Embroidery: Art and Craft

Framed Chinese silk embroidery, presented as fine art. Framed Chinese silk embroidery, presented as fine art.

Many people regard embroidery as a craft, rather than an ‘art’. Consequently, embroidery is not often discussed alongside established 'high art’ forms, such as painting or sculpture. Yet the degree of creativity, use of colour, subtle changes in design, emotional response to a particular setting or situation, all aspects attributed to ‘art’, can be found in embroidery.


Embroidery is an art form that uses a needle, a thread and other items, rather than a brush, paint, pen or pencil. Embroidery is often included in historical paintings, but it is reflected as a detail rather than the subject itself.

Various modern artists include embroidery or embroiderers in their paintings – especially those that have a social or political message. The work of the Palestinian artist, Fathy Chapin, includes various textile and clothing motifs in his paintings. One such painting, entitled ‘My Country,’ includes spindles full of wool, soft furnishings, perhaps from a tent band or a cushion, as well as a woman’s face veil, and a woman wearing a Palestinian style dress (with an emphasis on the embroidered yoke panel and the sleeve and skirt bands). The dress does not come from any particular region. It is generically ‘Palestinian.’

In the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, more and more people were acquiring old pieces of embroidery and used them as an item of interior design, with no obvious link to the original function of the item. In some cases dresses, coats or shawls are simply hung on the wall. Embroideries from medieval ecclesiastical vestments were used as upholstery (click here). A woman’s dress is framed in the same manner as a painting, or a woman’s head covering from Yemen is opened up and used as a table runner. Because of this form of recycling, these objects take on a new identity, namely they have the role of ‘Art’ and as such they are preserved.

But all too often, however, these 'art' objects lack a story, a context, and the viewers no longer know or understand what the object actually was, how it was used and who were the people behind it. But does this actually matter if the creative nature and technical skill of the embroidery are appreciated? By being changed into ‘art’, such embroideries can take on a second life instead of being thrown out. Is this wrong? There is no answer to this question. Different people see and use a piece of embroidery in a wide variety of ways.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 9th July 2016).


Last modified on Monday, 26 June 2017 17:57