Taking Cross-Stitching to the Streets

in Features

Like a soft play Banksy, Valencian artist Raquel Rodrigo is taking her huge cross-stitch works to buildings across the globe.

If the words ’embroidery’ and ‘cross-stitch’ conjure up images of your grandma and her cute-but-kitsch portraits of her favourite cat, then you’ve yet to come across the work of Valencia-based artist Raquel Rodrigo. Using the art form she learned from her mother, this young artist is creating XL street-art installations that are bringing new life to her local streets.

“It’s the embroidery that women have always done inside the home on sheets, towels and cushions,” said Rodrigo. “This is about taking that embroidery to the streets.”

Old craft, new way

When she was a little girl, Raquel Rodrigo – like many other children in Spain – was taught embroidery by her mother. A traditional way of decorating linens, tablecloths, cushions and other textiles, embroidery is a skill which has been around for centuries and until recently had mostly fallen out of fashion with younger generations. These days though, the handmade and DIY craze has exploded, as millennials rediscover manual crafts and take a break from those computer screens.

Someone who needed no convincing to take up embroidery again is was Rodrigo. This artist decided to take her childhood hobby to the next level and create large-scale embroidery art. Ditching the traditional embroidery threads and ‘eavenweave’ fabrics, Raquel works with thick cotton cord made from natural fibres which she weaves across a metal grid-patterned frame.

If Rodrigo relies on these sturdy materials, it’s because her art’s final resting place is the streets of her home town, Valencia. Her vision is to take a traditionally home-based activity and take it to the streets to make it public art, leaving her embroideries to become part of their environment. In so doing, she’s also giving visibility to all the women whose embroidery has for so long been restricted to the home and rarely been given attention.

The Valencian-born artist came up with the idea in 2011 after she was tasked with embellishing the facade of a Madrid store that offered sewing workshops. As she searched for a way to embody the store’s raison d’être, her mind wandered back to the cross-stitching technique she had learned from her mother as a young girl.

Using a computer to map out the pattern, she designed a flurry of crimson roses tumbling down the facade. From there she printed out a pixelated pattern to follow, stitching it carefully on to a metallic mesh that was mounted on the storefront.

The technique soon became her signature. As her project Arquicostura – a Spanish portmanteau of architecture and sewing – brought her to cities such as London, Istanbul and Philadelphia, reactions poured in from around the world.

Some saw reminders of their childhood in her work, others were flooded with memories of grandmothers and mothers. The constant references to female figures laid bare the wider significance of the work. “Over time I realised that this was a way of asserting a feminine art that has long been invisible,” said the 38-year-old.

Taking inspiration in spaces

Whereas embroidery is traditionally found on soft furnishings and household items, Rodrigo turned to the city itself for inspiration. She explains that she gets her inspiration by walking around and observing the spaces she sees around her. Every lamppost, broken window, empty wall or doorway can become a canvas, inspiring its own embroidery.

Then it’s back to the studio to give her inspiration life. A fan of blending the old with the new, the artisan and the industrial, Rodrigo has very much made her embroidery a 21st-century art form by using her computer to assist in the design of her work. Sitting at her desk, she designs her pieces using software that enables her to adapt her designs to specific sizes and shapes, as well as allowing her to visualise the final result before she even starts work on the embroidery.

Finally, her work takes its place on the street and the artist lets her work runs its course. Rodrigo knows that street art is essentially ephemeral, subject to human intervention as much as the wind or the rain. But for her, that’s all part of the lifecycle of her art and part of the beauty of these pieces: they too become part of the public space.

Weaving stories into the city

These super-sized embroidery works are essentially weaving new life into the streets of Valencia, and so far, Rodrigo says the reaction has been very positive. She believes that because so many people have their own memories of embroidery, her work is immediately relatable to those who see it, making it both recognisable and unusual.

Thanks to the slim metal frame, her creations appear as if they are suspended or holding onto an invisible frame. Imagine walking down the street to find the walls are covered in beautiful embroidery which appears to be woven into the very fabric of the city.

Rodrigo’s art clearly appeals to the senses: it’s not uncommon for most people’s first reaction to be to touch the embroidery. These huge works are fully three-dimensional, revealing each cross, loop and knot. While some of her creations appear more traditional, depicting flowers for example, other designs are more modern, such as a 70-metre installation with a simple message: ‘Certain things take time’.

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