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Tapestry Girl Makes Art With Needle and Thread

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Niki McDonald (a.k.a. Tapestry Girl) in Sydney, Australia, and got an inside look into how she creates contemporary urban art with needle and thread. 

tapestry girl niki mcdonald contemporary art
Here's what I learned:

  • Texture and perspective can be created very simply in needlepoint. You don't need to be an expert.
  • You can break all the rules - heck, you don't even need to know what the "rules" are.
  • Color is king.
  • Almost any fiber will do.
  • Establish a favorite stitching spot and you'll come to associate it with relaxation and revitalization.
  • Take your stitching anywhere and everywhere.
Niki showed me through her garage studio which is filled with wonderful pieces of painted, stitched and knotted art. She talked about how her aesthetic has evolved over the years to become the urban street art/ripped billboard inspired vibe she now enjoys creating and exhibiting.

urban street art tapestry girl
With a degree in Creative Arts majoring in Textiles, Niki certainly has the credentials of an expert in her field, but she insists her degree taught her little about the technical apects of needlepoint. She's not a needlepoint purist, she just likes to create vibrant, uplifting art using needle and thread - any way that works. This should give inspiration to novice stitchers who also love working with color and texture, but are intimidated by all the "rules" that seem to go along with becoming a competent needlepoint stitcher.

Niki taught herself how to do needlepoint and she pretty much makes it up as she goes along. She has an eye for creating layers, perspective and texture to express her vision. Her 'models' can come from anywhere, but typically they might start as a face in a fashion or hairstyle magazine that she posterizes and adapts into tapestry subjects who are urban women representing the changing moods and themes of a modern cityscape.

Tapestry Girl starts with a 5 mesh (5 holes to the inch) double mesh canvas that she hangs on an easel and fairly roughly paints on the design. 

tapestry girl needlepoint street art pop art
Then comes the stitching. Niki has cupboards full of fibers, most of which are knitting or crochet yarns sourced inexpensively from craft stores.

needlepoint tapestry fiber

The weight or texture of the yarn is not too much of a concern - if she likes the color and the feel of it Niki will find a use for it. Typically, she uses a fiber weight that is lighter than you might expect for a 5 mesh canvas - so that the canvas is not completely covered up by the thread and you can see the paint and cotton weave beneath.

Stitching every hole is traditional in needlepoint tapestry and used to be how Tapestry Girl presented her art. 

(Notice in the image above how Niki has used a Tent stitch that goes up and to the left - opposite to the traditional direction of a needlepoint Tent stitch. When I asked her about this she just shrugged and said, "It felt right". That's what I mean about ignoring the "rules".)

Discovering she could add depth and perspective to her work by using a very simple technique - stitching part of the canvas with a Skip Tent stitch over two intersections - lead Niki to her current design aesthetic. Now, almost all Tapestry Girl pieces are a combination of a Tent stitch over one (intersection) and a Skip Tent stitch over two (intersections). A Skip Tent stitch just means you are stitching every other hole i.e. skipping one and stitching every other one. Strangely, this contrast in texture both gives the eye a place to rest and it adds motion to the designs - like city light reflections playing off the faces.

tapestry girl tent stitch
tapestry girl art contemporary

All Tapestry Girl pieces have distinctive black lines which anchor them. These lines, along with bold color choices, give the designs a Pop Art style.

Another rule that Tapestry Girl insists upon breaking is the use of a frame - she never uses a frame or stretcher bars, preferring to stitch 'in hand'.

tapestry girl contemporary art

So, it may surprise you there is very little distortion in the stitched canvases which have nice, even stitch tension. This comes with experience - you get a feel for how much tension to put on a stitch when you've been doing it for years.

Here's the back of a Tapestry Girl canvas.

tapestry girl needlepoint art

By not using a frame, Niki can take her art anywhere and everywhere. She stitches on the beach, in planes, waiting rooms, wherever she can. But Niki does have a favorite stitching chair in her bedroom, and it's to this place she retreats to decompress at the end of the day and allow the colorful threads to move through her fingers and become beautiful art works.

tapestry girl

Tapestry Girl exhibits all over Sydney and you can also find pieces to buy online at Bluethumb.  Follow Niki on Facebook and Instagram

We would love to produce Niki's art as needlepoint kits. Are you interested in stitching a Tapestry Girl needlepoint kit? Tell us what you think.


Tapestry Girl Needlepoint Kits

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