55 cm x 68 cm
Various threads and linen
Dutch textile artist Tilleke Schwarz has been embroidering from childhood and participated in exhibitions since the late 1980s. She describes the theme of her work as “the oddities of our modern society” and her pieces are in private and public collections worldwide.
What is your background?
“I studied General Arts and Textile Design at the Academy for Arts and Industry, Enschede and Textile-experiments and painting at the Free Academy for Modern Art, The Hague, both in The Netherlands.”
Why did you specialise in textiles?
“Although my main training was in drawing, I slowly swapped paper and crayons for linen and thread. I really love the tactile qualities of textiles. Textiles generally create a more intimate relationship with the viewer.”
What techniques do you prefer?
“My favourite technique is embroidery, mainly couching, cross stitch and appliqué. All stitching is done by hand which takes a bit of time but I prefer the lively look of the tiny differences in stitches.”
How do you work?
“I start with a few ideas, maybe notes, doodles, drawings or an image or text from the internet. I choose things I find interesting, moving, intriguing or surprising.
One of my main decisions is to choose the colour of the background. My favourite linen only comes in white or off white so if I have to dye it if I want to use a different colour. Before I start to stitch I always make an outline on the cloth in a running stitch to mark the space. This is then removed later.
How long does a piece take?
“I don’t stitch all day and I develop a new piece slowly so one piece takes about 4-6 months.”
What materials do you use?
“I always use the same 50 count linen that is made in Weddigen, Germany. Recently I have used Italian Linen called Graziano and about 48 count. I use a range of fine threads for embroidery – silk, cotton, rayon, metal thread, embroidery floss and sewing thread. I have over 2500 different shades and I often combine different coloured threads. I like to hold the cloth in my hand when I sew and don’t use hoops or frames. This method works fines as long as one does not to pull the thread too much”
How do you know when a piece is finished?
“It is difficult. Usually when I find myself unpicking almost as much as adding. I often pin my work on a soft wall and look at it from a distance. Once it is complete I mount the work myself and have it framed in a detachable frame
* You seem to have developed your signature style early in your career. Have the themes or any other aspect of your work changed over the years? Yes slowly. It is less a diary and I include a bit more appliqué. The composition has become more important and nowadays I prefer to keep my work not fully covered with stitches but (a bit) emptier.
What is the highlight of your long career so far?
I do not look at my life / career that way but when I have to make a choice it would probably be to have published my own books.
What advice can you give to aspiring textile artists?
Look very often at your work in progress from a distance, especially with hand embroidery. Do not give up! Go your own way and do not bother too much about what other people say about it. Just enjoy what you do.
Tilleke’s second book New Potatoes is out now and is available through her website or www.amazon.co.uk