Woman Paints With Thread, Creates Art Through Embroidery

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Marie Palmer’s desk is covered in a swirl of color — a turquoise sewing machine, boxes overflowing with thread, and acrylic landscape paintings in various states of completion.

She sits in her pink chair, an “inspiration wall” with photos of famous master artists and their works behind her. She pulls a needle and embroidery thread through a linen shirt, a large flower taking shape over what was a stain.

This is her way of upcycling worn-out items.

The blue linen dress she’s wearing has been revamped in the same way, with designs threaded across the top.

Palmer enjoys stitching on usable objects like clothes, pins or cards, all of which can be found around her desk.

“That’s what embroidery is good for — surface decoration,” she said. “That’s how it was intended over the years.”

Palmer, 39, uses her needles and thread to stitch these surface decorations with complex and expressive images. The tiny details that mark her bees, Louisiana egrets and women’s flowing gowns appear as brush strokes, prompting her to describe this art of embroidery as “thread-painting.”

She even recreates famous paintings in thread on tiny surfaces, like a fabric pin of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

All of this work takes place inside a converted shed outside her home in Lafayette. A mom of three, Palmer realized she needed the room for all of her art supplies but also for the quiet.

“I’m an introvert,” she said. “I need time to think and be by myself, to get the ideas out and refine as I go. It takes some quiet energy to get it out of my brain.”

Palmer remembers always painting and drawing as a child, and then her godmother taught her to embroider about age 7. She came back to the art later in life, learning more through videos and finding patterns online.

Then she started making her own designs. She especially loves working on linen and usually uses DMC embroidery floss. Sometimes she’ll use silk thread.

Her designs vary, reflecting nature, mythology and simple scenes from daily life. One of her favorite pieces — and perhaps her largest — is one of her grandparents washing dishes together in their kitchen.

Like the concept, the colors are simple, mostly different shades of brown. But her stiches create the appearance of wood grain and the flow of the fabric of their shirts as her grandmother turns to hand him a blue dish.

This piece took more than 100 hours, she said. She appreciates it not only for the personal connection to her family but also for reflecting the traditionally feminine history of embroidery.

“Embroidery, in general, has been women’s work for centuries,” Palmer said. “Being a mom is the most important thing in my life, so being able to depict domestic scenes is important to me.”

She often is inspired by her kids and family. She recently finished a small portrait of her father, which took about 20 hours.

Palmer is able to carve out little moments to stitch most days. Most projects are small and lightweight, making them easy to take along to her children’s music lessons or to work at her husband’s electrical engineering business.

“I take those stolen moments to do it,” she said.

And of course, she finds time to work on her own in the shed.

“For me it’s my best outlet for working out emotions, relationships with other people,” Palmer said. “It’s my therapy and meditation in one.”

Palmer also sells her work through her online Etsy shop, Artemis Unravelled, named for her love of mythology and art. There, shoppers can find highly detailed, hand-embroidered butterfly wing earrings as well as art to hang on your wall.

While embroidery is her favorite, she still works with paint and other media to create her landscapes as well as decks of oracle cards. Some have been stitched, and others are mixed media. Then she scans them and sells the printed cards, shipping decks as far as Japan and France.

“I never do the same thing,” she said. “It takes a long time to perfect.”