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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Positions and Practice – Experiment 2

“The thread acts as a connection between the person and myself or place that I have photographed. I always think of the photograph as something from the past and the thread as a reaction to the past and present. The thread makes the photograph more personal to me and allows me to meditate on the image. Combining the two mediums (photography and sewing) allows me to reinvent the photograph; to visually react to a person or a place.”

– Melissa Zexter

“As long as something creates a reaction it’s alive”

– Maurizio Anzeri

Using Maurizio Anzeri and Melissa Zexter as inspiration, I trialled the addition of embroidery on a few images.  Anzeri embroiders found photographs with coloured thread, whilst Zexter uses photographs she has taken herself to sew onto.  I decided to follow Zexter’s example and use my own photographs to stitch onto.

The tricky part was selecting images from my previous work to use.  I did not want to try and shoot images specially for this as this would make the work too prescriptive.  So I searched and chose images I thought would work well and allow me to add a layer of narrative to add additional meaning and emotion.

The next stage was to consider how the embroidered aspect would interact with the image. My intent was that the embroidery would be a reaction to the photographic image and bring an additional layer of narrative, adding add emotion to the image.

Like Melissa Zexter, my starting point was to work on ideas in my sketchbook.  I printed out my images on standard printer paper and sketched my plans for the embroidery onto them.


Figure 1: Sutherst 2016


Figure 2: Sutherst 2016

After deciding which images to produce, choosing the correct thread colour was the next challenge.  In the images where the emotion needed to be strong and powerful, 4 strands of red DMC Mouliné Stranded Cotton (colour 13) were used.

I printed out the photographs onto semi-gloss Permajet photo paper.  Initially I tried to stitch in a normal fashion, pushing the needle through the paper.  This proved to be very difficult due to the thickness of the paper as it was tough to push the needle through the paper accurately and without pain to my thumb.  I very quickly realised that I would need a different method.

I trialled using a thimble on my thumb to help push the needle and thread through the paper.  This method was much better than the first method, but still lacked a level of accuracy which I wanted for the placement of the thread.

I decided to trial pushing holes through the photograph, using a needle and thimble to push the holes through from the front and I used a cutting mat underneath the paper.  This method allowed control and accuracy of the hole positions.  Once the holes were all punched, I just threaded the cotton through them.  The ends of the cotton thread were secured in place with sellotape as knotting the ends would have shown through the front of the image once mounted.


Figure 3: Sutherst Headache 2016


Figure 4: Sutherst Anguish 2016


Figure 5: Sutherst Anguish Version 2 2016


Figure 6: Sutherst Verbal 2016

For the eye expression images, 4 strands of black DMC Mouliné Stranded Cotton (colour 939) were used. I also chose to add a small bead to every other line in the image with the embroidery just under the eyes.  This was to give additional texture to the image and add interest to counterbalance the bright expressive false pink lashes worn by the subject.


Figure 7: Sutherst Stare 2016


Figure 8: Sutherst Looking pretty 2016

Reflecting on this experiment, I feel I have areas of technique to work on.  The most successful image for me was ‘Headache’.  The strands of cotton thread really express to me how powerful the headache is. The positioning of the threads starting from the forehead really emphasise the pain that the subject is going through and that the headache is extensive.

I also feel that the ‘Anguish’ and ‘Verbal’ images also successfully portray the emotion and narrative I was aiming for.  However, I feel that the 2 eye images are the least successful.  Whilst the embroidery has added to the images, I feel that the effect is more aesthetic than emotional.

Feedback from others reflects my opinions.  The comments I have received about ‘Headache’ include “the image really speaks to me about bad this man’s headache is – I really feel his pain” and “this is a really successful manipulation of the image.  It works”.

‘Anguish’ and ‘Anguish Version 2’ were both liked by others.  However, views differed on whether the image should be cropped as in ‘Anguish’ or not as in the second version.  Personally I prefer version 2 as it gives more character to the subject.  On reflection, the blue background could be adjusted to give more emphasis to the subject.  I will consider this in the next version of the image.

Another person commented that the image ‘Verbal’ appears to portrays quite an aggressive character, who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. This wasn’t entirely the effect I was going for.  I was intending to demonstrate that the subject was confident and not afraid to speak her mind.  I had not intended her to be portrayed as aggressive.  I can see how the embroidered layered has added this narrative to the image.  I need to be mindful of different interpretations of my work as I progress through the project.

For both the eye images, viewers were confused about the narrative I was trying to portray.  I have to agree with them that these images are the least successful in this experiment.  They do not have a clear message unlike the other images.  Moving forwards, I need to ensure that each image has a purpose and that this is clearly expressed in the embroidery added.

One final reflection point, is that I feel that some of these images lack a degree of sophistication in the style of embroidery added.  This is an area for development and improvement.  I will need to improve and develop my embroidery skill level to enable me to tackle more intricate and considered designs.  I also plan to develop machine stitching techniques as well as hand stitching techniques.

Further experiment results will be posted in blogs once they are completed and evaluated.


Anzeri, M. From Yatzer. 2017. The Embroidered Secrets of Maurizio Anzeri | Yatzer. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 11 January 2017].

Zexter, M. From 2017. Melissa Zexter interview: Embroidered photography – [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 11 January 2017].


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