathtakingly gorgeous works of hand-designed silk embroidery art. Inspired by a trip to Suzhou, China by founder Christopher Leung, Art of Silk combines a 2,500-year-old tradition with modern technology to create richly vibrant landscapes, portraits, still life scenes, and more. Each original work is hand-stitched by a master artisan in Suzhou; the piece is then meticulously traced to create a digital version, from which multiple copies can be made using advanced embroidery technology and silk threads.
Meredith Woulnough’s detailed embroideries embody the beauty and fragility of the natural world. The Australian artist’s traceries are created with a technique that makes use of a domestic sewing machine and a base cloth which is dissolved in water after the piece is completed, leaving behind elaborate skeletons that mimics patterns of leaves, shells, and coral. Woulnough’s delicately knotted threads form complex veined systems which she then pins into shadow boxes, strengthening the resemblance to elegantly preserved specimens.
Thread by thread, Cape Town-based artist Danielle Clough weaves vibrant creations upon her embroidery hoops. Using plants, animals, pop culture characters, and even quirky emojis as inspiration, the designer often fabricates elaborate portraits that serve to brighten any and every cloth canvas. Recently, Clough produced her highly popularWhat A Racket series, in which she looped thick thread upon vintage tennis and badminton rackets. The artist’s work, as a whole, represents the potential that’s hidden within strands of bold, colored thread.
Artist Izziyana Suhaimi combines mixed-media drawings and embroidery in a stunning series of portraits. She draws fashionable figures in graphite, pen, or watercolor and then enhances the artwork with stitched embellishments. These motifs add a contemporary spin on traditional portraiture, using the stark juxtaposition to enhance both media—the softness of the graphite or watercolor and the bold, intricate detailing made possible with embroidery.
Gloucestershire, England-based artist Debbie Smyth blurs the line between illustration and embroidery, two-dimensional and three-dimensional work, and fine art and textile creations with her charming “pin and thread” drawings. Smyth first plots out each artwork before meticulously filling in the space with masses of thread, forming elegantly expressive, linear depictions of everyday objects, animals, figures, and architecture. “I feel as if I am taking thread out of its comfort zone, presenting it on monumental scale, and creating an eye-catching, and in some cases jaw-dropping, effect,” the artist says.
Cayce Zavaglia recreates the aesthetic of classical oil paintings in hyperrealistic embroidered portraits that are so lifelike, it’s hard to believe they’re not photographs, let alone composed of hundreds of crosshatched stitches. With her focus honed in on narratives based on faces, Zavaglia explores the duality of identity by juxtaposing the realistic front and the abstract back of each embroidered painting, initiating a conversation about our presented versus our private selves.
Artist Linda Gass creates embroidered compositions with a distinct purpose: to illustrate the damage we’re causing our planet. Her detailed works utilize several techniques, including quilting and embroidery. Together, they produce colorful, sprawling landscapes that depict pollution, rising sea levels, and land use. The pieces are gorgeous with intricate details, which according to Gass, is deliberate. She told Mental Floss, “I try to lure people in with that beauty to get them to confront the hard issues we face.”