Like knitting and crochet before it, embroidery is now making a comeback – with contemporary embroiderers bringing a modern spin to a retro handicraft.
Embroidery is back. Throughout the ages, this highly respected technique has produced beautiful works, from unprecedented tapestries to haute couture and colorful folklore. But over the last decades, embroidery was dismissed, falling into the category of tacky home crafts at worst, or artsy craftsmanship at best. Until 2005 that is, when Dutch artist Rob Scholte put embroidery back in the spotlight by collecting samples of embroidery works found in thrift stores and flea markets.
He was inspired, in his own words, because he could not understand why people preferred mass-produced Ikea prints in their homes instead of beautiful embroidery work, often produced with lots of love and devotion. Scholte reframed vintage milkmaids, windmills and deer. But with a twist: He framed them backward, for he considers the ragged back to be even more beautiful, because it is where the hand of the creator comes to life. It is nice to see that, having gone in and out of style throughout the years, embroidery seems to be appreciated now even more than ever.
But the best thing to happen to embroidery surely is that independent creatives have once again embraced the technique and infected others with their enthusiasm. You can see it happening on online platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. On the latter alone there are almost seven million posts with the hashtag #embroidery. Now that has an impact. We spoke to a few ‘new’ embroiderers to hear their story.
Under the name The Captain & Anouk Co (thecaptainandanoukco.etsy.com), Reilly Case from Australia makes mainly flower medallions, breathing new life into the vintage materials with which she works. She feels a bit of the same connection toward embroidery as Scholte: “The daintiness of embroidered fabric has something very special that has always affected me,” she says.
“Particularly vintage embroidery. If you know how much time and love has gone into it… that really gives it something magical. I myself began embroidering after I contracted dengue fever in Bali and couldn’t work while I was ill. I was really bored, so I picked up a needle and thread to entertain myself and then I never actually stopped. Embroidery has a calming effect on me. Sitting on the couch with a cup of tea, a chocolate cookie, my cat Anouk on my lap and a needle and thread in my hands. For me, it is a mindfulness exercise.”
“I think it’s quite nice that it has a somewhat kitschy, retro reputation. I put a modern spin on my works. Metallic thread is my favorite. It’s beautifully glittery but also notoriously tricky, so I like to use it, but sparingly. These days I regularly get special requests to embroider something, like for a wedding dress. That is always very flattering, that someone trusts you to make something so personal.”
- Read the stories of more modern embroiderers in Issue 25.
Text Chris Muyres Photography Annie Spratt/Unsplash.com