Today let’s talk about contemporary embroidery with a review of Embroidered life!
Embroidery has long been associated with some kind of dated craft but then, we could probably say the same for knitting, crochet or sewing. It’s our job as crafters to keep the crafts we like alive and fresh, in order to give them a modern twist.
I do remember though, that ten years ago I wanted to have a go at embroidery but had no idea where to start. I walked into this old fashioned harberdashery store in a small city in France and the patterns were in these shades of brown and blue, with still life and puppies and the lady working there was quite busy and had no time to give me advice on where to start. So I turned to cross stitching because it seemed easier and didn’t come back to embroidery before Covid hit and my brain was in need of something new and stimulating. And that’s when I discovered a world of modern embroidery patterns.
So let’s see what this contemporary embroidery is all about.
Contemporary Embroidery: Let’s explore what it is before starting our review
A natural evolution of textile arts: contemporary embroidery
In Embroidered Life, the author Sara Barnes explains that Sarah K. Benning, the woman whose textile art the book is about, wanted to subvert traditional notions of embroidery. “Contemporary embroidery” was the tagline she chose for her Etsy shop in 2013.
I found very interesting the reference to another book, The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker. The author links the boost in embroidered activities to financial recessions, with the need of upcycling items rather than buying again, and spending time on it, which brings a feeling of fulfilment.
A few examples of contemporary embroidery artists
Embroidered Life was a gift from one of my co-workers for Secret Santa. (Don’t you love thoughtful surprise gifts?) We had already been following Sarah K. Benning’s work on Instagram for a few years. So doing a review about this book and more generally about contemporary embroidery was super exciting. And that means taking the opportunity to show you the work of other contemporary embroidery artists we enjoy.
For this review of contemporary embroidery, I selected the works of Sophie King, Ana Teresa Barbosa and Lisa Smirnova.
Sophie King aka King Sophie’s world is known for her relatable feminist messages embroidered on different items to show that embroidery as a medium can be used to tell powerful stories.
Ana Teresa Barbosa
Ana Teresa Barbosa not only uses traditional embroidery thread but also yarn to show human bodies, animals and plants and exploring the parallels between the process of handcrafting something and nature doing its thing.
Lisa Smirnova uses embroidered stitches like an impressionist painter, each stitch like the stroke of a brush on clothes and reminding us that embroidery doesn’t have to be one thing or the other: a work of art on your wall or a piece of art on your clothes.
A contemporary embroidery book review: Embroidery Life, The Art of Sarah K. Benning
Sarah K. Benning’s embroidery philosophy
Sarah B. Benning's start with embroidery
Embroidery Life takes us from Sarah K. Benning beginning as the most traditional type of artist out there: an art student to someone who felt restricted and disconnected from her self as an artist.
Crafts, in her case embroidery, became her way to find her artistic freedom again.
As crafters, I think we can all identify with the need to escape something, be it work, family or relationship pressure, any form of stress really and find solace into creating something slowly with our hands.
The philosophy behind her embroidered pieces
When you think of Sarah K. Benning’s embroidery, you think of these realistic interiors and especially of all these very detailed plants.
It won’t be a surprise in this review of a book about a contemporary embroidery artist, to learn that her embroidery is an ever-evolving process and that she didn’t start with these plants that are now so representative of her work. I really like the idea that the first plants she stitched were made with a purpose: keeping the memories of all her plants dying during one winter.
Our review wouldn’t be complete without some examples of Sarah K. Benning’s work
The biggest part of the book is given to the embroidery pieces. The pictures really focus on details and show all the nuances of colours along with the textures so important for embroidery.
I found it interesting that the book doesn’t just focus on the embroidery pieces but also on the way the artist displays it. Like this picture showing the wall full of embroidery hoops affixed there with washi tape.
Each picture comes with a story about the behind the scenes. In the case of the embroidery just below, a feeling of longing and sadness permeates it and for good reason. Here the artist explained she stitched these partially hidden figures at a time where she was feeling increasingly isolated. That shows once again how crafts and mental well-being can be tied together.
This book is great at showcasing each piece without being just a pretty pictures book but full of thoughts, anecdotes and advices, either for the seasoner embroider or the beginner.
I hope you enjoyed discovering this book along with us. I really loved the quality of the pictures along with the short pieces of text that all together made the journey of Sarah K. Benning. Even if you don’t know yet Sarah K. Benning, this book is a good take on modern embroidery, and I hope this contemporary embroidery book review convinced you to explore this subject. Old school embroidery is very cool but art, in its different shapes, evolve along with its makers and it’s definitely the case for textile art as well.
If you’re curious about our own process when designing our first embroidery kit, take a look at our article describing the behind the scenes of our walnut tree embroidery kit for autumn.
Tell us in the comment below who has been your favourite contemporary maker lately!