Embroidery is often associated with grandmothers and vintage handkerchiefs, but Emma Lehman said she hopes to revive the art form with a modern twist.
Lehman, a first-year English student, created Embruindery, an embroidery club on campus, that she hopes will act as a ‘catch-all’ club for fiber arts, including embroidery, sewing, knitting and quilting. Embruindery’s interest meeting took place Oct. 25, with about nine students in attendance. During an event yesterday, Lehman taught members how to do basic floral stitches. Lehman said she hopes to teach others her craft, learn from other student artists and show how embroidery has evolved by starting the new club at UCLA.
“When I got here, it seemed like there was (a club) for anything except for any kind of fiber art,” Lehman said. “I thought, ‘There’s nothing preventing me from just starting (a club).’”
Embruindery has gained about 20 UCLA students interested in fiber arts since its first meeting. Lehman said she envisions creating an environment where students of all backgrounds, regardless of their experience level or major, can come together to work on individual and group projects. Some interested students have never even touched a needle before, she said, and students from both North and South campus have shown interest in learning to embroider.
Before founding Embruindery, however, Lehman had already started sharing her art by selling and gifting her projects to friends and family in addition to running an Instagram account @backstitchbaby to share her designs. She said she began by embroidering jean jackets for her mom’s friends, and that her own friends would give her jean jackets, shorts and pants for her to embroider.
“People would give me this clothing and just say, ‘cover this with stuff,’” Lehman said. “And that’s always really fun because you have a lot of space to play with.”
Lehman said she gave patches to her friends from her hometown before leaving for UCLA. Olivia Snyder, a friend of Lehman’s, said Lehman gave her an olive branch patch with her nickname “Olive” inscribed below the image for her birthday. Snyder said she put the patch on her favorite purse, which she wears almost everyday.
“The patch that she made for me, it wasn’t just anything,” Synder said. “(Lehman) tailored it toward me and that’s why I love it so much.”
Lehman’s ability to make personal pieces for friends traces back to when she first learned to embroider. Lehman is self-taught in the field of fiber art and began learning how to create her own projects three years ago. She was inspired by her mother, who sewed her own wedding dress and many of Lehman’s clothes.
Most of Lehman’s learning came from playing around with stitches and techniques to see what worked. She said she then started stitching non-traditionally, simply following lines of her designs. She has since transitioned to tying traditional embroidery knots such as bullion and French knots, which create dense textures and involve knotting the thread around itself.
Her first piece was a shaded woman’s face looking up. She said the piece is still unfinished as she continues to sample new techniques. It’s her favorite piece because it shows how she incrementally improved her technique over time, she said. She started with hoops and now mostly makes patches, which tend to be more complicated. She said her design style transitioned from following the lines on a design, to using more colors, stitching techniques and mixed media, such as beading and penwork.
Lehman seeks inspiration from line art tattoos, old paintings, photos, songs and works by other embroidery artists. She recently created a patch based on the song “Sugar on My Tongue” by Talking Heads. In this piece, “sugar” made of sparkling beads fall onto a peach tongue, with the lips shaded in different hues of pink and red.
One black and white patch Lehman gave a friend depicts a geisha woman, whose face is split in half by a vine. She said she based it on a line art design by Rozita, a tattoo artist with the Instagram handle @rozita_ttoo, who she was able to talk to about designs and looks to for inspiration. Lehman said her designs draw from modern influences in order to stray from the stereotype of embroidery being a dated art form.
“I think it’s interesting because I feel like there’s a connotation with embroidery as being a grandmotherly thing,” Lehman said. “With a lot of my designs, I try to take it in a different direction.”
Jaime Hattori, a first-year cognitive science student, saw Lehman wearing an embroidered jean jacket and was intrigued once she learned Lehman created the patches herself. Hattori said she never even thought about embroidery until she met Lehman at UCLA’s College Summer Institute for incoming freshmen.
“(Embroidery) could be such a cool, young-person thing to do,” Hattori said. “I never thought of it as something that people my age are hanging out and spending their time doing.”
Lehman said the popularity of knitting and embroidered patches in recent events such as the Women’s Marches throughout the U.S. shows that fiber art is developing a new life. She said that patches with the Women’s March logo and the knitted ‘pussy hats’ exemplify the new political aspect of fiber art.
Lehman added she is interested in collaborating with student artists, who can share their art on the Embruindery Facebook page and have club members turn this art into custom patches. Her other long-term visions for Embruindery include doing large group projects, fundraising for supplies, visiting museums and other off-campus trips, while also tailoring activities to the club members’ desires.
“I feel like embroidery is underappreciated and I think that, even with museums, you don’t see a lot of fiber art exhibits,” Lehman said. “I think that being able to get the medium out there would be really cool, especially through student art.”