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.
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Lithuanian artist Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene 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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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 popular What 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.
Chilean artist Jose Romussi sees the potential hidden within vintage photographs. Despite their black-and-white composition, the designer is able to perceive a world full of color and whimsicality within the portraits of graceful dancers. To highlight their eloquent beauty, Romussi embroiders rainbow-colored lines right on top of the images. He embraces the curves, lines, and posture that’s being portrayed, as he stitches ornate and visually energetic patterns onto ballerinas’ outfits. Without outshining his pictorial people, Romussi simply enhances the snapshots that catch his eye. The artist works with the dancers who become one with his embroidery.
Artist Teresa Lim literally has a world of inspiration before her. While traveling across the globe, the creative adds to her Sew Wanderlust series by embroidering the landscapes that have become a visual part of her memories. From cityscapes filled with eye-catching architecture to lush, natural environments, Lim manages to capture each and every detail in a flourish of thread and color. Since she doesn’t rely on photographs when she’s embroidering, the artist must sit before her scenic muse and be present in the moment. At its core, Lim’s project combines the cultured aspect of travel with the beauty of embroidery.
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.
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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.
Kirsty Whitlock challenges the typical perceptions of embroidery art, making use of the medium as a creative outlet to communicate a social message. Her artwork incorporates recycled and reclaimed materials which act as a commentary on the “throwaway culture of consumerism” that we lead. Discarded household items, bags, and newspapers serve as a base for edgy embroidery pieces with a graphic quality. The young artist maintains that embroidery has the power to transform and challenge preconceived notions within our society.
X-rays and MRIs are certainly unconventional canvases, but Matthew Cox looks beyond their intended use and transforms them into embroidered works of art. The Philadelphia-based artist adds brightly-colored thread to the scans that are a striking visual contrast. A boney hand is connected with fleshy fingers enjoying the outdoors, while a skull has thick lashes and golden locks flowing across its face. In each piece, his embroidered enhancements communicate scenes of life rather than sickness.
Paris-based artist Anastassia Elias shares a flair for large-scale string art in public spaces. The artist has presented both a giant pair of lungs and precarious tight-roping elephant as expansive outdoor installations (the elephant measures 200 cm x 150 cm). Close up, her pieces seem to be chaotic knots of thread, but stepping further back reveals a detailed big picture. Elias’s quirky, whimsical works seem larger than life but are, in fact, woven out of simple yarn.
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.”
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Urban X Stitch
Urban X Stitch takes the concept of street graffiti and marries it with embroidery techniques to create something unique. Similar to yarn bombing, the company creates artistic public displays to line the streets with colorful yarn and thread. Weaving their simple yet vibrant designs through fences, the collective brightens up the everyday structures with the intent of cheering up passersby, one embroidered chain link fence at a time.
Athens-based shop Fabulous Cat Papers blends science and art to create handcrafted notebooks decorated with vintage scientific illustrations and beautiful embroidery enhancements. Anatomical drawings, geometric patterns, nature scenes, and more gain a new dimension thanks to the colorful stitches that run across each cover. Every journal is bound by hand and made to order, guaranteeing a unique gift for the notetaker in your life.
Inspired by nature and her skeins of colorful thread, Irem Yazici (a.k.a. Baobap Handmade) turns hand embroidery into quirky works of wearable art that would spice up any outfit. Using needle and thread, Yazici decorates jewelry and accessories with everything from miniature landscapes to adorable planets to whimsical creatures. As playful as it is intricate, her embroidery definitely makes for a bold fashion statement.
World renowned artist Olek spends her life looping endless yards of yarn, spinning the world around her into intricate crochet art and larger than life public creations. Born and raised in Poland, the slightly eccentric (yet wonderfully talented) artist moved to New York to pursue a degree in cultural studies, which is where she discovered her passion for crochet. She has since exhibited collections around the world, known for her unique style of “crochet graffiti” art (also known as “yarn bombing”). Seeing no need to separate life from art, Olek can typically be found “in her Brooklyn studio with a bottle of spiced Polish vodka aggressively re-weaving the world as she sees fit.”
Which other artists do you like that are pushing the boundaries of embroidery?