Focus on: Embroidery: a “gorgeous gut punch”

Welcome to our ongoing August, 2015 blog series celebrating the final month to enter your artwork for consideration into FI2016! We’re highlighting different artist’s interpretations of fiber art that we’ve loved seeing in past Internationals.

The Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, who produce the International, started life as the Embroiderer’s Guild back in the ’60’s. As embroiderers, they were technically excellent at their craft.

But something happened to change their focus. Jay van Wagenen writes in the Summer 2015 issue of Fiber Art Now:

Back in 1976, the needlewomen of what was then the Embroiderer’s Guild of Pittsburgh looked forward to their biennial member show. Their best work, meticulously crafted over the previous two years, had been submitted to the juror and preparations for the event were well underway. But the juror declined to cooperate. Instead, he delivered the verdict that changed the direction of the group: Technique is not enough to carry the craft to art form.” There was no show.

A period of voracious research and reevaluation followed, and by the 1980’s, the Guild was producing Fiberart International in the more expanded, challenging format we’d recognize today. But even though the tablecloths and pillowcases disappeared, embroidery remains.


Last Word
Kate Kretz, “The Final Word” Featured in FI2013. Black cotton velvet, French knots, embroidered. 20″x16″ United States

Kate Kretz self-describes as an “obsessive maker… endlessly perfecting the gorgeous gut punch.” Her 2012 work “The Final Word,” featured in FI2013, is stark and precise. Its technical merit would have won favor with the Embroiderer’s Guild back in the early days.


The Final Word (detail)
The Final Word (detail)


But Kate uses the repetitive, obsessive French knot technique not for its own sake, but as a means to crystallize a sense of destroyed innocence, helplessness, finality, and grief. Each tiny knot is another nail sealing the fate of the doomed animal.

Kate says:

Art strips us bare, reminding us of the fragility common to every human being across continents and centuries. Often I meet someone, and the visible weight of his or her life becomes almost unbearable, it rips me open. My art attempts to articulate this feeling….I work until my hands shake because the world does not care. I am banging my head against the wall, but the stain is beautiful.

Embroidery, in the hands of an artist like Kate, is a tool conveying both weight and fragility. The thousands of fine stitches, feather-light, come together to create an image that seems ineradicable as a rock, and that weighs just as heavily on the viewer’s heart.


Erin Endicott still embroiders tablecloths. But her work is not something you’d put your dinner on.

Healing Sutra #3
Erin Endicott, “Healing Sutra #3″ Best In Show, FI2010. Antique cotton tablecloth (passed down from artist’s great grandmother), cotton embroidery thread, walnut ink. Hand embroidered. 22″x24”

In her “Healing Sutras” series, Erin references the Sanskrit word ‘sutra’ which translates roughly to ‘a thread or line of connection; to stitch.’ Embroidery is her weapon of choice to create ethereal stains across her family’s heirloom linens, exploring concepts of lineage, inheritance, and psychological wounds.


Healing Sutra #3 detail
Healing Sutra #3 (detail)

In an excerpt from this interview, Erin says:

The “Healing Sutras” grew out of years of work examining psychological wounds (mainly my own), their origins and how they insinuate themselves into our lives. I’m particularly intrigued by the concept of inherited wounds, specific patterns, behaviors, reactions, that we are born with – already seeded into our psyche at birth….

…All of the “Healing Sutras” are on vintage fabric that has been passed down from women in my family. My history is literally woven into these garments…

The stitching, the meditative process of it, is where I think the real healing comes in for me. I come from a more “Fine Art” background – drawing has always been a real passion – but I was never able to truly capture the essence of what I was trying to say until I began exploring this really process oriented work (embroidery). To me these are a type of drawing – REALLY slow, deliberate drawings!

Healing Sutra #5 (detail)
Healing Sutra #5 (detail)

Slow, deliberate drawings allowed to sprout from seeds planted inside us without our knowledge or consent: embroidery let Erin slow down enough to absorb the full meaning of her healing process.

The simple challenge to add intent to technique produces a bountiful ongoing harvest, and we can’t wait to see how embroidery will inspire and challenge us in 2016.