The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

Cross-stitch is the oldest form of count thread embroidery where a stitch formed of two stitches crossing each other (x-shaped) in tiled, raster-like patterns form a picture. In the United States, Loara Standish the daughter of Mayflower passengers Myles Standish and Barbara Standish made what is believed to be America’s earliest known cross-stitch sampler.  Currently housed at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts; it is thought to have been stitched while Loara sat in her doorway awaiting the return of a lover, lost at sea.

Artist, Ulla-Stina Wikander admittedly doesn’t cross-stitch; her work is helping uncover old stories set in thread, giving them new life within a different context. Ulla skillfully covers recognizable items whose functional use has evolved or been updated in found cross-stitching.  Some of her more popular pieces pair household items with cross-stitch – both, these unchanging symbols of domestication whose correlation is not unlike stitching – it has not faded away, though it has seen a transformation in the way that people view it.

 

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

We caught up with Ulla to discuss her process & maybe confess our cross-stitch crush:

I really enjoy how your work updates these older cross stitch pieces.  You’ve given them a new life, managing to keep the essence of them – they’re still a source of expression. What makes the perfect cross-stitch for your projects?

When you source the cross-stitches – are you looking for any particular colors or patterns?

Ulla: The embroidery must be clean (and they usually are, because they are framed) I buy almost every embroidery I come across, but I do not use them if they aren’t well embroidered, good craft. I have some favorite motives and colors and I often use the same patterns for big installations. For example: Typical Swedish small red cottages in the countryside with blue sky and birches. It is a very common pattern in Sweden and a kind of national romanticism. Another type of pattern that I like is the wild animals, like elk, deer and birds, often placed in the wood.

Do you make any of the cross stitching yourself?

No, I do not make any cross stitching or other embroidery. I´m more interested in choosing embroidery and covering the items – to see what is happening with the objects, how they transform. It takes some time to dress up the items, so I don’t have much time left to embroider.

It’s difficult for me to wrap my brain around your thought process on this project.  I mean, I’ve never looked at an item and wondered how I could change the context of it by covering it.  Can you tell us a bit about the first time you covered something?

I started to collect cross stitches 10 years ago, but I didn’t really know what to do with them. I found them beautiful and I admired the work behind. Then my ordinary vacuum cleaner broke down and I had this idea to cover it totally, and then put it against the wall as if I just had walked away. Then I invited some friends and let the vacuum cleaner stay in front, and it was amazing to listen to the reactions. Every body just loved it and they were at the same time a bit confused. I decided to try to cover things from the 70`s, a sewing machine, a typewriter for example, and it went well. It was like you saw the objects for the first time, and you weren’t sure of what you were looking at …In 2014 I had “My previous sewing corner” at Liljevalchs Konsthall and it got some attention.

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

Did you realize the artistic impact the items would have, or did it start out as a design aesthetic?

I realized the opportunities in an artistic way and decided to continue to explore how the different objects would transform when I “dressed them up”. It had to be ordinary things, that were related to women. I was not sure if it was regarded as art and that was not important to begin with.  It was more important for me, what it aroused in the observer.

I imagine, based on the types of items you choose to work with, that you are a bit of a purist when it comes to design — does that carry over into your everyday design?

Yes, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to everyday design, my home and clothes are clean and simple. I think that the artwork I do, is more a bit like kitsch and sometimes ”to much”. It must also have a sense of humor and recognition.

 

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

Seeing the pieces in a gallery setting really opens up the interpretation of the work. Each item technically has new life in a sculptural form, showcasing its functional design.

Do you think that viewing it this way places more emphasis on the way you select items now or the way you’d like to exhibit them in the future?

I love the fact that ordinary obsolete things that nobody wants, can be placed in a new context and seen for ”the first time”. I build large installations as well, like armchairs, table, lamps and I would like to see my things in a large exhibition at an Art Gallery.

Can we talk about how seamlessly you cover these items? Where are the seams? How are you achieving that?

