Tilleke Schwarz workshop

I participated in a one day workshop at Craft in the Bay run by the Dutch textile artist  Tilleke Schwarz who had an exhibition of her work in the gallery.

We started off by making a collage on an A1 piece of paper. Tilleke invited us to answer a couple of questions… What do you love? What do you hate? And to include our name on the paper. Using magazines I initially found images that appealed to me rather than looking for any thing in particular. Soon I was tearing, arranging, re-arranging scraps of colours then pasting them onto the large sheet. Each of us in turn explained our collages; I found it a much more interesting way of introducing myself and learning about my fellow participants than the usual round the table type of introductions – there’s always one who tells her life story!

The next stage was build a design for the piece of embroidery by selecting a few elements used in the collage. I found an image of an acorn so that had to be included seeing I’d been using the motive in my print-making classes.

I also found a list someone had made but instead of it being linear the person had written it in a spiral form so  I decided to use that format for my text. “I am setting out on my journey but I have no plan, I have no map, I have no idea where I am going or how I ‘m going to get there. Will I know when I’ve arrived? I hope I never stop travelling.”

After lunch Tilleke showed us some of the methods she uses in her work. I’ve taken her statement from her website.

“All my work relates basically to one theme: the oddities of life. I include anything that moves, amazes or intrigues me. Daily life, mass media, traditional samplers and cats are major sources of inspiration. The result is a mixture of content, graphic quality and fooling around. The work can be understood as a kind of visual poetry. Every work contains narrative elements. Not really complete stories, with a beginning, a storyline, and an end. On the contrary, the viewer is invited to decipher connections or to create them. This way it becomes a kind of play between the viewer and me. Textiles I love textiles because of the tactile looks.”

Using one or two strands of thread from her stash of over 2000 colours Tilleke couch stitches her text – sayings, notices or anything else that catches her eye. This is interspersed with traditional cross-stitch motives, (she sources the patterns from old books), found pieces of previously worked embroidery and images of her own making. Tilleke stitches onto fine count linen which she may dye, according to her whim. She was very generous in giving us information such as how to mount the work  – after washing and pressing the work it is placed on acid-free card which is covered with another piece of fabric so that the embroidered piece doesn’t sit directly onto the card. The Embroidered work is stretched over the card and using large zig-zag stitches backed onto another piece of fabrice. For ease of transporting her work Tilleke uses loose frames – that is the work is removed from the frame and transported separately.

Tilleke gave us a demonstration as to how she stitches her text and then we were off stitches for ourselves.  We discussed whether to hoop or not to hoop our work – after trying both I prefer to work with one as I can see my work better.

Soon it was time to tidy up and we had another short talk from Tilleke when she told us, whilst showing us images, a little more about her Jewish Dutch background, her family and her cat – a repeating figure to be found in her work.

We then went downstairs to look at her work. Magnifying glasses were given out so we could really appreciate the fine stitch work.

Again these images are taken from Tilleke’s website.


This is a very early piece made in 1980

tilleke-schwarz_count-your-blessings-2003 tilleke-schwarz_count-your-blessings-2003-detail

Count your Blessings 2003tilleke-schwarz_free-recovery-2010 tilleke-schwarz_free-recovery-2010-detail

Free Recovery 2010tilleke-schwarz_playground-2008 tilleke-schwarz_playground-2008-detail

Playground 2008

I have no desire to copy Tilleke’s style but the workshop was an opportunity to free myself from the ‘rights and wrongs’ of stitching. I thought  Tilleke was well practised in running her workshops, she has found her style and I imagine maintains a consistency in the delivery.

I enjoy the humour in her work and several aspects of it reminds me of Greyson Perry with his messages on his pots and tapestries.

grayson_pot_304.jpg (304×523)


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