Aerial embroidery with a message: meet the artists stitching for a cause

Respect, awareness and conservation of natural heritage and the environment are popular themes

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Ashley Victoria Owen likes to get her hands dirty, playing with soil in her garden or in the forests around her home in Redding, California.

“I’ve spent most of my life in Northern California and am deeply inspired by the different biomes and ecosystems here,” says the freelance writer and embroidery artist.

This keen interest in the natural world is reflected in Owen’s degree in horticulture, her writing on environmental science and Forest Floor Fibre Art, her embroidery art with intricate aerial views of the forest, specifically the riches on its floor ― fungi, moss, slime molds, rocks and more.

“In my agriculture and horticulture classes, I rediscovered layers of the natural world that I hadn’t given much thought since childhood, reigniting my interest in the difference between what we see at first glance, and what we see when we look deeper. This is where the focus of my aerial embroidery lies.”

Woven within these pieces is a larger message of awareness, respect and sustainability, Owen highlights how all detritus on forest grounds is recycled and repurposed by the forest, providing nutrients and shelter for animals, insects and plants in the area. This has influenced her zero-waste policy, using all her materials to the fullest advantage.

Like Owen, there are several aerial embroidery artists using this birds-eye-view to zoom in on nature, creating three-dimensional pieces of various landscapes. But uniting their work is a common thread, a narrative of respect and awareness of our environment, conservation and sustainability.

Ashley Victoria Owen weaves messages about sustainability into her work. Photo: Ashley Victoria Owen

Cascading swirls in myriad shades of blue, green, and occasionally browns or flaming orange, characterise Danielle Currie’s embroidery art, Satellite Stitches. These are replicas of satellite images of the ocean, with titles such as 60.08, 145.23 specifying the location’s co-ordinates.

“I love the ocean. I grew up on the east coast of Canada and going to the beach was one of my favourite things to do,” says Currie, a government environmental project officer in New Brunswick, Canada.

“I enjoy looking at satellite imagery and maps. The patterns and colours captured from that vantage point are stunning, especially images of movement patterns of biological processes.”

Her swirling designs are absorbing, gently provoking thought on the uniqueness of these waters. “I hope that others can see what I see and can come to realise how special and incredibly important oceans are.”

Nostalgia fuels several of these creations. Indian embroidery artist Diti Baruah finds inspiration in her home state of Assam, one of the eight states in north-east India, each with distinct cultures, languages and abundant natural beauty.

She has fond memories of lazy summer holidays in Dibrugarh’s tea gardens, walking through the paddy fields to her grandparents’ home in a neighbouring village, and travels around the region.

“I wanted to recreate those memories through my art. I have lived around India and abroad and during my conversations with people I realised they knew little about north-east India. I wanted to create awareness of the region through my artwork,” Baruah says.

Her work features lush colourful scenes with informative captions. A shower of pink and white French knotted cherry blossoms cascading through the air in Shillong. Boats floating on Manipur’s Loktak Lake, hemmed in by green layers of phumdis or floating landmasses, dotted with pink flowers.

The Siang River in Arunachal Pradesh, painted in blue, snaking through green satin-stitched fields, scattered with French-knotted foliage and wispy cotton clouds floating overhead.

As well as creating awareness, some artists also incorporate action. The self-taught embroidery artist behind Crewel and Kind, Clara Bowe, is driven by her interest in the built environment and how it affects our lives and the environment.

Artist Clara Bowe is driven by her interest in the built environment and how it affects our lives and the environment. Photo: Clara Bowe

Two of her pieces are sweeping aerial views of some of the US's famous parks. Bowe, who lives in Washington DC, is using these to promote the creation of urban gardens within these spaces where food can be grown.

“I believe it is one of the last opportunities a citizen has to engage with nature,” she says. “We are so separate from our food system, that if we were able to change that then it could change perceptions on where food can and should be grown.”

She donated a print of her tapestry of the Boston Emerald Necklace, an 445-hectare string of parks in Boston, with embroidered green lawns studded with French knots and swirling water features, to the Emerald Neck Conservancy, the foundation that manages these parks, to raise funds for their conservation projects.

The Muddy River in Boston by Clara Bowe. Photo: Clara Bowe

Another project is a table runner she has been sewing over the past four years with an aerial view of Central Park in Manhattan. Including millions of French knots. The precision and complexity of this piece conveys the generosity and beauty of this popular public space, which Bowe hopes will include a food garden in the future, her plan is to use this project to collaborate with an organisation who will campaign for this goal.

Baruah intends for future collaborations with conservation groups to combat the declining greenery and the negative effects of urbanisation on north-east India’s biodiversity.

“I don’t want to limit my association to monetary contribution, but to focus on making an impact at the policy level. I am also in discussion with a group to train locals in embroidery art and provide them a part-time income source," she says.

Currie has used her art for fundraising in the past and is open to collaborations for environmental causes, while Owen will continue her efforts as she further builds her audience and customers.

“I would love to shed more light on resources for them to explore eco-consciousness, conservation, and other facets of environmental responsibility.”

As they thread together these scenes, their art is a reminder of how each stitch and, by extension, each action, affects the larger picture.

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