Like many forms of fiber art, embroidery doesn’t always command respect from the mainstream.
“The first thing that… people think of is an embroidered sampler, and those embroidered school-girl samplers .. were meant to be perfect on the front and on the back and stitches should all be the same length and there shouldn’t be any knots,” explained Rebecca Ringquist, a fiber artist and author of the forthcoming book, Rebecca Ringquists Embroidery Workshops: A Bend-the-Rules Primer” (160 pages, $29.95.)
“And even though not very many people make those anymore, that history is really engrained in people’s minds,” said Ringquist, 36, of Brooklyn, explaining why she is aiming to introduce the masses to her more relaxed embroidery style.
In her book, the Pentwater, Michigan native presents “embroidery as just a way of drawing” and instructs stitchers to “loosen up and try to disregard their idea of embroidery as a really uptight, precise sort of art form and introduce the idea that embroidery is easy and accessible.”
The book, which will hit bookstore shelves next month, is beautiful and inspiring. It begins with an informative supply overview and project instructions are given for each of the “stitch,” “trace,” “draw” and “layer” sections before a variety of finishing techniques are detailed.
The first project is a sampler that is printed on fabric and included at the back of the book. (Note: I read an electronic review copy of the book and did not see the sampler, but I LOVE the concept.) Other projects include decorative patches, embroidered note cards, machine stitched wrapping paper, vintage ribbon coasters, clothing embellishments, potholders, needle cases, dish towels, wall art, table runners, necklaces, bracelets, brooches and more.
As the daughter of a weaver and furniture maker, Ringquist’s artistic career path was a natural fit.
“I remember my mom cross stitching little things,” she said. “She cross-stitched my initials on the cuff of my sleeve when I was younger.”
And this gentle act of clothing embellishment seems to have inspired Ringquist, who learned to embroider as a 19-year-old undergrad at Cornell College in Iowa.
“Embroidery was sort of my entry point into starting to take a lot of fiber art classes,” she said. “I was actually taking a feminist art history class and reading a lot about the history of samplers and sampler makers and I was really interested in the history of embroidery not thinking that I would really like the practice of embroidery because it seemed sort of slow going and boring to me.
“I started using embroidery to make some work sort of in response to the history of embroidery and along the way really fell in love with the process of stitching and … I’ve been at it ever since.”
At Cornell students take just one compressed course at a time which allowed Ringquist a chance to immerse herself into her embroidery research.
“I remember being so excited about it the potential of it and the idea that I could embroider almost anything,” she said. “It’s so dorky but I remember going back to my dorm room and embroidering my name on the edge of my blanket and on my bathrobe and embroidering things on my jeans and just starting to cover everything with embellishment and that felt really good to be able to stitch on all kinds of things.”
Ringquist went on to earn her MFA in fiber and material studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she subsequently taught for seven years before moving to Brooklyn in 2011 where she lives with her wife, Katy.
While Ringquist had made a name for herself in the fine art world with her colorful and detailed, hand and machine embellished artwork, she took the craft world by storm when she sold her first batch of Dropcloth samplers at the Squam Art Sale during the summer of 2010.
She screen printed 50 samplers and sold out at the sale. From there, influential bloggers spread the word about her fun samplers and Ringquist was overwhelmed with requests from people wanting to buy them. Ringquist has continued to produce whimsical samplers that encourage crafters to stitch outside the lines. She offers individual samplers and monthly subscriptions via her Etsy shop.
“The sampler business and really been great,” said Ringquist, who works of a Brooklyn studio located a 20-minute walk from her apartment.
Since moving to New York, Ringquist has noticed that her artwork has gotten more dense and colorful. She describes her artwork as a sort of abstract autobiography and all of her work is based on embroidery with her process usually involves layering stitched drawings or text over a piece of found embroidery. When she’s done, the pieces are hung like textured paintings.
While Ringquist loves living in close proximity to New York’s famed Garment District, “I think I’m still a Midwestern girl at heart,” she said.
Ringquist’s book will hit bookstores April 14. You can preorder it here.
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