This spring, visitors to the Penland Gallery got the chance to see a piece by Ruth Miller as part of the exhibition I dwell in Possibility. The work’s vivid colors and rich texture were the first things that drew the eye upon stepping through the doorway, and many visitors were overheard exclaiming something along the lines of, “I need to get a closer look at that painting!” It wasn’t until they were within a few feet that they realized the work they were admiring was embroidery.
Through a lifetime of needlework, careful observation, and inquisitive self-reflection, Ruth Miller has mastered the art of embroidery as portraiture. She works large and with impressive realism, combining the precision and color sense of a pointillist painter with the narrative skill of a novelist. Her work, above all, is thoughtful and thought provoking, and it’s been a thrill to gain a deeper sense of her process this session as she’s been teaching in our textiles studio.
In her workshop Embroidered Portraiture, Ruth and her students are approaching needle, fabric, and yarn as tools to transmit what they see, not merely what they think they see. In the process, Ruth has presented them with a crash course in observational drawing, color theory, stitching patterns, and more. To see the tables strewn with reference photos and pencil sketches and yarn samples doesn’t fully illustrate the time and care that go into these works—a full portrait generally takes Ruth about a year to complete!—but it does help to deepen our appreciation for the craft and mastery behind each one.
If you’re intrigued, we’d highly recommend taking a few minutes to read Ruth’s own description of her process and motivations on her website.