Working one meticulous stitch at a time, artist Kathryn Leslie utilizes a time-honored tradition to create unexpected images.
Leslie’s work is currently on view at the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington. “A Stitch in Time” reveals Leslie’s fondness for historical imagery and irrepressible sense of humor. Working with fabric, a hoop, a needle and thread, Leslie takes the tradition of embroidery and infuses it with a fun sensibility.
“I love history and I love kitsch,” Leslie explained. “So, anything that is historical that we’re not used to seeing inspires me.”
Leslie’s works include renderings of classic ephemera, such as “The Italian Method.”
“It depicts an old rhinoplasty technique that was used in the 1500s. The way they used to do it is they would peel some skin back from the arm and sew it to the face. And while they waited for the blood flow to get into their face, they’d have to wear their arm strapped up for several weeks, then they’d cut the skin off and form it into a makeshift nose.”
“I saw that image and I thought that it was a very interesting story, a very interesting part of our history, and I wanted to translate it into my way.”
The portability factor of embroidery helped to convince Leslie that this was the medium for her.
“A lot of times, I will take it with me wherever I go. I keep a tote bag with me, and it has my current project in it. It’s very easy to pick up and put down. On my lunch break at work I’ll work on it, or in waiting rooms. People see me working on these in public a lot. Sometimes people look over and are like ‘What is she stitching?’”
While Leslie also works as a painter, embroidery has given her a fresh perspective.
“Everything had been panted before, I felt like. But I hadn't seen a whole lot of things on fabric. I had a few doodles that I had drawn and found that it was very intuitive to me. It was an easy thing to pick up.
And I just kept getting more and more complicated as I started each new project.”
Included in the show is “Trepanning,” which depicts a man with a large device screwed to his head. “This is an image of what they called trepanning, where they drilled into the skull for various reasons, to release pressure or whatever was causing illness. I thought it was pretty gross, but kind of funny. My kids wouldn’t look at it for a long time. My son still doesn’t want to look at it. So, that’s never hung in my home,” she admitted with a laugh.
Leslie hopes her work will show viewers of the possibilities of the medium of embroidery.
“I like that it’s traditional, but I also want people to see that it’s not just that.”
“A Stitch in Time” continues at the McLean County Arts Center through Feb. 14.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.