Inspired to Stitch, Exploring The Creative Journey with Olisa Corcoran

We’ve all seen or known young artists who’ve shown promise. What’s remarkable is to find someone who goes beyond the first flush of creativity to make unnervingly realized work before they’re out of school.

Knitting Myself. Hand embroidery by Mashail Faqeeh.

Knitting Myself. Hand embroidery by Mashail Faqeeh.

Saudi artist Mashail Faqeeh is one of those rare artists. At 21, this college senior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is creating surprisingly sophisticated embroideries. She uses thread the way painters use paint, filling the cheeks and eyes her portraits with layers and lines of color.

Detail of work in progress by Mashail Faqeeh.

Detail of work in progress by Mashail Faqeeh.

Looking at her work you have the feeling of seeing an artist develop her skills and vision. Some pieces are simple exercises. But then you see her make a giant artistic leap and create something startlingly mature, like Planted Heads (which she made for an online magazine about women’s empowerment.) In fact, I’m particularly taken with her depictions of women.

Mashail says she has “zero training in art.” She learned to embroider at the age of 10 when she realized she could not draw or color like other kids her age. She remembers being mocked as a child for embroidering during school recess, being called “grandma” because she was doing something so closely associated with old people. But her love of stitching did not fade.

Hand embroidery by Mashail Faqeeh.

Hand embroidery by Mashail Faqeeh.

Now Mashail embraces her passion with thread and textile art, experimenting, stitching and sharing her work online and in local exhibitions. And we are lucky enough to witness how she is progressing and exploring her art form.

John Nash. Hand embroidery and mixed media.

John Nash. Hand embroidery and mixed media.

What follows in an interview conducted via email in June and July of 2015. Mashail learned English in school and is an avid reader (her favorites include the poetry of Ann Sexton and the novels of Haruki Murakami). She speaks about her creative process with stunning clarity.

Afghan Woman in Burqua by Mashail Faqeeh.

Afghan Woman in Burqua by Mashail Faqeeh.

You’re very young and you describe yourself as mostly self-taught, however your work displays incredible confidence. Much of your stitching has a painterly, textural quality. For example, you used long, layered stitches for the skin on the hands of your piece وِييي! How did you develop that style of stitching?

I started embroidering when I was about 10 years old, mostly because I was not particularly good at coloring or painting. All the other kids loved to color with their crayons “neatly.” I was coloring in random horizontal and vertical lines to fill in any kind of space.

I also hated how there was only one nude color for the skin tone, and thought it looked odd. None of us had this light orange shade of skin, and that made me furious as a kid because I truly admired colors and I still do.

Hands by Mashail Faqeeh.

Hands by Mashail Faqeeh.

When I started embroidering actual people in the recent years, I had the same thought about not wanting to show the skin tone as only “light pink” or “brown.” Every person has multiple colors and shades on their skin (dark and light areas), and I wanted to embrace that in my own way. It was also a mission for me to represent embroidery as a form of art, much like painting. And so laying using different shades for me was the only logical thing to do.

Can you describe the first piece that you considered successful as textile artwork?

Wasting my Young Years. Frame 1.

Wasting my Young Years. Frame 1.

The piece that I had a very personal connection with while I was making was “Thoughts.” It features a girl painting her nails in her bathroom. It was very small in size, but it was the first piece that I tried the layering technique with, and I used another fabric for her bathrobe, which was new to me. It felt like a breakthrough for me in finding my own style.

The piece that got the most recognition from people was “Wasting My Young Years.” It didn’t take me that long to do. I was simply speaking my own mind. But I guess the message that it held was deep and people related to it strongly, and their response to it was very positive.

Wasting My Young Years, Frame 2.

Wasting My Young Years, Frame 2.

Thinking about source imagery, where do you find the images you translate into stitch? Do you keep a sketchbook, take photographs or clip files of the world around you?

I have a file on my laptop that contains artworks from artists I admire, and things that inspire me. I always go back to it whenever I feel like my thoughts are scattered or I need something to spark up an idea.

Wasting My Young Years, Frame 3.

Wasting My Young Years, Frame 3.

As I mentioned before, I’m very bad at sketching and drawing, but I do have a sketch book for my visual thoughts.

Usually I have an idea about a subject or something I love and I just write down the things that the piece will revolve around and kind of create the design that I pictured in my head. After that I search for pictures of each item I want to embroider in the same design, trace it, and turn it into a single piece. Sometimes, if I’m desperate, I take a picture (of my own hands, for example) trace it and continue working from there.

Hand embroidery by Mashail Faqeeh.

Hand embroidery by Mashail Faqeeh.

You feature text in many of your pieces, some of it in English and some in Arabic. Aside from the fact that, to me, Arabic writing looks so much more elegant than written English, how do you decide which language to use in your pieces?

To me, it is as simple as choosing the colors for each piece. Some phrases just make more sense in one language. Sometimes there are no synonyms for phrases and you just have to write it in Arabic (or English) because it has a sort of connection with that language wither its social or a cultural background.

