Embroidery artist creating fairytale works wants to broaden definition of art

An embroidery artist who stitches whimsical scenes inspired by classic literature, fairytales and the natural world said she wants to broaden people’s perception of what art is.

Gemma Matthews, a mother of four from Nottingham, stitches colourful scenes with figures such as King Arthur and Guinevere, Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, and Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, as well as figures from her imagination.

She told the PA news agency she began embroidering in 2018 on scraps of denim left over from her children’s clothes and finds that embroidery is a form of “escapism” for her.

Lady Ethereal is one of Gemma’s earliest and favourite works (Gemma Matthews/PA)

She explained: “I have four children and I used to cut off jeans to make shorts because they put holes in everything and I used to have bits of denim lying around me.

“One day I just thought, ‘I’m going to doodle on this with a bit of thread for fun’ and I obviously got the hook for it.

“It evolved over time and got bigger and bigger and more complicated and more complex.”

Among her earliest and favourite works is Lady Ethereal, which shows a blonde woman with flowers in her hair, wearing a light purple gown and walking through a wood.

Ms Matthews said: “That one pulls on my heartstrings a little bit because that was the first time I thought actually, I could be an artist, this is my thing.”

Gemma Matthews
Gemma Matthews stitches colourful scenes with figures such as King Arthur and Guinevere. (Gemma Matthews/PA)

“I had lots of time sitting in waiting rooms, with my daughter dancing and taking children to football training or events, so embroidery was something that I could easily take around with me and I can sit and I like to keep my hands busy,” she said.

“During Covid my dad was diagnosed with cancer just at the beginning, so he spent nearly all of two years or so in hospital and it was really difficult because we couldn’t see him because of rules and everything.

“It was a really difficult time and although I was home-educating the children as well, I lost myself more into the embroidery.

“I spent more time then on it because it was something that I could escape into and kind of distance myself from all the other stuff that was going on.”

The embroidered scenes take about 80 to 100 hours to make each, on average, and are created without any preparatory sketches, Ms Matthews said.

“It’s a lot of staring at a blank canvas and working out stuff as I go. If I had planned anything, I’m sure it would take less time but it’s not the way I work,” she said.

She continued: “I use the needle like a paintbrush and I just go with the flow and then see where it takes me.”

She said that many people “just see [embroidery] as a ladies’ craft” rather than taking it seriously as an art form.

Gemma Matthews
Gemma stitches women in woodland scenes, including The Lady of Spring (Gemma Matthews/PA)

“It really is quite hard to be seen as an artist, it’s hard to shake that view of people perceiving what art is.”

As for the future, Ms Matthews said: “My main goal for the future is to get my exhibition up and running.

“I’ve been trying to do that for quite a while but money and resources kind of go with the living crisis, they save up a little bit and disappear.

“I know a lot of people are waiting to view them up close because embroidery changes with light, and up close is different to a photograph, so it would be nice for people to come and have a view of some of the pieces.”

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