This week we share insight and inspiration from The Art of Embroidery: Inspirational Stitches, Textures and Surfaces in a Journal series from our contributing writer, Elaine Lipson.
As I was reading Françoise Tellier-Loumagne’s The Art of Embroidery: Inspirational Stitches, Textures and Surfaces, her deep visual dive into embroidery as an art and design form, I began to imagine the first embroiderer. Sometime in the 5th century B.C., maybe somewhere in China, our original stitcher broke through the functional-stitching wall and went decorative. Accidentally or deliberately, a stitch was formed that was not purely functional. Maybe grasses or stones or flowers came into the sewer’s view and became the first stitched motifs — or maybe he or she put a bird on it — and infinite possibilities were born.
Whatever inspired that original stitcher, everything that embroiderers do today is essentially the same, except that the techniques have been refined over 2500 years, made into patterns and diagrams with smooth manufactured needles and flosses, styled with regional variations, expanded into different forms, even industrialized and made by machine — and we love mastering the medium with all of this helpful structure. But this book definitely isn’t for tracing patterns and coloring inside the lines; like that first embroiderer, you’ll be challenged to figure out processes on your own.
Instead, this book is for experimenting, improvising, and pushing your limits as a stitcher and an artist. “To embroider is to draw, paint and write,” Tellier-Loumagne says. To embroider is to “look, analyze, choose, explore and translate… to express yourself… to create, innovate… to develop and elaborate.” And finally, it is to “express yourself and communicate.” Through hundreds of color plates of stitched and embellished cloth, often paired with an inspiration photograph of anything from leaves to fences to an orange covered in a rainbow of mold, Tellier-Loumagne creates a dizzying array of textures, dimensional effects, repeat and irregular patterns, layered stitches, blended colors, and shapes. This main section of the book is organized into twelve sections, from lines and stripes to friezes and frames to allover designs, and almost any page can be a starting point for experimenting.
The Art of Embroidery will happily put you to work with threads and floss but also with plastic paillettes, synthetic threads, and machine stitching — anything goes. It has a minimalist stitch guide (for a more detailed exploration, look to The Geometry of Hand-Sewing) and a brief survey of specialties such as whitework, blackwork, and goldwork; but here too, other resources do a better job of breaking down formal embroidery techniques, if that’s what you’re after. But when you feel the need to experiment, like that original stitcher in 5th century China, let this book set you loose to freely express and interpret what you see with stitches, and be inspired by everything around you.
Here are links to some of Elaine’s favorite nature-inspired embroidery artists to explore: