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Embroider Me

Embroider Me, get it? Like embroidery, but embroider ME. I thought it was cleaver.

I love portrait embroidery. Capturing movements, positions, and attributes of the human body through embroidery has always been interesting to me. Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten really into it. Once in a while someone will ask if I can embroider them. I usually enthusiastically say yes, but when I’ve actually tried to do it — I just can’t. It’s much more difficult and I never feel like I capture their essence just quite right. I realized that one of the reasons why is because I don’t know them or I wasn’t there when the picture was taken, and that leaves me sort of uninspired. I use embroidery as a way to remember experiences and people, feelings and vibes, from my own world. With every stitch I take a trip down memory lane, and also chill out a little. If I can’t do that, then it doesn’t really work for me.

This was the first piece I ever completed. It all started with this photo taken by Paola Nazati for D.C. clothing boutique Willow.

The scenes in my work aren’t planned or staged. I’m inspired by moments of fabulousness or sadness, excitement or contemplation, that are captured by friends as I carry on with my travels – pictures of myself that summarize how I felt during a trip or experience. Out of the few photos that really speak to me I produce a stencil, which I then trace onto a solid color fabric. With a single color of thread, and one or two types of stitches, I recreate the scene. The simplicity in stitches and colors causes your attention to focus on the overall mood – the look in my eye, the smirk on my face, the carefully curated outfit for a day of touring Palm Springs. My signature for these pieces is the technique I use to depict my naturally tightly coiled hair – hair which was difficult to master both in embroidery and in real life.

As a mixed heritage Belizean-Guyanese with big hair, I never found myself reflected in the heaps of portrait embroidery that exist in the world. This series of work all began as an experiment – a challenge to find a technique that depicts curly hair through embroidery. I found myself embroidering self-portraits with straight hair, which felt wrong. I don’t have straight hair. My people (most of them) don’t have straight hair. One of my proudest accomplishments as a fiber artist is discovering a technique that would allow me to represent all of me – and represent many others. I’ll never forget this one moment at an artist fair when a little boy of mixed heritage excitedly ran to my embroidery, yelling, “That hair looks like mine!” As if he had never seen himself reflected in art before. Sharing that moment with him felt amazing — I felt purpose. He took that piece home with him that day.

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