I am very meticulous when I cover the objects. If these women has made a perfect embroidery, I would like to make a perfect covering and I make that by sewing and gluing. It is my way of showing respect to these women whose embroideries I cut apart (that hurts, every time).

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

Ulla’s work is now at Paradigm Gallery + Studio  for “Stitched”, an exhibition focusing on artwork that makes use of embroidery and stitching techniques.

Enjoy these great links to more information on Wikander:

[Website] [Instagram]

Beauty In The Eye of The Beholder – The Embroidery Work of Hannalie Taute

South-African artist, Hannalie Taute’s contemporary take on embroidery happens on rubber stitched together from discarded inner tubes. Her work is dark and edgy. I can only think of words I would not use to describe it, like: sedate, subtle, or delicate.  The faces stitched into the abandoned materials scream at you from their tough leather looking exteriors – this is not your grandmother’s embroidery.

I’m a fan of Taute’s work.  She masters the askew – doming it under bell jars, framing it in silver serving plates, leaving threads to dangle out of her stitching, letting the danger seep into our realm.  I find it difficult to look away from her strangely beautiful things.

As time drew closer for me to call Hannalie for our interview, I imagined a husky sounding woman picking up, morosely explaining her work to me.  All of that dreaming, fell completely out of context when this sweet-sounding mother, who admits she sometimes patterns her work after pop culture offerings, greeted me with a cheerful ‘Hello’.

What we assume is not always so.  Hannalie owns many expressions of her personality which allow her to evolve creatively.  Just like embroidery is composed of more than feminine linens stitched with sweet sayings for butts to sit on.

Before we get started, Hannalie apologetically warns me that Afrikaans is her first language, so the interview might get a bit rocky.  She mentions this after we have gushed on about The Little Prince, Minecraft and an Andy Warhol penis.

I think she did just fine…

This is the first time I have seen embroidery on rubber. To your knowledge, are there any other artists that work with this material?

Hannalie: I know that there is another South African artist, Nicholas Hlobo – part of my inspiration. He works with rubber as well, but he uses it differently.  He takes ribbon and rubber, and makes sculpture & abstract works – but he doesn’t embroider per say. He works with the medium, but I said to myself, ‘I can get a lot of artists that use oil paint, and each one would employ it differently.  I can use rubber as well, but make it my own.’

It is a lovely medium to work with. Even though I’m inspired by his use of rubber, our process and concept is very different.

That is what’s lovely about inspiration; that spark you can spin into something else.

On average, how long does it take you to complete a piece? I want people to get a sense of how labor intensive your work is.

My huge wall hangings can take up to six months. A smaller work, like the one I sent for the STITCHED show at Paradigm Gallery took about 2 months – that includes sourcing the rubber, cutting the rubber, cleaning the rubber, stitching and framing the piece.

 

What a process … How do you prime the rubber to then begin working with it?

I get it in a tube from the company. Some companies just throw them away, so I go and collect them.  I wash, dry, and polish them before I draw on them.  I don’t have an assistant at the moment, so I do everything myself.

 

Woah.

Yeah.

 

Creep(er) embroidery on rubber, 2017  – now on display at Paradigm Gallery for the STITCHED group show. | Taute explains how Creep(er) self-portrait came to be: “Minecraft is a computer game and my children play it a lot. Apart from Zombies and Skeletons, one can also encounter a ‘Creeper’, and they normally explode. A Creeper can be recognized by its tall vertical structure, and green pixellated skin. I can relate to their need to explode, so I decided to embroider a self-portrait wearing a ‘creeper’ jacket, but instead of holding dynamite or some sort of explosive, I decided to embroider an Andy Warhol inspired-penis.”

 

I’m curious, are you constantly bending your needles trying to pull your thread through the rubber?

I’ve broken a couple of needles…the rubber is not that tough, its’ softer than leather actually. So I don’t need to make my holes beforehand, the needle goes straight through.  I’m struggling to work with fabric at the moment because I’m used to the thickness of the rubber.

