10 Artists Who Contemporize the Ancient Craft of Embroidery

portrait art by Juana Gomez

Embroidery is a timeless craft that transcends cultures and geography, having been found as early as the 30,000 BC in Russia, 3500 BC in China…

Although it started as a way to tailor and mend clothing, techniques were developed and opened up the possibilities for decorative stitching. As time went on, tapestries became increasingly sophisticated and recognized as a form of art.

Contemporary embroidery reflects the craft’s rich past, with many artists using ancient approaches to express themselves, their environment, or even commercially—embroidery in illustration is gaining quickly popularity. The artists selected here are advancing the field, ensuring that embroidery will be around for the next thousands of years.

Above: Juana Gomez maps out an intricate system of veins with embroidery floss.
Embroidery by Sarah K. Benning
Embroidered interior scenes mimic the look and feel of a still life painting.

Sarah K. Benning

Inspired by her own potted plant collection, artist Sarah K. Benning depicts interior spaces with a lot of green. She pairs cactuses, palms, and ferns with colorfully-patterned rugs and planters, approaching the piece as an illustration rather than textile. Her emphasis is on drawing, composition, and color choice—the thread is viewed like ink or paint rather than traditional embroidery.

Embroideries by Maricor / Maricar
Embroidery creates an unconventional form of hand-lettering.

Maricor / Maricar

The twin-sized studio known as Maricor / Maricar specializes in embroidered text. Their wide-range of typographic styles demonstrates an interest in all that is hand lettering, from fancy scripts to playful block forms. The use of thread adds dimension to the letters, creating a unique and unconventional twist on graphic design.

Ana Teresa Barboza's work creates a dynamic juxtaposition between realism and abstraction.
Barboza’s work creates a dynamic juxtaposition between realism and abstraction.

Ana Teresa Barboza

Ana Teresa Barboza’s artwork rides a fine line between embroidery and sculpture. Her landscape images trail off the hoop, extending down the wall and even to the floor. It’s as if the work depicts two different worlds: within the embroidery hoop is precise stitching; outside of that wooden circle, however, there is abstracted, free-flowing colors that feels less controlled and more chaotic.

Embroidery on paper gives Izziyana Suhaimi's drawings a three-dimensional feel.
Embroidery on paper gives Izziyana Suhaimi’s drawings a three-dimensional feel.

Izziyana Suhaimi

“Embroidery for me is a quiet and still act,” Izziyana Suhaimi writes, “where each stitch represents a moment passed.” The building of these stitches demonstrates the forward motion of time, and the final work a manifestation of these collection hours, seconds, and even days. Here, Suhaimi pairs thread with pen and ink, pairing unrestrained flowing drips with measured stitches.

Embroideries by Cayce Zavaglia
A photorealistic style makes Zavaglia’s embroidery appear as photographs.

Cayce Zavaglia

Trained as a painter, Cayce Zavaglia switched to embroidery 12 years ago in an attempt to, among other things, create a body of work that referenced a specific embroidered artwork she owned as a child. Her pieces have an exclusive focus on the portraits of family, friends, and fellow artists, with a technique that mimics brushstrokes and thick oil pigment. “My stitching methodology borders on the obsessive,” she writes, “but ultimately allows me to visually evoke painterly renditions of flesh, hair, and cloth.”

Embroidery by Lisa Smirnova
Lisa Smirnova uses her tiny, staggered stitches as a means of decoration in her embroidery.

Lisa Smirnova

Artist Lisa Smirnova fuses fine art techniques with a flattened, graphic style. Her portrait of a young man recalls the Impressionist approach, as she sews strands of peach, sienna, and brown next to one another. Individually, they’re just threads. Together, they give her work a sense of dimension and form.

Sophie Standing’s shading takes a scribble-like approach that’s appreciated from viewing the piece in detail.
Sophie Standing’s shading takes a scribble-like approach that’s appreciated from viewing the piece in detail.

Sophie Standing

Artist Sophie Standing’s vibrant animal portraits were inspired by her move from England to Africa. Surrounded by flora and fauna, she combines this with her passion for fabric, textile, and embroidery. Her large one-off pieces are created using a mix of appliqué—which creates the overall form—and embroidered details over top which creates a sense of dimension and depth.

Embroidery by Juana Gómez
Through embroidery, Juana Gomez shows that our bodies create some of the most intricate designs.

Juana Gomez

Embroidery by Juana Gomez is informed by nature and the processes that determine how organic beings are structured. In particular, she looks at the central nervous system of humans and stitches the connections between its different areas. By doing this, she is deciphering the body’s language and distinguishes a pattern that influences the biological, social and culture. Her artwork embodies these ideas with realistically-rendered veins, organs, and more.

bumblebee and cat embroidery by Emillie Ferris
Furry creatures lend themselves to Emillie Ferris’ embroidery style.

Emillie Ferris

The Suffolk-based artist Emillie Ferris creates embroidered hoop art that pays homage to beasts both large and small. Simple in execution, the animal portraits showcase an impressive amount of realism. Ferris’ style of stitching has the soft look of a colored pencil drawing.

Embroidery by Tsuru Bride
Sometimes, it’s better when things are left unknown.

Tsuru Bride

Tsuru Bride, aka Meghan Willis, celebrates women’s strength and sexuality through her work. “I explore the art of undressing, movement, and sensuality through embroidery,” she writes. “I aim to tempt the viewer to follow the delicate stitching that caresses the bodies I reveal through thread.” This particular piece utilizes painted leather appliqué to create an intriguing optical illusion that leaves us anxious to know more.

Images © respective artists and studios.
Sara Barnes

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Sara is a Baltimore, Maryland-based blogger and illustrator. She's obsessed with finding the latest and greatest in illustration, which she shares through her blog, Brown Paper Bag. Offline, Sara enjoys embroidering flowers and foods that she's eaten and enjoyed. Follow the author @ Twitter , Instagram, Facebook and view more articles.