Taking Tent Stitch Beyond Boundaries

26th April 2019

Tapestry wool. Tent stitch. I’m sure many of us envision traditional brown Penelope canvas, printed with reproductions of fine art or flowers, flowers and more flowers. What we may not think of is bright colour, experiment and abstraction and the modern beauty of pixel art. But that is precisely what artist Zoe Gilbertson thinks of when she picks up her needle at the start of her day.

Disintegrated Triangle, Tapestry canvas, wool, spray paint (source)

Zoe Gilberston, a textile artist based in Cambridge in the UK, has chosen wool and canvas as her preferred artistic medium. Initially trained as a fashion designer, Zoe started needlepoint when her children were young and over the years has pushed the boundaries of this traditional technique in exquisite and unimaginable directions.

Unlike freer styles of embroidery, Zoe is limited by the fact she’s essentially working with squares. But when you think about it, so much of our modern visual media does just that, breaking the world down into pixels. Some artists might baulk at how restrictive the canvas is, but Zoe relishes the challenge.

“I find restrictions often help you create better work and force you down avenues you wouldn’t normally consider.”

What we found most striking with Zoe’s work was her use of colour. Sometimes the colour is found in the wool and sometimes she paints the ground canvas as well, resulting in fascinating textures, shapes and voids.

Colour Three, Tapestry canvas, wool, spray paint (source)

Zoe’s working method changes depending on the project and her inspiration. Sometimes she plans out her piece on the computer, making full use of the geometric division of light and colour rendered on a screen. Other times she just picks up a needle and canvas and goes where her mood takes her.

Zoe predominantly uses tent stitch, preferring to achieve her expression with colour and shape, although she is just as comfortable exploring the multitude of canvas stitches available. But her works show how endless the possibilities are with a single, simple stitch.

Leonora Carrington, Tapestry wool, canvas (source)

We might believe textile art requires complete freedom in the method to be truly innovative, but traditional needlework methods are equally as effective in the creation of a personal form of artistic expression. Whether you’re a cross stitcher, canvas stitcher or freestyle embroiderer, it is hard not be inspired by Zoe Gilbertson’s artistic achievement.

100 Days, Tapestry wool, canvas (source)

To see more of Zoe’s work, you can take a look at her website www.zoegilbertson.com or follow her on Instagram @zoegilberston.

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