From historical samplers to expansive tapestries, embroidery has been an inspiring, expressive art form for thousands of years. Lately, an increased interest in embroidery has led to the emergence of artists who are pushing the boundaries of the medium. Here, you won’t see any simple embroidery hoops with messages that range from coy to cheesy.
The beauty of embroidery lies in its details. When artists painstakingly pair unexpected hues, craft surprising textures, and render breathtaking images in a 3-D form, there’s plenty of inspiration to take away. Our favorite contemporary embroiderers are those who experiment with color and texture—bringing their own visions to life with the help of a needle and some thread—and drawing inspiration from nature, the human experience, and their most vivid daydreams.
Below, check out the creatives who are currently providing us with color therapy for days on end.
The Earth Eccentric
Inspired by nature (think: algae blooms and lichens), Emily of Salt Stitches creates intensely detailed embroidery hoop creations.
Like an episode of Planet Earth, her work inspires wonder through surprising color combinations and tactile textures.
The Colorful Creative
Chilean-born artist Katy Biele first fell in love with textiles as she traveled through Southeast Asia.
With her training in graphic design, she makes vividly hued mixed-media creations with paint and embroidery, largely featuring figures and floral design.
The Delicate Detailer
Deeply inspired by outer space and ocean life, UK artist Stacey Jones crafts intricate embroidery hoop art. After her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma cancer, she turned to this art form as a way to help manage her anxiety.
In the spirit of giving back, she donates 10 percent of her sale proceeds to Sarcoma UK.
The 3-D Designer
Polish artist Justyna Wołodkiewicz, who makes her creations under the name Niby Niebo, brings a sculptural element to her embroidery, incorporating polymer clay figures into her work.
Her creations are somewhat alien, with odd bits and bobs lending a dramatic effect to the simple art form.
The Tapestry Tinkerer
Jenny Hart is, by all measures, an expert on embroidery. She launched her embroidery company, Sublime Stitching, in 2001, and since then, she has written several books on the topic. She even runs a separate Instagram dedicated to highlighting other artists in the medium.
Her own work includes portraiture, ’70s-esque iconography, and text.
The Natural Wonder
Kimi Kahara’s embroidery frames the natural world in colors and textures that lend them a playfulness.
A mountain range may be accented by a smattering of sequins, and an artichoke might be rendered in all the colors of the rainbow.
Michelle Kingdom’s embroidery is akin to the work of surrealist painters like Salvador Dalí and Frida Kahlo: it shows odd, stirring scenes of humans and wildlife, frequently with elements of magical realism intertwined.
“I create tiny worlds in thread to capture elusive yet persistent inner voices,” she writes. “Beauty parallels melancholy, as conventional stitches acquiesce to the fragile and expressive.”
The Installation Artist
Here’s proof that embroidery doesn’t have to be confined to a hoop or even to a piece of fabric. Amanda McCarvour’s large-scale creations push the bound of an artistic tradition.
Her technique is particularly innovative: She uses a sewing machine to stitch her work onto water-soluble fabric. When it’s all set, she dissolves the fabric.
The Fantastical Figure Maker
Finnish artist Ninni Luhtasaari describes her work in dreamy terms: “The fuzzy brothers have only five legs. Your favorite smile is a floater. There are orange body parts sticking out of a bush.”
Rendered in neon hues, they’re something out of a vision.
See more inspiring artists:
Meet the Danish Designer Creating Candy-Like Home Goods Out of Glass
Boring Wall Hangings Have Met Their Match
We’ve Fallen in Love With This San Francisco Artist’s Paper Tapestries