Her embroidered works evoke a sweet melancholy, memories enveloped in mist, a tenderness for our beautiful Earth …
Photos – © Katrin Vates – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
Work in progress © Katrin Vates
Waterfall © Katrin Vates
Who are you?
I work as a graphic designer. I also could call myself an illustrator but in the narrow field of anime. I like drawing anime-style characters. I have never painted landscapes. If somebody had told me that I was going to like embroidering only landscapes, I would not have believed it.
I received an art education, but I wasn’t paying much attention to my classes at that time. In fact, I improved my own drawing skills when I really needed them. It happened long after I graduated from art college. Nevertheless, art education gave me an important understanding of the basics of drawing.
At first, I was interested in drawing manga and anime characters, and this inspired me to learn anatomy better than I had done in college.
My story as an embroidery lover began about three years ago. Many women start new hobbies staying at home with a kid for a long time. I was no exception.
Now I live in the US with my family. I am raising two kids, and plan to do embroidery for as long as I can.
What is your story with embroidery?
I am self-taught. I grew up and studied in the Soviet Union, when there were no embroidery schools and gorgeous embroidery books, as now. At least, I haven’t seen anything like that. There were books for the people who wanted to learn how to knit and sew, but for embroiderers, you could only come across simple cross-stitch schemes (mostly patterns), merezhka, and small images of flowers for those who wanted to embroider with satin stitch.
It was also possible to find how to make some types of decorative stitches. Most of the emphasis was on decorativeness. We could not even think then that it was possible to do such amazing things in embroidery as they do now. Of course, there were probably museums with old embroidery in Russia even at that time, but people who lived in ordinary provincial towns, as a rule, couldn’t see them, and most of them didn’t even know about it.
Visit card © Katrin Vates
House in a forest © Katrin Vates
When I was a teenager, I used to embroider napkins a little, but it didn’t last long, so I can’t say that this period had a great effect on my ability to embroider.
I started to embroider seriously around the age of 42, after the birth of my second son. By that time, we had bought an apartment and were redecorating. I was looking for beautiful cross-stitch embroidery so that I could either use them to decorate cushions for the sofa or hang them on the wall. But nothing suited me then. I didn’t like the price or the quality of the work, or the selection of the drawing… I was running a creative blog in one of the Russian social networks at that time. One day, a subscriber in one of the social networks began to post very beautiful cross-stitch embroidery, but she did not sell them. This inspired me, and then I recalled that I also used to embroider a long time ago. Why don’t try again? And I started.
Initially, it was a simple artwork of not a very good quality because I did not want to draw a detailed drawing beforehand as I was so lazy. I literally drew a few schematic lines, and I didn’t think about colors in advance. Of course, it didn’t result in proper quality.
Ancient Japanese had a literature genre named “zuihitsu” which means “follow the brush”. They wrote the first thing that came to mind. These diaries were very close to what we know as blogs now. I really liked this method, and I decided to use it for embroidery.
I deliberately avoid a carefully made embroidery pattern and don’t think through what colors I’m going to use. I come up with only general details. For example, if it’s Fall, then there will be warm autumn colors. However, I don’t know in advance how many trees there will be, where they will be placed specifically, and which of them will be yellow or red.
Now, I embroider exactly in this way, following the thought. Most of my paintings, excepting the early ones, are on my blog: what I saw, what is in my memory. I don’t repeat precisely all the landscapes seen in reality on YouTube Travel channels, in movies, and on photographs. I embroider what I liked the most and what reminds me of something.
I’m trying to get to a level where a landscape conveys a mood when it’s not just grass, leaves, water, and sky.
Cushion with autumn landscape © Katrin Vates
Abandoned house © Katrin Vates
What sort of place, landscapes saw you grow? What influence they had on your work?
I grew up in a small Siberian town. It is surrounded by mountains and lies on hilly terrain. Siberia is a fairly large region of Russia with very impressive nature. The greenery there is not as diverse as the southern one, but the beauty of the northern nature is no less amazing. One of the most beautiful nature reserves in Russia is Stolby (Columns). It was a half-hour drive from my house. All my childhood and youth, I loved to go out there, to walk along the mountain paths. Later, when I started to embroider, these memories inspired me noticeably. I’ve always loved mountains and hills. I think that’s why my first embroidered landscape included mountains.
When I moved to America, I was very impressed by the shades of greenery and the variety of trees. This also reflected in my embroidery. It seems to me that here you can endlessly look at trees, bushes, grass, and all this mass of greenery.
What made you decide to become an artist?
It was a natural thing for me to become an artist. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I knew that this skill would come in handy in the future.
In addition, as a child, I had books with beautiful illustrations that I could look at for hours. I think this also strengthened my decision to draw.
What material do you use?
I used to like different kinds of fabric. I embroidered on linen, wool, and thin cotton. Each fabric had its own advantages and disadvantages, but none was perfect for me.
Now, I have found my favorite fabric. This is an unprimed dense canvas for painting artists. I don’t like to use hoops and frames during embroidery, this is the reason why I prefer this canvas. In addition, this canvas is perfect for my embroidery style.
Alphabet © Katrin Vates
Do you feel the need to work on different subjects? On different fabric or support? With different threads?
Not right now, no.
I also don’t want to use embroidery frames or hoops. The reason is that I like to work in different parts of my house, and I’m too lazy to move an embroidery frame or a hoop holder around the house.
When I go somewhere on vacation, I just like to put my embroidery in a bag and take it anywhere to continue working. I usually use a tablet case for this. This is a nice decision, I think. My case is light and flat. An embroidery, threads, and scissors fit perfectly in it.
