Embroidery Renaissance: Revisiting embroidery as a fine art medium.

From the time I was very little I’ve always liked New Year’s celebrations because it is a time of looking forward and hitting a re-set button. As my birthday is also in January, I find this feeling of shedding the previous year is more meaningful to me, personally. Looking ahead at some of the goals I have for 2018 fills me with excitement.

Last year was filled with uncertainty and risk. In all honesty, the shifting foundations of my entire reality reverberates even now. I’d like to think that this wouldn’t be so – that in some way I was more resilient in the face of such change – but that’s just not the case. Thankfully the residual effects are less pronounced as time goes by.

The result of all this newly formed terrain is that I’ve been inadvertently thrown into the perfect conditions for reinventing myself. My husband has dubbed this my own personal renaissance and I suppose he’s right as this is less about me working from a blank slate and more about my looking back and reviving some of my earlier interests in a new way reflective of who I am now.

I have only made one resolution this year: to stop drinking more than 1 cup of coffee a day…. that’s it. (I seriously drink way too much coffee.) No profoundly deep intentions to “embrace each day like it is the last” – just a hope that I can stop overstimulating myself in the wrong ways. I’d much rather seek out other ways of energizing my mind.

Part of what I’m integrating more and more into my life and practice is how to slow down. There is great merit in this and for the better part of my life I’ve been so geared toward getting ahead that I feel this is a really important thing for me to do. I’ve talked about this idea and how it has been manifesting in my artwork a little in recent posts.

I’ve rediscovered a love of embroidery in the last few months. I was really into embroidery and fiber art while working on my first masters in Arkansas – I had some really inspirational mentors at the time and felt the freedom to experiment with ways of integrating my fascination with more traditional “women’s work” skills with painting, printmaking, and photography. (I found an old post about this and was surprised that even then I was looking back thinking “why did I stop doing this?”)

By Way Of, 2007, 10" diameter, mixed media
Levacy, By Way Of (Homage to Rauschenberg), 2007, 8″ diameter, mixed media.
bagworm moths unfinished
Levacy, unfinished work, 2008, 3×6 inches, embroidery

As I get back into these things now I can’t help but reflect on why I stepped off this path after moving to Tennessee for my second masters. In many ways I feel that the divergent directions I pursued were essential for my growth and provided me with a glimpse of another side of myself as an artist. I also regret that I shelved those earlier interests and wonder where they would have taken me if they’d been more a encouraged as part of my academic pursuits.

While my intention is to start working on my own pieces soon, to get better at my embroidery skills after a decade away I’ve relieved myself of the burden of imagery or personal expression and have chosen to support some of the artists that I’m inspired by in the process. I’ve bought a few patterns from Sarah K. Benning over the last few months – I actually treated myself to a 3 month pattern program subscription via her Etsy website in December to feed the addiction.

Hoop embroidered by M. Levacy, Pattern by Sarah K. Benning – December 2017 (and start of January 2018)
Hoop embroidered by M. Levacy, Pattern by Sarah K. Benning – January 2018

I’ve learned so much from Benning’s patterns – she’s really skilled at presenting instructions simply and visually and she encourages personal variations and playing around with her base. In the creation of the 3 patterns I’ve gotten so far, I’ve become more confident with fill stitches and have fallen in love with couching (both of which I’d never used before). I’ve also come to realize how different color works with embroidery compared to watercolor.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My mother-in-law also gifted me an Amazon gift card so I’ve bought quite a few embroidery books by artists like Renee Rominger, Yumiko Higuchi and Nancy Nicholson as well as some instructional books like the excellent “Geometry of Hand-Sewing” by the Alabama Studio.

So far I’ve reproduced some of the projects (with my own spin, of course) from Nicholson’s “Modern Folk Embroidery” and learned a bit about working with applique techniques with felt and explored mounting and framing works without hoops. I’ve also learned about backing hoops with felt to make them feel really complete from Rominger’s “Edgy Embroidery”. I’ll share some of these (and other) embroidery projects in the next week or so.


For now, I’ll continue working on the #skbdiy pattern from March 2017 that I purchased in November last year when Benning temporarily re-released all 2017 patterns. I stitched this advanced pattern first on a trip to my Gran’s house and now I’m approaching it a second time after a lot more practice. I’m pleased with the progress that’s evident…

I believe my great grandmother would be much happier with the back of this hoop than my previous ones…




  1. I have also recently discovered that I had gotten away from my needlecrafts in the last 10 years or so, and have really gotten back into my crocheting again. I too wondered why I ever got away from these wonderful hand crafts, for they are truly nourishing for the soul. I believe we all need the creative energy that comes from doing arts and crafts, and I am glad I found someone else who is re-invigorated by delving back into beloved old time crafts that were somehow abandoned along the way. BTW…I love the tip about using felt to back embroidery projects…great idea!

    1. You’re right about the joy of working with your hands in the ways that crafts like embroidery and crochet provide. It’s really never too late to begin again or start something new – my husband went back to school after a decade and created an entirely new path for himself so I’m constantly reminded and inspired to shake off the fear of new beginnings. I hope that your own return to these art forms yields great results. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: