May 21, 2008

A fine line

I've been thinking about what is or isn't contemporary embroidery. Maybe unusual topics or materials aren't the only things that are contemporary. If it's made by someone alive today, wouldn't that qualify? I think so.

But what do you think? Does cutesy Japanese inspired embroidery count as contemporary? Does animal embroidery? How about flowers? They are about as traditional as can be! Are they not? I find it fascinating that there seems to be a pretty fine line between what is 'modern' and what isn't.

1. ATC Needlefelt Hedgerow 1 Traded, 2. hogweed detail, 3. Tinted 1920's lady, 4. Gingy and the Evil Milk, 5. Mais perto, 6. doo_leroux's apron, 7. Pretty Puggy!, 8. playing with my pin tuck foot, 9. redwork strawberry jam


  1. This is a fascinating question! I think about this a lot, too, and I agree that anything that's stitched in the present day counts as "contemporary", for different reasons, of course.

    For instance there are women who actively re-stitch antique samplers originally made in the 17-1800's. This interest in motifs of the past is a comment on current times, I think. Ditto for people fascinated by vintage 40's and 50's kitschy patterns (like me) :)

    I'd call cutesy images contemporary, too but this movement toward cute has happened before - in other words, there are times in history when people use comforting, happy images to cheer themselves up (usually war times, or times of national insecurity, like what are now occurring in the US).

    All wonderful food for thought - thanks for this post! :)

  2. I have spent about 8 hours over the last several evenings gathering and sorting all the embroidery floss that I have accumulated over the last 30 years.

    Skeins from estate sales, leftover hanks from finished projects etc. One batch was from the estate of a contemporary counted cross-stitcher and was all organized in little zip lock bags with color numbers on them.

    After adding that group to the mix, I studied the color differences from the older groups and was amazed at how colors date themselves. Even the neutrals can have a modern or vintage look.

    I prefer vintage looking motifs with old thread colors, but I have been branching out to color book motifs of Hello Kitty! (on dishtowels, though, so I guess that is a combo of modern/old school)

    I really enjoy the discussion, though!

  3. There's an exhibit right now in the DC area -- "The Thread as Line: Contemporary Sewn Art," which includes some very interesting embroidery pieces, sewn by young artists. Possibly this is further afield from your topic, but I offer it because I think it's interesting food for thought.

    See the Washington Post review here: "The Fabric of Freedom, Redefined" by Jessica Dawson.

    I think that Sublime Stitching patterns are fun and funky, but I'm disappointed that Jenny is basically out there as the only person making edgy, contemporary embroidery patterns. Certainly home sewers have at least a HANDFUL of cool pattern companies to go to, and some freshly updated colors in the quilt-fabric world.

    On the other hand, is this a sign that more home embroiderers are making their own patterns, adopting a wider array of clip art, or doing more freehand sewing? I wonder.

    I do feel like embroidery ends up seeming so "old-school" sometimes and needs some freshening up as a craft.

  4. I should have acknowledged what you said about the Japanese craft books too, which are great (and which are easy to find at Kinokinuya bookstores in NYC, San Francisco and Portland OR, as well as on ebay, but tough to find otherwise in the world, I'm surprised more local craft and sewing stores don't take the plunge with untranslated ones. The illustrated instructions tend to be great and the only conversion I ever need to make is from cms to inches.)

    I wonder why Japanese publishers and crafters are so "with it" in terms of coming up with new designs and striving for crafting that matches the contemporary lifestyle, and in the US we're more oriented towards vintage and mixed-media?

    Japan is definitely craftier -- all the large department stores, at least in Tokyo and Kyoto which are the only ones I've visited, have sewing sections with fabric, sewing machines, notions, and embroidery supplies. Take that, Macy's!

  5. To me contemporary embroidery is not following the old rules about what to stich, where to stich, what to stitch with, and basically just doing what works for you until you achieve a end result you're happy with :)

  6. I feel the similar to Drewzel. It's a good question and one I have pondered even more since reading "subversive stitch". Images have changed with the times, and current images are no different in that they reflect current interests. I am finding it exciting to see embroidery escape from the confines of traditional methods and formats as well as being more content driven rather than technique driven.