Painting with Needles and Thread: The Evocative Embroidery of Vera Shimunia
Stretched across embroidery hoops, richly detailed landscapes come alive in stunning “painted” pieces by young Russian artist Vera Shimunia. Tiny golden stairs stand out among indigo skies, blades of grass peek up from the snowy earth, clouds swirl, and flowers bloom, everything protruding slightly from the fabric like a bas relief sculpture. Gorgeous color palettes draw in the eye, and painterly “strokes” indicate movement. The textural quality of Shimunia’s work is what really makes it pop.
Gazing at each work, it’s easy to forget just how small they are. Most of them could fit into the palm of your hand. Amazingly, a few are no more than two or three inches wide. Some of Shimunia’s embroidered pieces even blend her expert needlework with photographic elements.
On her Instagram, Shimunia shares her experiments with different techniques, occasionally posting videos that bring animation into play with psychedelic results. The wind seems to blow wisps of clouds across the canvas in colorful sunset shades. Thanks to her skill and unusual approach, Shimunia has been able to garner international acclaim in a very short span of time. While she sells most of her pieces on Etsy, they tend to sell out quickly.
While traditional needlework focuses on patterns, grids, and sharply defined stitches, the artform known as “needlepainting” or “embroidery painting” is all about creating portraits, scenes, and objects in much the same way as one would with a painter’s brush. Thread of all colors follows the contours of the subject in strokes. It may seem new, but needlepainting has appeared in many cultures throughout history, often referred to as “silk shading.”
Needlepainting artists use medium-weight natural fabrics like cotton or linen and a plain, close weave for each and every project. A pencil is used to sktech the design onto the substrate, after which outlines are made using single strands of cotton thread.
Interested in trying this technique out for yourself? Needlepainting artist Trish Burr offers detailed tutorials on a number of different patterns on her website, as well as a few needlepainting material kits. Some designs are simple and meant for beginners, while others are a lot more challenging. Whether or not you care to try your hand at the craft, getting a peek at how it’s done will only increase your admiration for the results.
“I have labeled the skill level for this project as Advanced Plus,” Burr says of her “Great Horned Owl” piece. “It is a challenging piece and you will require experience in needlepainting and the ability to use the photo for placement of colors. Having said that, it will be a piece to be very proud of once completed.”
Other notable artists in this field include Lauren Spark, Ezgi Pamir, and Moscow-based Lisa Smirnova, all of whom focus on portraits more than landscapes or still-life imagery. It’s interesting to see how each artist’s particular style translates to the medium, each one different from the others but similar in its sense of movement and vitality within each work. Pamir sometimes adorns her pieces with additional objects (like flowers for Frida Kahlo’s hair), sharing details and prices on her Instagram page.