The Point of Needle is an embroiderer’s take on life as seen through the eye of needle. In a world of computerized sewing machines, zippers, printed fabric, and social media, what’s the point of embroidering with a hand-held needle? How does handwork survive in the digital age? Is it still relevant? I ponder as I thread up my needle to stitch away in my attic. Answers come as I surf the Net, talk with friends, visit museums, read, or travel.
arriving in unrelenting waves, replaced skill in many crafts, transforming workshops into factories. Computer-controlled machines
turn wood perfectly; knit stockings flawlessly; form chocolates precisely; and
weave patterns consistently.As a result, former luxury goods are, today, cheap, cheerful, and ubiquitous. By
comparison, the visual arts have remained largely beyond the reach of skill-looting
technology. That is about to change!
An original 3D printout by Prixel
Last week, Russian entrepreneursunveiled a 3-D printer that can replicate paintings, even impasto. The machine mixes pigments and builds up layers
of variegated paint, reproducing the artist’s swirling strokes faithfully. Prixel claim to duplicate a multi-million-dollar
Van Gogh masterpiece for just $200. That’s well below the €25,000 ( $34,000)
that Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museumnow charges for its limited editions 3-D printouts.
developments astound me. Museum visitors are accustomed to seeing images from collections plastered on
posters, scarves, and cups. Merchandizing profits defray institutional operating costs. By offering high-caliber 3-D facsimiles, museums – those adjudicators of cultural merit – are shifting gear.
Selling “tasteful” souvenirs -- literally memories -- of a collection is quite
different from touting “original” replicas, which purists consider camp or parody. Camp/ kitschmocks precisely what museums seek to mark as culturally
significant/valuable/unique. That’s a pity,
that is. But it’s becoming acceptable, even Andy Warhol-like. And we embroiderers should be cheering. Why? Read on.
providing more revenue for museums, 3-D printing is a great money spinner for contemporary
artists too. Painters can now clone their most popular canvases to stave off
starvation. For clientele,
buying 3-D printed oils could prove a bit like acquiring a numbered etching. Caveat
emptor. Collectors will need to be
circumspect that their 3-D printed oil is as “rare” as it purports to be. Numerous Rembrandt etchings unearth at rummage
sales are actually recently printed with Rembrandt-engraved plates onto “old paper”
still floating around. And there are countlessgenuine color photocopied maps hanging on walls trying to pass as hand-colored antiques. Oh well, nothing new here.
Now spare a
thought for those poor – figuratively speaking – art collectors with deep
pockets, who kick on owning exclusive and authentic canvases covered in
paint. The arrival of 3-D printing has just made
exclusivity and authenticity harder to come by. So, is
there avisual art form where
authenticity and exclusivity can survive the onslaught of 3-D technology? Absolutely. Embroidery is one. I would say that wouldn’t
Hoodi and Bump by Me
The rise of
3-D printed paintings makes me, the hand-embroiderer, smile in glee. Even, the
Chinese, who can copy anything by hand or machine, acknowledge the chasm
between good machine embroidery, which remains crude compared to exquisite hand-embroidered art.In the realm of embroidery it is still possible, even easy,
to distinguish between machine and artisan items. We humans are imprecise, thank goodness,
compared to machines. Even though Chinese
hand-embroidery workshops reproduce images multiple times, the miniscule
variations in needle placement make each rendition unique, too.
are numerous embroiderers who create singular works without following a pattern.Me, for
example. I stitch portraits in
thread. Unlike Monet ,Van Gogh or the Chinese, who
painted the same subject on numerous occasions, for me once is enough, thank you very much!
style I practice is called thread painting. It is similar but not as fine nor as subtle as the classical
Chinese technique in silk. Still it defies mechanization. Even I use about 40 colors of cotton thread
per portrait. I doubt that a machine exists that can handle
the number of thread changes that my thread paintings demand. Never say never. For the moment, there
is no economic incentive to even try. So the uniqueness and authenticity of my
work and those of other thread paintersis assured well into the
Let’s hope the
onslaught of 3-D printed paintings may just speed up a paradigm shift in
thinking about what’s worth collecting. Art aficionados need to get passed the
bias that solely painting embodies the requisite authenticity and
exclusivity so characteristic of a “good investment.” Cautiously, galleries
are reeducating art collectors by expanding exhibitions to inclue embroidery and other
the work, currently on display in London, of Australian Benjamin Shine. He uses tulle and an iron to the create
portraits for and of the rich and famous. The man irons. Talk about putting a new wrinkle on something
like art!Pun aside, Shine is doing
something difficult, daring, and delightful.
His success encourages me, the embroiderer. I will
stick to my thread painting, knowing that what I stitch is authentic, original,
and exclusive to me. Will anyone in the world, beyond my family, come to enjoy or collect
it? Maybe, maybe not. Let's face fact. There are millions of talented individuals out there making billions
of interesting things. Only a minority use paintbrushes.. or even
needle and thread.