Labelling my niche

My main medium is stitch. First bone needles were found in the Upper Palaeolithic and so this medium is pretty old I would say. 😉 With my medium, I create both art AND craft objects. Textiles themselves are considered ‘wearable’ and thus it is difficult to draw a line between crafting and making art when creating with them… (Interestingly, the English language does differentiate between ‘textile art’ including crafted objects intended for use and ‘fiber art’ excluding them. In the German language, there is only one word for both: ‘Textilkunst’.)

Anyway… in my case I really like to pursue both paths: the one of the ‘craftsmen’ and the other of the ‘artists’. In fact, in my very own personal opinion, you can not have one withouth the other!

For the ‘crafts’ part of my creating, I don’t face many restrictions; I simply create design objects or wearables or stationary or whatever else comes to my mind and try to sell it in shops and at crafts fairs.

For the ‘arts’ part of my creating, there are some obstacles: In order to be able to have my pieces listed by galleries or to apply for open art calls etc., I need to label my work. And oftentimes, you can only choose between ‘photography’, ‘fine arts’ and ‘graphic design’. Well, sorry – I create art that doesn’t fit in your drawers! The founders of the Society for Embroidered Work (SEW), Cat Frampton and Emily Tull, wrote on SEW’s website: “The fight to get embroidery recognised as an art form has been a long one with roots mired in misogyny and it’s got a long way to go yet. (…) We hope that at a very basic level, having a society behind them, artists will be able to face the comments (‘embroidery is not art, it’s just a craft’) and the misunderstandings (‘Victorian ladies stitching idly’) with a straight spine and a steady eye. (…) As a society we can work on getting, at the very least, a ‘textiles’ box to click when applying for open call exhibitions.” I am a proud member of SEW and appreciate Cat’s and Emily’s effort to put a spotlight on our medium. (Thanks, guys!)

But to my knowledge, I along with my stitchy friends still have to decide on a label that fits into the art worlds common cathegories. So let’s quickly google a few of these:

Mixed Media

Wikipedia says: “In visual art, mixed media is an artwork in which more than one medium or material has been employed.” Ok, I can adjust to this label, but still would love to distance my work from assemblages or collages…

Quilt art

Wikipedia says: “Art quilts use an art form that uses both modern and traditional techniques to create art objects. Quilt art generally has more in common with the fine arts (than it does with traditional craftswork).” Nice – ‘it has more in common with the fine arts’!… But have you ever seen an art quilt in a museum?? Neither have I.

Fiber art

Wikipedia says: “Fiber art refers to fine art whose material consists of natural or synthetic fiber and other components (…). It focuses on the materials and on the manual labour on the part of the artist as part of the works’ significance, and prioritizes aesthetic value over utility.” I like this label probably the most. But most galleries don’t look for fiber art.

So… what label does suit me and my niche? Art quilter? Fiber artist? Mixed media artist?? When applying for art calls, I generally choose ‘mixed media’. Simply because there is such a label. But I promised myself to abstein from putting a paint smudge on my work solely for the purpose to make it ‘mixed media’! If I experiment with mixed media, then I do it for experimenting and because I like it. Not just for the label. Because you see: although it is important to be able to actively participate in the art world and to be engaged in the art community, labelling my work is not essential for my creating. In the end – and also at the very beginning – I am just someone who loves to create with her hands and her heart!

How it began

In my other blog post (“Hommage à mes grands-mères”) I wrote about how I was informally taught needle arts by my two grandmothers before I went to school. With this article, I would like to tell you how my interest in fiber arts further developed.

I loved school in general, and this included the “arts and crafts” lessons of course. I think it was in second grade when we were assigned to embroider a small picture and could choose between a few patterns. I asked my teacher whether I was allowed to come up with my own pattern and she said yes (well done, Mrs H. ;-)!). We had a picture book of cats at home that I used to read to my little sister, and it had a nice drawing of a young cat in a red shoe on the cover. I loved this cute picture and copied it onto fabric. I then embroidered the outlines and filled the forms in simple manner (I only knew three types of stitches back then) and gifted the finished picture to my mother for her birthday. I don’t have a photo of my embroidery but I found a photo of the original drawing:


So you see, I always liked textile techniques. But in my teenage years and my twenties, I was more interested in the fine arts and experimented with drawing and painting. I had several Salvador Dalí posters hanging on my bedroom walls and was fascinated with how the surrealists translated psychological conditions and emotional moments into surreal paintings… I still love the surrealists to this day, and I think this appreciation shows in my work.

During the third trimester of my first pregnancy (I was 30 years old), I was on strict bedrest for 6 weeks. I lived in America at that time and sent my husband to the craft store to buy a cross stitch kit for me so I could at least do something creative with my hands. I stitched a winter scene with grey wolves and thus came back to working in fibers. I immediately fell in love again with this medium and ever since, I haven’t stopped creating with thread and fabric!…


Ceramic work and stitch fusion

detail of “Mare” 2017

With this series, I aimed to explore how ceramics could be adorned by embroidery. When I went to the local ceramic studio that is open to the public, I had no other concept in mind than to create something that I could possibly stitch on later…

While the clay was processed through the compactor, it lay between damp cloth. Immediately, I noticed that there was an interesting imprint of the cloth on the clay. It looked as if the clay was a thick piece of cloth itself! I then decided to not further process the clay but to simply cut it in small squares and to prick random holes in them that were large enough for a common embroidery needle. I then had these “tiles” put in the kiln.

A few days later, I picked up my now fired tiles and brought them home. I sorted some out and arranged them on my studio table. They looked like ceramic “inchies”! That’s why I decided to arrange them in fours and paint them and decorate them in an “inchy-ish” way.

painting the ceramic tiles with acrylics

To have a neutral background, I cut out some felt squares. I then stitched the tiles on the black felt and further adorned them with beads.

one finished tile, adorned with bullion stitch and glass beads

I then arranged the tiles in groups of four and sew them on cloth and put the finished pieces on canvas or directly sew them on painted canvas. The painting of the canvas and the fabric manipulation of the background fabric contribute a lot to the finished pieces!

“Basalt” (2018), on painted canvas
“Terra” (2018), on manipulated fabric on canvas

Looking at my creations, I wondered if anybody would buy my works… I thought, I could maybe add a functional bonus so that the works could be viewed as well as used! Thus, I made some of the final pieces into key/jewelry holders. 🙂

“Volcano” (2017)
“Mare” (2017)
“Rustic” (2018)
“Sunkissed” (2018)
“Chili” (2018)
“Rose” (2018)

A teabag a day (part 2)

Remember this project I worked on together with my daughter last year? Well, she finally finished her little book of arty-fied teabags! 🙂

So I can share part 2 of the story: A Teabag A Day by RHN


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