Archived entries for extreme embroidery

New Adventures In Silk!

The launch of the Lost City Silks collection is a fantasy fulfilled. Until now, all of our embroideries were executed on robust cotton grounds, almost all of them greigh or a neutral white color. This was a deliberate choice because we wanted our fabrics to be exquisite but also hardy, practical and of consistently superior quality. Standardising a neutral, versatile ground seemed like a sensible decision. Lost City artisans had to be trained to adapt their techniques to the thick cottons we used. But the ground they most enjoy working on is silk- the choice of the nawabs and royal families of India. We love silk- its poetic sheen and infinite potential as a canvas for experimentation. However, we denied ourselves the fantasy of creating a silk line until we were good and ready. There are a lot of fabrics out there and we have no desire to regurgitate anything.

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Joseff Hoffman, a force behind the Weiner Werstatte workshops in Vienna, inspired our silk collection.

We had been saving inspirations- little scraps of paper, pixelated jpegs, stories read and sights seen on our travels abroad, particularly in Europe and India, snatches of songs we couldn’t forget. We began to catalog and discuss these preliminary ideas with the design and sampling team at Lost City Blue, our company in India. The unanimous feedback was to go for a no-holds-barred extravagant line, and for once give the artisans the embroidery equivalent of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde to work on.
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Aftab Khan, one our master artisans, and an unlikely collaborator of Hoffman, executed our vision for the collection

Work on the collection started in the summer of 2005. The first challenge was to source ground fabric of the desired weight, width and color from a reliable source. After several failed attempts at identifying a supplier from the nearby silk center of Varanasi (the holy city of Benaras), we finally found a facility in Bangalore that wove several hundred yards to our specefication in the three colors we chose: a rich red, lustrous black and mughal gold. Next, over the course of six months and several 18 hour trans-Atlantic plane trips, train rides from New Delhi to Lucknow and back, in scorching Indian summer and frozen New York winter, we edited the several ideas we wanted to experiment with down to six or seven. We were aware that the American home furnishings market, even the top-end we catered to, was more conservative and risk-averse than Europe- afraid of color and reluctant to experiment. Emboldened by the commercial success of some of our trippier creations on cotton, we decided to listen to the feedback from our design team and not hold back.

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Many frequent flyer miles were accumulated in bringing this collection to life

Sampling started in late 2006 right around the time our cotton-based collections were being shipped to various U.S showrooms and our artisans were itching to work on something new. We had been fans of the work done by Wiener Werkstatte Vienna workshops, and admired the philosophy of Joseff Hofmann, who opposed the mass-produced blandness of jewelry, fabric and furniture and instead promoted handcrafted excellence for the discerning few. Decades later, an unlikely collaborator- our master artisan, Aftab Khan, would breathtakingly execute some of Hofmann’s ideas as embroidery. The resulting designs- Vienna and Camille are based on some of WW’s early naturalistic textiles that are closer to art nouveau than their later more geometric work. Other influences included Ottoman robes (Cintamani), Mughal architecture (Mumtaz)- the tomb of Emperor Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal), Toile de Jouy (Toile) and ancient gold leaf prints from India (Roghan).

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Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Avadh, was a patron of embroidery in Lucknow

By spring 2007 we had fifteen designs that could be put through the production process. Over the course of the next few months a few of them did not survive the final stages- washing and finishing. A couple seemed duplicative. In the end we decided to bring to market just 10 designs- every single one of them is stamped with the souls of Rashid, our manager, and Aftab, Haroon, Zeeshan, and Liaqat, our lead artisans, who we believe are the best in the world. In April 2008, we started shipping the display panels to our U.S. showrooms.

We have worked on hundreds of embroideries but none has inflamed our passions or imagination as the 10 designs that constitute the Lost City Silk Collection. We have poured our hearts into it. You be the judge of its beauty and craftsmanship.

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A rough sketch for Vienna, inspired by an early Wiener Werstatte fabric

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Vienna, above, fully embroidered by hand.

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Camille, fully embroidered by hand, also based on a Weiner Werstatte fabric

Extreme Embroidery: “Betrayed Witches” and “Pricked”

We aren’t always working at Lost City. We also make time to play. One of our favorite past times is checking out the work of photographers, painters, musicians, architects, designers, and yes, embroiderers. It’s exhilarating to see embroidery being emancipated from boring commercial collections and kitsch to a brand new universe of artistic expression.  “Pricked: Extreme Embroidery”, an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Design and Arts that has representative works of 48 artists from 17 countries, is one of the most scintillating art/embroidery shows we have seen. The pieces are breathtaking in their diversity and technique. Some of our favorites from Andre Dezso (“My Grandmother Loved Me Even Though…”) and Benji Whalen “Fast Machine” are below. Click here for a channel Thirteen video of the exhibition.

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“Fast Machine”

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“My Grandmother Loved Me Even Though…”

We found Angelo Filomeno’s most recent work “Betrayed Witches” , on display in Chelsea’s Lelong Gallery, quite trippy. Here is the New York Times review of it:

“In Angelo Filomeno’s embroidered paintings, scary skulls and skeletons are often tamed by glittering ornamentation and ethereal needlework. In his latest show, which has the hysterical-gothic title “Betrayed Witches,  Mr. Filomeno strikes a determinedly morbid tone.

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Angelo Filomeno: “Shitting Philosopher”

A series of paintings portraying skulls, insects and fish skeletons suggest baroque fossils. The figures are embroidered on striking backgrounds of silver or black silk, flecked with tiny charcoal-colored crystals and adorned with spikes of onyx and hematite. In “As the Water Comes Rushing Over” (2008) Mr. Filomeno uses a combination of silk shantung and silk moir to haunting effect: ripples of moir appear to engulf a skull that is being drowned by a taloned hand.

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Angelo Filomeno: “Marianne”

Two sculptures go for, and achieve, high drama. “The Marquis Dominatrix” (2008), a coiled whip of leather, glass and onyx, looks as if it would shatter in the hands of a libertine. The hand-blown glass skeleton of “Cold” (2007) is splayed out on a mirrored plinth, trailing a length of black silk satin. As is characteristic of Mr. Filomeno’s art, otherworldly opulence becomes the subject as well as the medium.” Karen Rosenberg

If you are in the NYC area this is definitely worth checking out. Unfortunately, the exhibition closes April 12.



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