Welcome to the Cutting (& Stitching) Edge, where we showcase people whose embroidered creativity is fresh and new!
Rima Day is a Nashville-based needlework artist whose intricate embroideries in red thread are a dark expression of the edge of creativity.
“I make stitches on fabric, imagining that the needle for me is like a writer’s pen. Rather than expressing my thoughts in words, I express myself with thread. The number of threads increases as I stitch, forming structures that resemble tree veins, root systems, or blood vessels. What these shapes have in common is that they split into thinner appendages to both absorb and distribute nourishment. I often wonder if love is similar to this.
“Since I have been sewing for many years, thread to me has always been the element which connects the individual parts. Thread symbolizes connections. Even if the thread is not used to put separate parts physically together, it helps me connect myself to nature’s fragility and resilience.
“I often use red thread because red is the color of blood, which to me represents vitality, love and life. It also symbolizes human connection in the Japanese culture that I was raised in. Perhaps, the hanging threads in my work are my attempt to establish a connection with the world.“
How did your technique evolve?
I was making Rococo period dresses with used jeans before the pandemic started. They were shown in several galleries and I was scheduled to display them at the Nashville International Airport in Summer 2020 and was working toward the exhibition. My background is in the design and construction of fashion/costume related works, so making those dresses was a natural extension of my skills and techniques.
But after everything was closed in Spring of 2020, and of course the exhibition was cancelled, I completely lost my interest in the project. Instead, I started to draw inspiration from scenes in nature, some images from Renaissance paintings and notions of health, fragility, love, and vitality.
I tried many techniques to achieve what I wanted to make – some I had tried years ago, some were completely new to me – such as fabric flower making, woodworking, embroidery, couching stitches, beading, fabric sculpture, fiber reactive dyeing, papier-mâché, bookmaking, sashiko stitching, fiber art installation on my walls, etc…
I also went from the blue monochromatic colors of used jeans to the full range of the color wheel with fiber reactive dyeing. I decided that I wanted to focus on a few colors. If there are too many choices of colors, I get overwhelmed. I picked red because of the many significant meanings the color carries. From there, I started to play with red thread.
I came to the conclusion that I feel most happy when I stitch by hand. But I am not a good painter and I can’t use embroidery floss to depict images. Also I have always used fabric to make something more 3 dimensional so I feel comfortable working with 3D format. And I came to where I am, making 3 dimensional vein and root systems with red thread.
Where do you think your creativity is taking you?
My creativity is taking me to where I can express my emotional, philosophical, and spiritual thoughts with an artistic language that I picked. For me, creating something had never been self-expression since I was a craftsman, technician, and designer. I just started this journey and am looking forward to what is ahead.
What other artists inspire you?
Paintings from the Renaissance, especially crucifixions because I feel like the blood from the wounds of Jesus is an analogy of love.
For contemporary artists, Maria Lai. I often get comments that my work evokes hers. I do love her fabric books. Her work to me is playful but contemplative. She uses thread as a meaningful material, which I resonate with a lot. There are more artists who work with a form of books that are not book arts or altered books, such as Franca Sonnino and Mirella Bentivolio. They are inspiring as well. I like books…
Another contemporary artist I am drawn to is Chiharu Shiota. The combination of red thread and objects makes the viewer imagine a story behind it. I think her work inspired me to take pictures of objects and embroider them. And her idea of red thread as representing human connection makes so much sense to me since I am from Japan, too.
What is your favourite tool to use in your practice?
A needle! For me, it is like a pen for a writer. It is a tool to materialize my language.
But I am selective about needles. I use the needles from Misuya Needles in Kyoto, Japan. The store was established 400 years ago. Their needles are sharper and stronger than any other needles I have ever used and come with many different sizes so I can pick one depending on thread and fabric. And most of all, their needles have very small eyes and don’t make a large holes in fabrics. Because of it, anyone who has used my needles accidentally complains that it is hard to thread these needles. It is getting more difficult for me too these days, I hate to admit…
Can you share one creative tip with our readers?
Don’t get trapped in following the customary way of doing things. Textile art is an old tradition that has many conventional procedures. But depending on what you are making, you can do it in different ways. I feel like lots of procedures are based on the idea that the end product is going to be worn or used. I had a difficult time divorcing from the conventional ways because of my garment construction background, but I get better ways of solving problems when I free myself from traditional ways.
When I first discovered Rima’s work I was reminded of the invasion of the Red Weed in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, as the red threads on her work spread and latch onto objects and begin to reclaim them. However it became clear that these aren’t plant-like feelers, but are more akin to neural paths that grow from Rima’s conscious as the creative ideas take root.
The work sits on the edge of Rima’s creativity and there’s a duality between the slowness of the process and the unbound decision making. I don’t think Rima’s can predict the actual outcome of the work until it’s done; take a trip through her Instagram and you’ll see the ideas evolve.
Despite their organic nature and the fact that we all have veins and arteries that supply us with lifeblood, there’s a hint of madness about Rima’s work. Something sinister that is emphasised in her choices in cyanotype subjects and in the almost gothic nature of her fabric books. It is darkly irresistable.