New Embroidery: lumen: the cell

I recently finished stitching this large (18″x12″) hand embroidery piece based on one of my SciArt text/image pieces. I’ve been working on this piece since June 18, 2018 and finished the stitching July 18, 2020, so it took just over two years to complete it. I’m very pleased with it!an embroidered image of a cell on a dusty blue linen. The parts of the cell are labeled with poetic text.

The text from centre down the right side reads:

The centre. Where sometimes we met. Two of us.

Reticent about apparent goals


Please remember

Chromatic nets

New to us

Chromatic & new to us (carries us some of the way)

Chance it some

Pair of pleases

The text from top left down that side reads:

Sector illustrating the firm structure of approach to pleasure

Caring pleases

New to us. Remember.

True newness


Sector illustrating sides to where time ran and had pleasure

The original text/art piece is from my “lumen” series where I took anatomical diagrams and replaced their labels with homophonic poetic text. The original has a lot more text on it but embroidered text takes time so I chose to just focus on the labels. I’ve found that whipped back stitch gives a nice flowing line for the text shapes but it also means that each letter takes about 5 minutes. There are about 330 letters on this piece so that’s 1650 minutes: 27.5 hours for the text alone. The lines of text aren’t exactly straight but I’m content with that. It gives a bit more of a hand-done feel to the entire piece.

a detail shot of an embroidery of a cell on blue linen. There are white lines from sections of the cell to text on the right hand side stitched in white.

The image on the piece is a diagram of a cell from Grey’s Anatomy, drawn by the artist Henry Vandyke Carter. Because of the subject matter, this could be considered part of my anatomy embroidery series, but there is research on ME/CFS about how energy production is broken at a cellular level so this could be seen as related to my symptomatology series as well. I used a number of different stitches for the different cell parts, but I’m especially proud of my bullion stitch mitochondria because they’re so long. I used a long sashiko needle so I could do enough wraps for the needed lengths.

A detail shot of an embroidery of a cell on blue linen. There are reds, purples, whites, and greens in various stitches.

I documented the entire process of this piece in a long thread on Twitter which you can read from the beginning if you’re interested.

There are a lot of other reasons besides the many stitches why this piece took so long. Around the time I started it I decided to focus on my secret project, something which is very large and requires a lot of time and cognitive—but not physical—energy. My embroidery practice became something to do while in waiting rooms or while recovering from a crash rather than my main creative practice. I also started playing the piano more regularly as well as starting a slow walking practice. These two things take time and physical energy and so also recovery time, so again, embroidery took a bit of a back seat.

I had an unexpected hospital stay in May 2019 that brought everything to a stop. I had a large DVT caused by an anatomical anomaly that required emergency surgery. I thought I’d be able to embroider while hospitalized but I had I.V. ports in both hands so that wasn’t possible. Yes, I’m recovered from the DVT with only a bit of ache in my leg on windy days.

As a multidisciplinary artist, balancing my practices in various media as well as my various projects has always been a bit of a challenge. Embroidery is a fairly new addition to my combination of disciplines. It has replaced my performance practice which isn’t feasible given my current energy levels because of ME/CFS. Post-exertional malaise (PEM) is still a danger that I try to avoid as much as possible so I’m very cautious and use a timer with any physical activities.

My main project at the moment is my secret project, and I hope to have it to a point where it no longer needs to be secret by this time next year. I’ve started a needle felting piece which has a bit of a learning curve, but the idea for it has been clear in my mind for quite some time. Needle felting doesn’t require much cognitive energy so when I have a decent physical day but not a good cognitive one I’m working on that. I also set up a new embroidery piece—a uterus—to work on while in waiting rooms and when crashed. I’ve been posting updates on my needle felting, my uterus embroidery, and my slow walks on Instagram and Twitter regularly. My piano practice is such that I’m managing 15-20 minutes these days and have been both learning/playing through pieces (currently Satie’s Three Gymnopédies and about to start on his Gnossiennes), improvisation, and composition in practice rotation. I’ve also started very slowly working through Mark Nepo’s book, Drinking from the River of Light with my longtime friend and writer Pam Bustin. It’s a book about the spiritual aspects of creativity and is really feeding all aspects of my practice in a deep way. All of this makes for very full but also very flourishing days, and I’m very grateful my health has improved enough to allow for such a rich life again.

Because this question is asked each time I complete an embroidery piece, no, I am not currently selling my embroidery. Pricing, framing, promotions, and sales are a bit beyond my capabilities at the moment since they require more regular administrative output than I can handle at the moment. If you are interested in buying my work, contact me and I’ll add you to my list of people to contact once I am selling work. If you are a gallery interested in taking on my work I would be very willing to speak with you since a gallery would take care of most of the administrative end that I am unable to handle at the moment.