How long have you been working with this medium?

I started in 2012 – so a short while ago.  My first Solo Show was called Rubber Ever AfterI’ve got so much to learn still.

There is something macabre about the aurora of your work, which I find quite interesting.  But then, I suppose it might be a bit difficult to go sweet with rubber.

Yeah, all the connotations to bondage and stuff. (laughing)

Maybe ‘sweet and leather is the perfect juxtaposition.

You also draw inspiration from books and your children’s interest. Does each piece start with a particular memory?

I love reading and listening to other people’s stories about their relationships, and such. Even if I don’t find my inspiration directly at that moment, I’ll collect those moments, write out my thoughts and revisit them later.  Mostly, its driven by how I feel at a certain stage.

‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes’ is on display at Paradigm Gallery for the STITCHED group show. | Taute on this piece: ‘What is Essential’ was inspired by The Little Prince – I read it every year at least once. The quote goes, “What is essential is invisible to the eye. It is only with the heart that one sees rightly.”

How has your work been received in South Africa?

Very good… I won my first art award working with rubber. I like it when people come up to me after a show to chat – I’ve had a few great discussions with them about ancient embroidery.

Ancient embroidery? Is this art form older than most realize?

Oh yes.  There’s a pretty good book called Subversive Stitch… you know, men used to do this too and not just women.  The book has a detailed history of how women used needlework in the 18th and 19th centuries. Stitching has such a rich history throughout the world. The origin of it is fascinating.

My mother-in-law does needle work as well. When she sees my work, she gets so frustrated because she believes it must be perfect. If she makes a mistake in her work, she will pull everything out and start again. I don’t allow myself that luxury, I keep on going and working.  Its’ ok to make a mistake and carry on.

Well then, your imperfections make for unique pieces. I really enjoy your sculptural work; they are fascinating and a bit scary. There’s one from your series Implanted Memories that I love – the pig face on the body of a young child.

That’s She Wants to Build a House with Thread.

It is interesting what people find scary.  My children watch monster movies; I remember scary monster stories from my youth. Compared to theirs, my monsters are cute and cuddly.  I’m wondering what is scary out there still?

She Wants to Build a House with Thread, 50 x 30 x 30 cm Medium: Fabric, found object, cotton thread and rubber

 

I don’t know.  Maybe we’re afraid of the ‘imagined threat’. I still get chills when I read older stories from The Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen.  That’s what I meant when I said I love the scare factor in your work, because they remind me of darker fairy tales – the ones without the cute moral endings. 

I had an exhibition called, The Grimm Needle. I asked people, ‘What did they fear? Could they name a fear for me based on the unknown?’ Their responses were quite interesting. I suppose there is a lot of fear around that – the unknown.

Because you don’t know what to expect. If you can’t prepare for something, then comes the onset of anxiety.

I guess that is why people fear death because it is the unknown.

So many questions swirling around that.

Wonder if I could stitch it…

“Heks/Witch” Altered photograph, cotton thread, rubber and wood. 61 x 42 cm

 

The More You Know:

Stitching Less to Convey More – Tsurubride’s Charming Embroidery Confession

 

meghan-willis-tsurubride-embroidery

It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon and Brooklyn based artist, Meghan Willis (aka Tsurubride), and I are chatting about the calming effect embroidery has on us. One of us ‘might’ have mentioned that embroidering keeps us from murdering people at work. And while mine might actually look like it was stitched by a shaky hand after an actual stabbing, Meghan’s hand embroidered work delicately captures women in various stages of undress, laced in bits of boldly colored textiles.  She gives her women strength within the stitch, dressing them in a celebration of their sexuality, creating an illusion of movement with clean lines — my favorite are her double and triple takes stitched like a series of rapid blinks.

