Introduction to Embroidery as a Modern Art Form

Introduction to Embroidery as a Modern Art Form
11/06/2019 Elin
Modern hand embroidery

Embroidery is increasingly present in our modern societies. As I walk the streets of Paris, I see shop-windows full of creative embroideries on clothes and accessories.

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Embroidered leather jacket from Alexander McQueen Spring-17

The application of embroidery is endless! You can stitch it on shoes,  clothes, bags, or as embroidered artworks to decorate your walls or furnitures. An article in the Telegraph confirms how modern fashion brands such as Gucci, Kenzo and more use embroidery to give their products a unique and artistic look.

Some of my personal favourites are the embroideries in Alexander McQueen’s collections. Absolutely exquisite! However, modern embroidery is not only present on wearable commodities. It has also gained significant presence in the contemporary art scene. More and more artists explore ways to express themselves through thread and needle. For example, in the last couple of years alone, Charles and I have witnessed a drastic exponential growth of modern needlework. But why embroidery?

History of Embroidered art

Embroidery is an ancient art-form to say the least. It’s origins trace back to 30 000 B.C., from which archaeologists have found fossils of heavily hand-stitched clothes and boots. Other ancient works have been prominently found in China and India, consisting of chain stitch on silk. I think we can conclude that all through human history, people have had an eye and need for beauty! Nevertheless, embroidery as a sewing technique also served its practical purpose to quilt various fabric together.

Travelling from ancient to modern history you find embroidery in most corners of the world. Thus it’s difficult to determine a geographical location for its development. In short, it can be said to be a cross-culturally practised art form, which makes it even more interesting!

Embroidery artist
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Embroidery artist at work

In modern history, embroidery has been mostly associated with exclusivity and luxury. For example, aristocratic women were not allowed to perform hard labour. Instead they were educated in the arts such as music and embroidery. Embroidery art in this sense was mostly seen in the higher classes of society. Another reason for its “luxuriousness” is the great amount of time and effort needed to produce one embroidery piece. Anyone who has tried embroidery knows that to stitch by hand is not a “quick fix”. It requires time and dedication. Thus, before the introduction of machine embroidery, it was only the wealthy that could afford to pay for the time it took to decorate fabrics with stitchery.

Embroidery for Social movements and Empowerment

As aforementioned, embroidery has mostly been connected with women, (which makes me even happier of Charles’ excitement for the medium). My grandmother ones told me that when she was young, sewing was often an excuse for women to “get out of the house” and meet other women. As long as they conducted some of the household work they were excused to meet and chat. In this way, embroidery is also connected to social movements. Women would meet up on the basis that they were “working”. In reality it created the opportunity to organise social movements for women’s rights. Even the suffragettes were seen bringing their sewing kits to social gatherings. Furthermore, they wouldn’t just use the occasions for verbal planning. But rather they would also use the threads to stitch political messages onto clothing, towels and handkerchiefs.

A personal example…

Another more current example is from December 2015 when I worked for an NGO in India. The organisation I worked for used embroidery to empower women for financial independence. For example, the organisation would assist women to start up small embroidery and sewing businesses. It would allow them to become more independent from their m

Modern hand embroidery by
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This is the finished embroidery art work that I completed as a part of the work in South India

en. Something which is especially important in the many poor segments of society. The rigid hierarchical structures in India, makes it difficult for impoverished women to excel in society. For example, it’s only the men who will receive the family income into his account, regardless of whether it had been the woman who worked.

Sadly, in many of the villages that I visited, the men used the small funds to buy alcohol. However, if the women would earn some money on their own, they could ensure the well-being of their children regardless of the pursuits of their husbands.

Machine vs. Hand embroidery 

Today, most fashion embroideries are machine made. To me, as a hand embroidery artist, I find the machine to take off some of the rich history of the art form. With the industrial revolution, embroidery became victim of mass-production.

However, it made embroidery accessible for more people, which is definitely a positive outcome. I think the modern embroidery trend that has emerged today, is partly due to people wanting to be “unique” and more “artsy”. But also (especially for those engaged in hand embroidery), due to the greater realisation that we need to slow down and take a step back. To embroider is a highly meditative and reflective practise. For example, embroidery became my go-to practise whenever the city buzz of Paris become too much.

New to Modern Embroidery?

Perhaps you’re new to this splendid art medium? Or you’ve tried out a couple of the more traditional designs and are keen to try something new. Then our modern embroidery patterns are the perfect place to go! Here on Le Kadre, we’ve got a great selection of designs inspired from all over our beautiful world.

Below are just a couple of our favourites that we know you’ll love!


The Notre Dame de Paris pattern will always be a special treasure after the horrific fire. In this design the old towers that got lost in the flames sets the focal point of the design.

The Parisian window is the perfect beginner embroidery pattern.


Comments (2)

  1. Paul Saber 11 months ago

    hi Elin,
    Very core information about the embroidery and its history. embroidery is a great art of work. it can amaze ones ability of art and design. one can fasten their work by machine. hand embroidery is little bit more hard than the machine.

  2. Jo Tucker 4 months ago

    Wondergul embroidery info for the young and old.

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