October 19, 2013

Interview with Karen Elwell, Collector of textiles

I have had my eye on the amazing collection of Karen Elwell ever since I first joined Flickr.  I am particularly fascinated with her beautiful woven and embroidered textiles from Mexico. Stitched dresses and tablecloths have always been a part of my earliest memories, and I'm sure they were my first embroidered inspirations. From textiles to huipils to wood carvings, Karen's eye for beauty is amazing. It's an honor to introduce her to you today - she shares a few favorites from her collection, and was kind enough to answer a few questions. Enjoy this introduction to Karen!

Maya Huipil Mexico

How long have you been a collector of textiles? What region is your favorite?
I've been collecting textiles since a trip to Guatemala in the 1970's. But I have been interested in non-western dress since I visited Chicago's Field Museum as a child and saw the exotic textiles and clothing displayed in the museum. I lived in Ecuador for a year in the early 1980's and became very interested in the many regional styles of dress worn in that small country. My first visit to Mexico was in 1985. Back then it was very common to see indigenous Mexican women wearing traditional dress on a daily basis, and I wanted to learn everything I could about the women -- who they were; where they came from -- and their beautiful clothing.

The indigenous textiles of Mexico are my favorites. But I also like Guatemalan, Andean and Indonesian textiles a lot.

Mazahua Bag Michoacan

How do you discover the works you feature in your photographs?
Many of the photos posted on my Flickr site show textiles from my own collection. I frequently visit museums in Mexico and here in the US to shoot photos of the textiles and clothing on display for posting on Flickr. My goal is to create a "virtual museum" which is available to anyone who has an interest in textiles, especially the women in Mexican indigenous communities who created these works of art.

Mazahua Embroidery

Do you have a favorite style of embroidery?
My favorite style of embroidery is cross stitch. That is what always draws my eye. For many years I did cross stitch myself. It was my form of meditation.

Quechquemitl Nahua

Your eye for color is wonderful - do you have an art background?
I don't have an "art background," although I loved to draw as a child. My Dad taught me to bead on a loom when I was very young, and I think that's why I love cross stitching so much. The stitches are like little beads.

Mazatec Huipil

What is it about Mexican textiles that interests you most?
I love Mexican textiles because of the great variety and, of course, the vibrant colors. There are always "new to me" textiles to be discovered in that huge country. I admire the immense creativity and skill of the women and men who make these textiles, and I find it fascinating that so many design motifs you see in 2013 date back to very ancient times.

Morral Mexico Bag

What would you suggest to others who are thinking of becoming collectors of textiles?
My advice to budding textile collectors is "If it looks nice, buy it." Collectors should surround themselves with the things they love. There are so many resources available today (the internet mainly) for new collectors to learn about where the textiles are/were made, who made them, and when and why. Many museums all over the world are digitizing their collections and posting photos on the web. I find new photos posted by museums almost every week.


Thank you, Karen, for this interview, and for doing such a beautiful work preserving beauty of many cultures. Your appreciation for this beautiful handiwork is truly inspiring! To view more of Karen's collection, be sure to visit her Flickr photos.

Hi, I'm floresita, editor of Feeling Stitchy. I'm an avid stitcher, knitter, and crafter. You can see more of my stitching on Instagram and my blog. My vintage transfer collection is on Vintage Transfer Finds.

Feel free to email me with any ideas for the blog!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this - I too am a collector of textiles from all over the world and love embroidered textiles. I look forward to looking at her flickr collection.

    From western Massachusetts.