Previously considered a dying art, embroidery is now very much in vogue. Take a look at the most popular creators on Etsy and you will find that many are embroiderers, selling finished pieces as well as unique patterns and designs. Contemporary embroidery artists are injecting life and creativity into a craft often associated with repressed Victorian women, without sacrificing skill or precision.
The work of Kirsty Whitlock, for example, pushes the boundaries of embroidery by escaping the confines of the two-dimensional. She uses recycled and reclaimed materials in her work and her pieces often reflect contemporary issues or social commentary. Instead of sticking to the traditional embroidery hoop, Kirsty has stitched into train tickets, newspapers, and plastic bags.
Another embroidery artist, Lauren DiCioccio, has written about the emotional response that we have with cloth and textiles, which owes its affectivity to the "recognition of time, labor, and care found in a hand-sewn object". She points out that, in our daily lives, we have a constant relationship with cloth and so working with hand-stitching in her illustration is a way for Lauren to explore that relationship.
Hand-stitching lends itself to experimentation. However, it is by understanding traditional styles and techniques that allows embroiderers to push the boundaries of the craft. The Royal School of Needlework is currently launching an exciting online learning programme, which will introduce forms of embroidery such as blackwork and Jacobean Crewelwork and show viewers how to produce hand-embroidered pieces at home. Many older embroidery styles were themselves revolutionary when they first emerged, influenced by voyages to the Far East and the Indian subcontinent. Teaming up with SewandSo, the RSN's courses are designed to facilitate individual learning as well as interaction between students. These courses will teach important techniques, but students will also discover embroidery's vast scope for creativity.