ARTeries: Embroidery – rough, raw and revolutionary

Fibristas and Fibristos, gone are the days when our backsides were neat, our knots buried or non-existent, our stitches and patterns tidy and pro-scribed. We have added exotic and prosaic materials, borrowed from other cultures, and learned to express our own visions and interests. Who says floss is just floss, aida is the only base and the florals and kittens have to be damp stretched and flat? This month we’ll visit some artists who are working with different materials and subjects, and who trust the stitch to use its own voice.

Michael Sylvan Robinson combines riotous Fauvist colours with deep raw stitches on faces that recall medieval icons and saints. Stitched and beaded on canvas, and with found objects in collage form, these embroideries are visceral and strong. Manly mythology is apparent here and gorgeously so.

Above: Michael Sylvan Robinson – Dionysus Grown Up.

Below: Michael Sylvan Robinson – Locating the Lost Butterfly Boy

Myrthe Verdonk’s work is ethereal yet powerful at the same time. If angels painted and manipulated paper, burning images on transparencies, their work would look like this. Her meditation series has thread removed, reworked and coloured in earth tones. Death masks have never looked so soothing.

Above: Myrthe Verdonk – Meditation 7

Below: Myrthe Verdonk – Meditation 8

Using thread as a form of “crosshatching”, Elisa D’Arrigo sews layered recycled cloth and paper forms together. These cell like structures become more than the sum of parts, creating forms that are reminiscent of landscapes, isolated body parts and shields. Every opening or pocket invites you in to inspect the details, familiar yet alien on such a scale. Even a plain stitch can be elevated to wonderful use.

Above: Elisa D’Arrigo – Budding

Below:  Elisa D’Arrigo – Inside Out

For those whose love is high tech materials, check out Skin Architecture,  Zane Berzina’s conductive threads and silicone sculpture. Depicting our favourite body part, skin, who wouldn’t want this on their bedroom wall? Striking and romantic! It may not look like embroidery, but the premise is there, threading filaments through a substrate, just like floss through starched linen.

For true rawness and no preconceived ideas about “how” to embroider, please check out the Nui Project. Stitched primarily on shirts by mentally disabled artists, these sing of stitch as Stitch. Erratic but exciting, this opens a whole can of wax about the meaning of “Art”.

Above: Nobue Higashi – Nui Shirt

Below: Nui Shirt – Unidentified artist

With this method of embroidery, one can go to vibrant extremes, increasing the scale and use rough materials, or at the opposite of the spectrum, work dimunitively with strands of hair and the sheerest cheesecloth. No plan, no pain! Work a sampler of sorts, get out an old shirt or photograph, plastic bags, anything a needle will go through. Clyde Oliver embroiders on rocks, Leigh Anne Lester uses invisible thread and vinyl, Lee Renninger combines porcelain and fibres. Find an origami site and explore shape as well. For a quick lesson on Frankenstitching, see the video.

Now go forth, and DisEmbroider!


Arlee Barr is a Canadian artist, working primarily with textiles. She describes herself as “curious, eccentric and just a little opinionated“. Surrealist in thought, Fauvist at heart, Arlee likes the eclectic, explorative and absurd. Sprinkled around the interwebs, she can be found hanging around her fantastic blog.