How an Embroidery Artist Turned Her “Thread Sketching” Into a Vibrant Body of Art [Interview]

Embroidery by Danielle Clough on a Tennis Racket

Embroidery artist Danielle Clough finds unusual places to put thread. Known for her stitched designs that sprawl the laces of vintage rackets, she isn’t afraid to try new avenues for her work. Like many artists, Clough is continually pushing herself to explore and experiment, ultimately honing her visual language. The vintage rackets, which she began nearly a decade ago, weren’t forever. She's now focusing her creative energies on other projects, but the hallmarks of her work—a painterly application of stitches and use of vibrant colors—remain.

After transitioning away from embroidery on rackets, Clough continues to employ her brilliant use of hues to create portraiture, still life, and nature-inspired works. Some of the pieces venture further into the realm of abstraction with a co-mingling of embroidery threads and watercolor painting. Her Girl Dust collection, however, is fully abstract. The series combines pieces of cut thread and yarn from her other works as she arranges them into large, swirling universes of color that are housed in circular frames.

We had the opportunity to speak with Clough about her work and where her love of bright colors comes from. Scroll down to read My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.

Embroidery artist Danielle Clough discusses her creative journey, from stitching on vintage rackets to creating artwork based on her countless thread scraps.

Embroidery by Danielle Clough on a Tennis Racket

Embroidery by Danielle Clough on a Tennis Racket

How did you get your start in embroidery?

I sort of stumbled onto embroidery. When I was very young my mother taught me to use a needle and thread and sewing machine, and growing up I would make (terribly fitted) clothes out of old curtains and fabric lying around the house. Later, when I was studying advertising at a school very conveniently situated above a fabric store, I would make plush toys based on characters my friends and I would draw. I would stitch the details onto the toys and draw little elements with thread. These details evolved and became more complex with time. It all just grew from there. I initially thought I had invented a new medium and called it thread sketching!

Embroidery by Danielle Clough on a Tennis Racket

Embroidery on a Mesh Wire

You’ve previously stitched imagery on old tennis rackets, but your more recent portfolio includes various works. Can you talk about one or two of your favorites?

I first started making rackets in 2015! I still make them and love them, but my focus recently has been on working with new mediums and moving into a more abstract way of creating. It can be easy to get stuck in a comfort zone, and I feel it’s important to play and experiment to grow. Even if they are complete failures and end up in the bottom of a shoe box.

I have been loving working with watercolor on fabric and sewing into it. There is something so freeing about watching the paint absorb into the fabric and having so little control over it. It is so different from stitching, which is such a conscious and deliberate act.

I also recently created a series of “expressions” on t-shirts for Adidas, and really enjoy seeing how a group of pieces work together as a collection. My next challenge to myself is to combine these two new discoveries and create a collection of works using paint, beads, and thread.

I have one other project that I’m obsessed with, but it's still in the development phase so I’m holding onto these secrets for a while longer!

Embroidered Eyes by Danielle Clough

Embroidered Eyes by Danielle Clough

Your work has so many vibrant hues. What inspires your use of color?

I ask myself this all the time! I recently discovered old letters and diaries from when I was a kid and they are covered in rainbow borders, bright highlighters, glitter, and milky pens. Perhaps I just never grew up!? I have always leaned towards very saturated colors, it's in my disposition. I think that everyone has a color language. The inspiration for one's unique color palettes is innate in us all, it’s what you are naturally drawn to that gives a sense of comfort and joy.

Thread Clippings by Danielle Clough

“Girl Dust”

You have a brilliant use for your off-cut threads: Girl Dust. Can you tell us a little about that collection and how it came together? 

The Girl Dust series is so different from my usual work because it is abstract, which is worlds away from my literal works like my pop culture pieces or portraits. For years I had been looking for ways to give life to my off-cut threads (orts) that never felt like “rubbish” just because it was the unfortunate part of the yarn that happened to be at the tail of a sequence of stitches. I first collected these slivers in glass bottles that soon filled my studio and I wanted a way for the threads to have their own life, to be able to be used and loved. After experiments with trying to create a fabric, odi-coating it into a plastic (I do not recommend this!), I started working with my framers to create a frame built to house the threads, and the Girl Dust series was started!

Watercolor Painting With Embroidery

Watercolor Painting With Embroidery

What is your favorite thing about embroidery versus a medium such as painting?

I started embroidery before painting, and perhaps because I grew up around sewing it never felt like an intimidating medium. With embroidery, the calm meditative process is as valuable to me as much as the outcome. I feel that I can just make for the sake of making, I feel a sense of freedom in the realm of craft.

What are you working on next? Anything exciting on the horizon?

I have some exciting secrets that I can’t share yet, BUT… I can share that I will be having a series of workshops and a show at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia later in 2023!

Watercolor Painting With Embroidery

Embroidered Eyes by Danielle Clough

Embroidered Shoe

Danielle Clough: Website | Instagram | Skillshare 

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Danielle Clough. 

Related Articles:

Embroidery Artist Sarah K. Benning on Her Vivid Floral Pieces and Growing as an Artist [Podcast]

12 Online Embroidery Classes That Make It Easy to Learn Creative Stitching of All Kinds

Artist Creates Double Hoop “Wreath” Embroidery Featuring Beautiful Botanical Illustrations

Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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