November 01, 2019

The Embroideries of Michelle Kingdom - Issue 19

amirisu featured @Michelle Kingdom
Little tales drawn with thread Michelle Kingdom
Interview: Haruko Kono
Photo by Michelle Kingdom

amirisu featured @Michelle Kingdom


A woman in a black dress stands somberly, circled by a flock of flamingos. Their tail feathers fan out like a pink skirt as if to add color to her presence, but she remains immobile, forever trapped in this strange configuration.

This is just one of many enigmatic scenes which Michelle Kingdom depicts in her embroidery pieces. Stitch by stitch, she creates haunting but beautiful snippets of imaginary stories.

The Los Angeles-based artist studied art at UCLA in the 1990s. “At the time, the art world was dominated by work that was oversized and conceptual. It mostly left me cold and I never thought art was a viable career path,” she recalls. Having had an interest in textiles, Michelle started creating tiny story scenes using thread. As she was self-taught in the art, Michelle’s embroideries were done sporadically and hardly shown publicly.

Encouraged by friends, she slowly began sharing her work on social media around 2014. Her distinctive style imbued with literary grace quickly caught the attention of many.

Michelle often depicts women in groups or as solo protagonists. “I am interested in exploring identity, particularly women's, through the lens of self-perception and relationships. The continual tension of opposing dynamics such as expectation and loss, belonging and alienation, truth and illusion, fascinates me,” she explains.

Her creative process begins by making many preparatory sketches of what first surfaces in her mind as a vague image. After she settles on the final composition, the drawing is transferred to the fabric, from where her stitching process finally begins. A hundred hours can easily be taken up for stitching time alone. “Embroidery is painstaking work. It’s like drawing in slow motion. The process is both frustrating and magical, and always a bit surprising,” she says.


amirisu featured @Michelle Kingdom


For her, stitching is “intuitive and fluid.” While she utilizes proper embroidery stiches like French knots and satin, her recent approach has gravitated towards the more experimental. In her own words, “I often feel like a spider wrapping my prey when I stitch!”

It’s no surprise that Michelle finds inspiration for her work in literature and art. Artists like Vincent van Gogh and Henry Darger whose works bespeak their inner truths, and writers like Virginal Woolf and Hans Christian Andersen are some of her favorites. “‘The Little Match Girl’ will break your heart, and ‘The Little Mermaid’ speaks to the self-delusion women continue to fall prey to and it does not have the ever after Disney ending,” she explains. Michelle’s works certainly echo these inspirations; they are quiet, secretive monologues that provide glimpses of the protagonists’ inner recesses that may harbor fear and darkness.

Michelle is also inspired by outside influences such as politics and social occurrences. “I’m not interested in creating overtly political work,” she says, but in her work, “recent narratives have an additional layer that is incapable to ignore in this current environment.”


amirisu featured @Michelle Kingdom

There was no going back, for example, after the 2016 American elections, which resulted in Donald Trump becoming President. Here, a lone woman in military fatigues carries a homing pigeon on her back. The remainder of the flock proceeds in the same direction as her.

“Optimistically, she can be setting out to spread the truth. Alternately, and more typical of my interpretation, is that she has fought, she is weary, she has played the herald and she has been ignored. With abandon she walks away, still keeping the message,” she explains. We are encouraged to interpret this open-ended image in our own ways, and the freedom to do so is perhaps the greatest appeal of Michelle’s work.

Michelle is currently in the middle of a piece, stitching away in the sunniest room of her house with two cats chilling nearby. “A day in my creative life would be very boring for an observer,” she says self-mockingly, but as her works have proven thus far, the stories she tells never fail to enthrall us. Michelle’s works are universally charming like fairy tales, deeply engaging like literary pieces, and beautifully rendered like paintings. And yet, they can only be delivered through the medium of embroidery, where images bloom ever so slowly and intimately.

amirisu featured @Michelle Kingdom


Her works

(Photo1): Fate Would Conspire (2016)
(Photo2): Even Now ... Even Sleeping (2017)
(Photo3): There Was No Going Back (2017) (The work which was made after the 2016 American elections)
The Height of Folly (2017)

You can find more about the artist on her website and social media:

Instagram @michellekingdom