New Potatoes, Tilleke Schwarz

Playground, 2008, Tilleke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

Not being arty?

“When I told gallery owners that I embroidered, they stop”. This is what Tilleke Schwarz (1946, Pijnacker, Netherlands) experienced in the nineties trying to exhibit and sell her work at galleries. Me myself I expericence the same when talking to people about my embroidery interest. For most of them embroidery seems to be a bit of a laughter, it certainly doesn’t seem to be a (possible) form of art. Tilleke´s work though, shows the contrary.

The beginning

After graduating from Arts School at Enschede, Holland, Tineke’s first works were a kind of diaries, she showed what was going on in her life using threads instead of pencils. In the work Red for instance, she communicates about everyday things like anger and snow to come.

Red, 1988, Tilleke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

In 1989 Tilleke’s breakthrough came along with the work Where is the Cat? It was a great stimulus to go on. In later work we would often see a cat incorporated in her work. Tilleke is a cat-lover and had one for the most time of her life. In this work we already see the use of text, what will be become a striking feature in her later work. We also see the drawing with thread, which will be more prominent in her later work.

Where is the cat?, 1989, Tilleke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

Sent messages

Nowadays her work shows mainly the “madness of our time”. For Tilleke the funny thing is that our reality is odder then the strangest imagination. This reality is often exposed by remarkable texts. Tilleke collects texts from the world around her and uses those. For example texts from telephone books, questionnaires, advertisements and do’s & don’ts. In her work they become little poems.

Example of collected texts by Tilleke Schwarz

As far as Tilleke is concerned, the oddness of our time has often to do with avoiding risks. Because of that we behave stranger then ever. An important message is therefore that we have forgotten to accept we don’t have everything under control. Her work Always carries this message. It’s inspired by the G8 summit in 2007 in Germany. In this work you see for instance the safety zone that was created around the village of Heiligendamm (Germany), where the G8 took place.

Always, 2007, Tilleke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

Besides safety, purchasing goods is another theme in Tilleke’s work. In her opinion it has become our main leisure activity, at the expense of religion. The work Purr Chase shows that theme.

Purr Chase, 2008, Tilleke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

Other inspiration

Another big inspiration for Tilleke are samplers and folk art from around the world, she includes those in her art. I love her “courage” to do so. I say courage because those two elements are, in the eyes of many people, old fashioned and conservative. Something for old people, for our grandmothers, for example. Although I’m quite interested in innovation and future developments, I’ m also interested in our history. As represented in samplers and folk art. In their time they were contemporary. And are still used in nowadays fashion and design.

In the work below you see in the left corner under, a cross-stitch motive from a sampler from Vierlanden, Germany.

De herten, 2007, Tillke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

In some works of Tilleke she takes it one step further. And uses historical folk motifs in a more innovative way, by mixing it with motives from our current culture. The photo below shows an example of it: the cartoon figure pink panter is mixed with historical European folk motifs.

Victory, 2009, Tilleke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

Spoken words

Besides written texts, Tilleke sometimes uses fragments of conversations she receives around her. Once she heard someone say the new potatoes were brilliant this year. She used it in a work and it became the title of her latest book.

New potatoes, 2011, Tilleke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

Tricks of the trade

Tilleke is someone who doesn’t design her works in advance, she stitches directly on the fabric and sees what happens. When the work is almost finished, she gives extra attention to the composition. If needed, she will undo a part of the work.

The background fabric she uses is linen, 22 threads. She dyes it herself, mostly in bright colors, she usually uses Batik and Shibori dyes. Tilleke has a great collection of threads, with over 2500 colors. She uses all kinds of threads, like cotton, linen, silk and metal, she prefers thin threads to work with. Sometimes besides embroidery she also uses techniques like applique and iron-on-transfers.

In the mood for more?

Are you interested in knowing more about her work? Then it’ s possible to read her books Making Marks and New Potatoes.

Book cover New Potatoes, Tilleke Schwarz, courtesy by the artist

For information about ordering this book see her website:

At the 28th of September Tilleke gives a workshop at Pijnacker Holland. There is still possibility to participate. See her website for more information.

Whatever you do, have fun!

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    1. Indeed, when you look from a distance it looks like a drawing….

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