Book review: The Art of the Needle

This is a review of The Art of the Needle: Designing in Fabric and Thread by Jan Beaney. Pantheon Books, New York, 1988. ISBN 0-394-57303-X.

The book is an introduction to design for embroidery. It’s written in a friendly and enjoyable style, easy to understand, but without talking down to the reader or oversimplifying concepts. It covers some of the same topics as Sharon B’s wonderful Sumptuous Surfaces class (yes, I took it!). I also want to note that this is a beautiful book. It’s a treat even to flip through looking at the photos – just a really gorgeous book visually.

The first chapter is Design Starting Points – where to get ideas, how to change ideas into designs, how to incorporate color and texture. It doesn’t simply give a list of concepts – it talks you through how to actually implement them. For instance, in the section on drawing and finding ideas from what’s around you, there’s a section “Getting to Know a Plant” with over a dozen suggestions such as “Draw the outline of a single leaf. Take particular note of the edge. Is it crinkly, indented, crisp, or hairy? Has it been partially eaten away?”

The chapter also addresses how to take a sketch and use it to create a full blown design, such as the oranges example shown at right. There are sections on color and texture, and examples of finding color and texture inspiration in everything – even a corrugated iron fence (see photo with embroidery insets below).

The chapter on fabric paints with embroidery is really interesting. The book finishes with a wonderful set of examples (with discussion!) of embroidery design inspired by a variety of techniques.

I strongly recommend this book. The author did an amazing job of explaining and demonstrating color and design for embroiderers. Plus, y’all have just got to look at the photos of her embroidery and I can’t post them here!

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