Three of her newer pieces will be exhibited in Paradigm Gallery’s upcoming group show, ‘Stitched’.  The show focuses on the shift in opinion toward embroidery, stitching, and other fibers techniques historically associated with women and “domestic tasks”.  Sadly, this type of work doesn’t get shown in museums a lot.  Is that due, in large part to an ongoing contested artistic legacy of the work? Or is it lack of knowledge of the skill and creativity required to create these artworks? Do you think shifting the focus toward the creativity required to produce these pieces pushes the conversation into the art realm?

Meghan and I jump right into our explorations on the evolution of stitching:

 

I want to steer the conversation away from craft, by refraining from overuse of technical terminology. I think it’s a real concern, that if we continue to talk about the medium in terms of crafting, that’s the way people will continue to view it.

Tsurubride: I see the point. It’s just another way; another medium.  Instead of a pen or a paintbrush – even with digital art and collage – a combination of all these skills come together to bring whatever is in your head, onto the fabric.

It has excited me to see opinions shift drastically about fiber techniques—I stitch during my commute on the train. Sometimes people sit down next to me and either recount watching their grandmothers stitching or express a surprise that anyone still does it.  I’ve noticed that most people don’t recognize what an embroidery hoop is.

I sometimes take my work with me when I travel, but I rarely get a chance to touch it.

How do people react to you embroidering while you’re traveling?

I have stitched while riding Amtrak a couple of times.  Once I was in business class sitting around people in suits.  There I was, in my jeans and t-shirt, stitching a nipple.  It was actually the perfect thing to be stitching in that environment. It was like, ‘yes dude, I’ve got my boobs over here, it’s all fine folks.’

What a juxtaposition (laughing). 

Tsuru Bride-double-exposure

For a while, embroidery seemed to be viewed as a lost art form and an antiquated one at that. We generally tend to think of older women embroidering.  So I think people are shocked to see younger women – even men, now taking up this art form.  Even the way they choose to express themselves with it seems to raise eyebrows, and a lot of curiosity.

I’ve been stitching forever and I know a large part of the embroidery community have stitched for a long time as well. When you hear words like “a resurgence,” its’ like, ‘No we’ve always been doing it.

I do think there’s more awareness being brought to it. Hopefully its less in the shadows – hopefully receiving less craft credit and more art credit.

With a rise in popularity, how soon do you think it will be before embroidery kits are being stocked in the novelty section of Urban Outfitters?

I think that would be fun.

I certainly like to create my own work, but if you’re just getting started and see that kit at Urban Outfitters, perhaps you’ll pick up that hoop and have some fun with it… Maybe they start with that kit, have their own take on the product and build into some really innovative ideas.

meghan-willis-tsurubride-embroidery

I learned my basics from aunts and my grandmothers, but I still take to resources like YouTube to learn more from other people in the stitching community.  At the end of the day, I’m still thinking about how to transform that information into my thing.

I think places like YouTube are great for learning new techniques, but you have to find your own take on it – your own approach to it.  At least those sort of resources are there to start with the fundamentals…

The question is, ‘how do you now incorporate that into your work?’

People on Instagram will comment and ask what stitch I’m using.  I only use backstitch, but it’s the way that I’m using it – people are surprised that that’s the way it ends up looking. Taking something as simple as that stitch and being able to translate it into my work ends up creating this visual that’s my trademark.

Were these skills passed down to you?

As a little kid, I was very crafty.  Both my grandmothers were very much into sewing – they encouraged the habit.  I started making terrible clothes for my Barbie doll. The fabric would be sewn wrong sides together  You’d turn it out and the seam allowance would be all wrong.  Everything would be done with these really long stitches cause I was impatient, I just wanted to do it.  I never thought about how the Barbie doll would then get into the clothes.

It seemed like a natural progression to be in fashion.  During the day I do that, and then at night I don’t want to make clothes anymore – partly because that is part of my day job.  This is a lot more relaxing, to be able to sit and create something.

I still have that same impatience though – I love the beauty of fill stitches but that’s part of the reason I never really incorporate it into my work.  I have an idea and I need to get it out of my head and create it.  fill stitches seem like they’re going to slow me down.  I’ve got too much art to make!

