Über embroiderer : : Tilleke Schwarz

tilleke schwarz count your blessings

It was 2007 and I Kris and I had been in Australia for about 9 months. I was working full time, had just acquired my very first Visa card, and was slowly, tentatively buying myself little treats online. One of the first things I spent on was a subscription to the Embroiderer’s Guild‘s magazine, Embroidery.

The work featured in this magazine blew my mind away. It was beyond craft, it was cutting-edge embroidered artistry that made me swoon and sigh and yibber to myself like a drunk.

Tilleke Schwarz was featured in one issue, and her work was like nothing I’d ever seen before: painterly strokes, vigorous lines of couching, dainty traditional motifs in counted-thread work, bits of fabric ephemera and patches appliquéd, everything peppered with seeding and straight stitches in wild colors on a hand-dyed linen ground. I stared at the work entitled Count Your Blessings for days, for weeks…the artist was using the thread and stitches as though they were pen and ink, or a loaded paintbrush…there was energy and busy movement crawling around on her “canvases”; the things were alive. I was electrified.

There is a narrative going on in each of her pieces, one that you can sort of put together if you follow the fragments of text that run, helter-skelter, all through her embroideries. The narratives seem extremely personal—like muttered-under-the-breath musings of the artist, and include a lot of computer terms and internet error messages, contemporary signs and information from trips she’d made overseas,  snippets of local lore from her life in The Netherlands. And cats, there are so many wonderful cats in her pieces; I love that.

tilleke schwarz detail of kat

I rushed to her website, and asked to buy a copy of her monograph, Mark Making. The title struck me as perfectly summing up Tilleke’s work; these were not exactly the laboriously planned, carefully executed and highly-polished works of the embroiderer’s craft (though of course it’s possible she does plan, and labour, and carefully execute…they just don’t look it)…these were more like the uninhibited, spontaneous and open results of a visual artist—a painter, say, or sculptor—expressing herself in thread.

The good lady herself replied to my e-mail, and when I received a copy of her book I found that she had very graciously added a note and signed it. *sigh* What a lovely woman. Mark Making remains one of my most-prized books on embroidery and art.

This brief bio is from her website:

My work is a mixture of graphic quality, content and fooling around. The humor in my work is typical for my Jewish background: a mixture of a laugh and a tear. Folk art and daily life are great sources for inspiration. I use mixed media with a focus on embroidery on linen and on drawings and paintings.

My work can be understood as a kind of visual poetry. It is a mixture of contemporary influences, graffiti, icons, texts and traditional images from samplers. The embroidery contains narrative elements. Not really complete stories, with a beginning, a storyline, and an end. On the contrary, the narrative structures are used as a form of communication with the viewer.

The viewer is invited to decipher connections or to create them. The viewer may assemble the stories and to produce chronological and causal structures. Actually the viewer might step into the role of the “author”. It can become a kind of play between the viewer and me. The work also relates to the history of humanity that is determined through stories.

tilleke schwarz I have known them all

tilleke schwarz rites

tilleke schwarz wysiwyg

tilleke schwarz Deer

via Tilleke Schwarz


2 thoughts on “Über embroiderer : : Tilleke Schwarz

  1. thank you,

    you may like to know that I am in the process of preparing a new book on my recent work and more background information, which is planned to be published in 2012.
    In case you like to be informed when it is available, do email me.

    Best regards,



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