Poem.

Poem.

I adore the piece Planted Heads. Can you tell us a little about the process that went into making it? Where is the imagery from?

Planted Heads.

Planted Heads.

Thank you! I did it for the first issue of an online magazine called Qahwa. The theme was women empowerment. I liked the idea of women being friends with each other within a group, while also managing to grow and be independent. The piece is inspired from an unknown artist. They did a digital design of three women sitting on a bench with plants on their heads. I liked the idea of associating that image with a topic like women empowerment.

You’ve shown your work in galleries and online. Can you tell us about the role social media plays in your artistic life in terms of connecting you with other artists? Have your online interactions and responses to your embroideries ever had an influence on your artwork, good or bad?

Planted Heads in a group exhibition.

Planted Heads in a group exhibition.

Of course sharing my work online is a huge part of my experience. Apart from meeting artists in galleries and events, being connected with them and keeping up with what they’re doing online is a big part of staying updated. Most of the artists I know I discovered online and I’m proud that so many of them are my friends.

Sharing my work online is still pretty overwhelming, because I did not share my work with anyone for a big part of my life, I still find it difficult to be exposed in that way, but I’m very blessed with having an amazing support system from everyone around me.

What can you tell us about the contemporary needlecraft scene Saudi Arabia?

Although embroidery is a very traditional method for decorating basically anything in the Arabic culture, it is considered one of the dying arts, even internationally. I haven’t seen anyone in Saudi use it as an art form yet, but I’m very excited about how it’s really developing now from all around the world there is so much potential in the coming future.

Hand embroidery.

Hand embroidery.

I think needlecraft and handiwork needs to be more celebrated in the art field, and that is mainly the massage I’m trying to deliver though my artwork every time I display or even share a picture on Instagram.

Finally, what projects are your currently working on or what projects are you planning to work on that have you most excited at this moment?

Recent work.

Recent work.

I’m currently working on finishing up commissions for the next two months. After that I’ll be working on the pieces I’ll be making for my upcoming book, called “Stitched.” The book is a collection of short poems. Each poem has its own embroidery art piece. I’m very excited about it!

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Self portrait of the artist.

Self portrait of the artist.

Be sure to spend time with Mashail’s work on Instagram and her Tumblr.

As she continues to show and share her work, I hope to see her bring the same attention to stretching and displaying her pieces that she puts into designing and stitching them. But I’m confident that will come as she grows as a working artist. I’m truly excited to see how Mashail develops over the next few years.

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Gear Threads Is The Mr X Stitch Machine Embroidery Column - Presented By Urban Threads!

There’s something magical about the combination of embroidery and animation — each frame slowly and artfully crafted, adding up to an embroidered work that comes to life in in a unique way.

Elliot Schultz is an animator and digital artist living in Melbourne, Australia who studied as an exchange student at the Rhode Island School of Design (where artists can study machine embroidery). All of this has rolled together in a truly stunning project — a collection of embroidered zoetropes.

Elliot-Schultz_Drifting-Wide

A zoetrope is a filmless animation technique that uses a rotating series of images to created the illusion of motion. Schultz embroidered fabric discs with several such series of images, then “played” them on a turntable to reveal the pictures in motion.

 

See more about the project on Colossal, and read the story behind it at Schultz’s site!

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Urban Threads - Unique and Awesome Machine Embroidery DesignsGear Threads is brought to you from the offbeat gals at Urban Threads. Created by illustrator Niamh O’Connor, Urban Threads is revolutionizing machine embroidery one edgy, elegant, innovative, and/or offbeat design at a time. Discover the future of digital stitchery at www.urbanthreads.com.

 

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Mr X Stitch presents Phat Quarter Finds

The Phat Quarter is our Flickr group where you can share pictures of your best stitcheries! Each week we pick one of the great embroideries shared at the Phat Q and share it with you lot!

This week it’s Mabith‘s latest design, which could can buy from her Etsy store if you’re feeling the same vibe.

Mabith's Pretty Hate Machine Cross Stitch

 

If you want more, here’s the latest 20 pictures that have been added. Why don’t you come and join us?

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Felter Skelter - your essential needle felting column from Mr X Stitch!

Calling all fantasy lovers! This month I’ve gathered some of my favorite needle felt dragons. Seven felt artists bring these fantastic creatures to life in spectacular detail, each in their own unique style.  Make sure to click through to each artist’s website to see more of their needle felt creations!

Alice FeltsAlice Felts

Amanda Kae CreationsAmanda Kae Creations

Gaibubuldine(Miyazaki fans will recognize Haku, from Spirited Away)
Gaibubuldine


Reve MiniaturesReve Miniatures

TallydragonTallydragon

ShyshyruShyshyru

BLM Dolls N Stuff…and finally, a REAL dragon – a Leafy Seadragon!
BLM Dolls N Stuff

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Felter Skelter. See you next time!

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