I love that confession. Impatience is such an oxymoron when you think about embroidering.

When I look at your work I’ve always thought , ‘it’s so purposeful in what side of the story you choose to tell by what was meaningfully left out’.  Knowing this now doesn’t make your work any less lovely, it enhances for me. You’ve really made the point that less is sometimes more.

Even when I started with the leather appliques… that happened because I used to make handbags in my spare time, and I had a lot of leather lying around .  I thought, ‘well this could be neat as a mixed medium, so I started playing around with it.’.

Even now, I’ll try to go back and work with some fill stitches, but it’s too slow… I’m so jealous, there are many other artists out there who do incredibly beautiful work with fill stitches.  It’s like, dammit. How do you do that so well?  I know it’s just practice, but I can’t… I got to get the ideas out of my head now.

I think it’s more than just ‘practice’.  Especially after talking to the other artists participating in Stitched.  It has a lot to do with the way the artists sees things and how they translate that.  A perfect stitch is pretty to look at, but perfection can be wearying.

That’s true.  I saw your post on Michelle Kingdom. There’s a great example of someone using fill stitches, but not in this clean, overly perfect way.  It’s got a movement and a romanticism to it.  Her stitching is more painterly.

I always feel like my work is more illustrative versus that painter technique.  Its’ more about clean lines and movement in that sense of after the thread versus following brush strokes.

It’s just another way of expression.

meghan-willis-tsurubride-embroidery

Fun Facts:

The Stitch Acquiesces To The Dream – The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom

“Drawing with thread,” is one way LA-based artist Michelle Kingdom describes her intricately embroidered small-scale worlds – threaded dreams and inner voices that cause her needle to meander away from technical techniques in favor of following her vision.

“There is truth to these compressed moments; there’s fear, hope, and gut instincts. It’s more about those moments when you are lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling, thinking – not subconsciously – not moments you can’t remember or access. It’s the chatter that you can’t shut off or shut out… My work is about snagging these vignettes. What I’m not stitching is just as important as what I am.”

Her commitment to capture the imagery makes conventional stitches acquiesce to a more expressive turn. Each thread has a different intention than the colored stitch you see at first glance. Even the names of her pieces are well thought out, “It takes a couple of days sometimes.  I compile/collect quotes and passages from books, and verses for inspiration.  It has to feel right.”

The art-craft aesthetics of the traditional vs. modern values being assigned to embroidery is sometimes still debated with a look into the artists’ process.

Traditional embroiderers’ tend to flip the embroidery over and check out its bones – so to speak.  Michelle and I talked about that inclination to read a piece by checking the backside to see if the stitches are tidy. “Mine are often a war zone of stitches and knots. When it’s too tidy back there it often means I’ve lost something.”

Spontaneity in embroidery is an irregularity –if a ‘read’ is betrayed by the threads in the back of her pieces, then Kingdom’s organic arrival to the end of her journey is a fantastic maelstrom of threads exposing the depth and the complexity of their layered emotions.

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_Tending Mislaid Burdens

Tending Mislaid Burdens

You can see Michelle’s work during the upcoming show “Stitched”, an exhibition focusing on artwork that makes use of embroidery and stitching techniques. The group show will be in two parts, the first opening Friday, March 24th and the second opening Friday, June 23rd at Paradigm Gallery + Studio.

Enjoy these great links to more information on Kingdom:

  • Two of her favorite inspirations? Henry Darger  & Darrel Morris – “Both made great works based on snippets of their childhood. Very dark imagery.”
  • bG Gallery published a book on works compiled from Kingdom’s latest show.

 [Website] [Instagram]

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_Duties of Gossamer

Duties of Gossamer

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_Roots became Skeletons

Roots became Skeletons

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_Headlong over Precipices

Headlong over Precipices

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_The depths of the sea are the only water after all

The depths of the sea are the only water after all

 

Michelle Kingdom: Facebook, Instagram

All images via Michelle Kingdom.