Contemporary Embroidery

Following Rebecca Fairley’s useful article on the OCA website, I thought I would take another look at the way in which contemporary artists using embroidery are pushing the boundaries of this traditional technique.

Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė is a Lithuanian artist, originally working with feathers, she later turned her attention to cross-stitch embroidery. But instead of adorning household goods such as table cloths, she uses metal and household utensils as her ground. The artist states that her use of traditionally masculine surfaces neutralises the cosy/kitsch effect of this traditionally feminine and domestic craft. She also mentions in her artist statement, that the monotonous activity of sewing can give a feeling of safety and meditation in times of stress (such as war). She comments on the fact that women from all sorts of backgrounds will end up making the same objects when they are copied from magazine patterns. I feel that this is rather a harsh judgement of people’s creativity, as the same pattern may be personalised, have improvisations added, such as colour changes, choice of ground, etc. Also each hand that works a standard pattern will leave their own unique mark in the stitching (tension/care taken/size of stitch, etc). However, she says that this is a form of common communication leading to the creation of a cosy atmosphere and sense of security. Severija notices the same approach in restaurants and other public buildings where antique tools and utensils are displayed (much like traditional pubs in this country). She sees her work as an ironic comment on this practice, by adorning unusual objects with ‘kitsch’ embroidery, she turns them into contemporary art to be displayed in galleries.


Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė, A Path Strewn With Roses (1 of 13 pieces), 2009


Another connection is made between her roses embroidered onto car parts, with car crashes and the plastic flowers left at the roadside as memorials to the dead.
Her Sunflowers collection utilises recycled, rusted and distressed metalwork, embroidered and re-made into lampshades – a reminder of the flowers’ need for light, but with a wabi-sabi-like touch of melancholy at the transience of objects (and people?) and of time passing.

Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė, Sunflower, 2010. Metal parts, cotton, wire, bulb. Cross-stitch, drilling, welding. 168 x 43  x 43 cm. Photo by Liudas Masys.


Severija also unrips embroidery from its installation on gallery walls leaving “a plane for other works and an empty space.” Perhaps linking to a need to tear down the art that is ‘the establishment’ and create new, innovative works in its place?

What can I learn from this artist?
To make or find connections between my work and issues in the wider world, ie, to give the work meaning. To use unconventional materials mixed with traditional techniques. To exaggerate scale.

Jilli Blackwood is a Scottish artist, famous for her ‘slash and show’ textiles (a combination of hand dyeing, layering, cutting, pleating, sewn and embroidered by hand and machine). The textiles may be for clothing or wall hangings and interior decor. Digital reproductions of the handmade textiles are also used for garments and soft furnishings.

Jilli Blackwood, kilted skirt called ‘Tilda’, 2010


Jilli’s work has graced Heathrow Airport during the 2015 ‘Made In Scotland’ week in the form of sashes, billboards etc., and the Team Scotland parade at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The uniforms of kilts or sashes in vivid autumnal shades, paired with shirts for the men and dresses for the women, in bright sea blue, were not praised by everyone, as one might have imagined. However, the artist was happy to have the designs labelled as ‘controversial’. I agree with her, that to ‘break the mould’ is always going to upset traditionalists, but life would be very dull if nothing ever changed in the art world.

Her ongoing series of embroidered textiles, “The Fabric of My Life”, is a documentation through fabric and stitch, of the artist’s experiences, commissions and memories. She sees the series of works, (from the last 25 years), as a journal of her life, evoking thoughts and feelings as she looks at and touches the textiles. The artist says “Developing the pieces is a reflective process and it gives me the strength to continue.”

This artist’s work is resonant with the colours and textures of the Scottish landscape, influenced by the Scottish colourist painters.

What can I learn from this artist?

To follow my own interests and ideas, yet be informed by the work of other artists, and tradition. To be brave enough to take risks, and push the boundaries of what is expected by and ‘acceptable’ to others.

Kazuhito Takadoi is a Japanese garden designer and artist who has lived and studied in the UK, and USA. His work is inspired by nature, and natural materials are integral to his work, which involves harvesting the plant material, drying it, then weaving, stitching or tying the fibres. Grass and twigs are transformed into dimensional artworks inspired by nature. Shadows and the changes wrought on the artworks by time are also of interest to the artist.


Kazuhito Takadoi, ‘Kyousei 2‘ (Symbiosis 2)


The sun, snow, stones, blossom, eyes, fruit, insects and the seasons have all provided this artist with inspiration. The simple beauty of the artist’s work is enhanced by his knowledge and observation of the subjects.

What can I learn from this artist?

Experiment with unusual materials, and be inspired by nature and your surroundings (if that is your passion). Observe, draw and simplify what you want to depict. Consider the effect of light, shadow and time on your work.

I think that Rebecca’s article summary about artist research, and experimentation with the type of surfaces used, where the embroidery can be displayed, what you stitch and the message you convey with the stitch, encapsulates the message that embroidery is a potentially powerful medium.

In my own work, I enjoy using stitch, and in my recent work on Assignment 2, I have tried to convey a message (about the environment) with my art work. To experiment with unusual materials and grounds is an exciting prospect for the future!

Links to my previous research on stitch:-

This article contains my study of the work of artists: Sandra Dufour, Stephanie Tudor, Elena Stonaker, Marie O’Connor and Lauren DiCioccio. I also attended a lecture by an artist who uses embroidery in her work: Alison King. And a study visit to the Making Space Exhibition of the 62 Group of Textile Artists. Some of my early research on drawing touched on the work of Debbie Smyth, Hilary Ellis and other artists.



Harper, J. (2016) ‘Slash and Show: The Controversial Textiles of Jilli Blackwood’, Selvedge (September), pp. 32–35.


Kettle, A. and McKeating, J. (2012) Hand stitch, perspectives: Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. pp200



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