As for threads, I usually use DMC threads and less often the Russian brand of threads “Gamma”. I plan to include “Cosmo” threads in my work, which I have read a lot of good reviews about. I also like to use silk or shiny threads in my embroidery.
How do you choose your material?
Choosing a fabric, I look at the texture, color, and fabric’s stretching ability, which is also very important. The less it is stretching, the better. I tried to use different fabrics including a mixture of silk and wool, thin linen. Finally, I chose one of the canvas types that painters use. It’s best for my embroidery technique. But I would not recommend it to people who embroider with satin stitch and especially those who use silk threads. The fabric I use is a little rough for it.
Sea – work in progress © Katrin Vates
© Katrin Vates
How is your workshop?
I don’t have a dedicated workplace. I usually embroider wherever I want. I embroider sitting on the floor or on the bed or in a chair. Sometimes I embroider in a car while my husband is driving.
My embroidery accessories are always well organized. I have a comfortable felt basket where I keep my threads. They all are grouping by colors and laid out in small plastic bags. I don’t store threads by numbers because I don’t use embroidery schemas.
Finished embroideries which I have not framed yet are in a large felt case, designed to store drawings. I bought it in an art store and it’s an incredibly useful thing.
An embroidery I’m working on is in the tablet case. It is very convenient because I can easily take it with me in the car.
How do you like to work?
I like to work at any time of the day with an audiobook or a YouTube video in the background. I alternate audiobooks with popular science content. I also love channels about fashion history. I cannot say that embroidering is my stress reliever. I like the process itself.
How do you feel when a piece is done?
The last stitches are a real joy for me! I love the last hours before the work is done. Then I soak the embroidery in warm water with soap and lay it on a towel to dry.
The most pleasant moment is to iron the dried fabric and finally put the embroidery in the frame. After that, I celebrate it in a cafe. I order a latte with some pastry and enjoy.
Is there one piece (or more) than you just cannot be parted from?
I can part with any of my work. Of course, I have put a lot of work into my embroideries, but I hope that people who really need them will buy them.
What is it that you wish to give us with your art?
I want to show a mood with my embroidery. When you look at landscapes of old masters, some mood arises. You feel a sense of the place that’s on the canvas in front of you. I would like to reach the same effect.
If you hadn’t been an artist, what other profession would have interested you?
I might have been interested, for example, in professions related to plants. I love Japanese-style gardens. I think that I would have loved working in this area. I like the art of floristry and ikebana in particular. I would have loved working as an interior designer. I like professions related to studying literature and art. I love architecture as well, and I think that this profession is very important. It is both practical and helps to express your emotions and your ideas about how to make things both beautiful and comfortable.
Park © Katrin Vates
Wind © Katrin Vates
Do you feel that we need more dreams and hope in this Pandemic time?
Yes, I do, undoubtedly. The pandemic became a difficult time for many. People lost their jobs or businesses. It’s been especially difficult in countries where authorities didn’t provide due help to their people. The hope for the best is as relevant as ever for everyone now, even for those who successfully overcome both lockdowns. The situation has shown that the pandemic implications affected the lives of all people in one way or another.
Do you think about the next work while working? Do you have one or many pieces at once?
Yes, I do, always. Usually, when I embroider pictures, I already have several plots in my head for the next ones and it’s hard to choose which one I want to start first. I usually work on two pictures at the same time, but I’ve never managed to spend an equal amount of time on each of them. One will always be finished much faster.
What are the other arts that surround you?
I love different types of art. In painting, I am primarily interested in old Chinese and Japanese paintings, paintings by Russian artists of the 19th century, and pre-Raphaelite paintings.
I love graphics. I love both old and modern graphic art, but my favorite graphic artist is Aubrey Beardsley.
Regarding literature, I prefer fantastic novels of Russian and European Literature of the 19th century and gothic fiction. Also, I love horrors.
Quite often I embroider listening to thrillers by different authors from H.F. Lovecraft to modern.
My musical preferences are very diverse. I love listening to Enya, Enigma, and Secret Garden bands, or Russian rock musicians.
Autumn (detail) © Katrin Vates
Above – Beach © Katrin Vates
Below – Wind (detail) © Katrin Vates
Who are the other embroiderer artists you admire?
It’s so difficult to recommend someone because there are a lot of talented embroiderers in the world! Unfortunately, I don’t know all of them. Among those whom I know, I would like to mention a few persons. All of them use their own design embroidering their pictures.
@cunhyiyi embroiders in her own style. I like how she selects colors for her pictures.
@crewelandkind is an embroiderer from the USA. She is a self-taught artist. I was impressed by her project. It is an embroidered map of Central Park in New York.
@konekono_kitsune is an artist from Japan. She embroiders vegetables, mushrooms, and nuts. Her pictures look very tasty.
@ paulina.bart is an artist and a bird lover from Poland. She prefers to embroider birds. Her embroidery technique is realistic and decorative at the same time, and the result is impressive.
@mishi_embroidery creates beautiful landscape pictures with satin stitching.
@ roniy1983 creates sunny pictures using elements of three-dimensional embroidery.
Do you exhibit your work?
My first exhibition will be in May 2021 in Baltimore. There will be artworks of five women artists.
The organizer of the exhibition is an American artist Clara Bowe. She wants to not only show her own works but also support several self-taught women who don’t have special education in the field of art.
What are your projects?
Talking about current projects, I try to show different states of nature and weather in embroidery. I also try new threads that are non-typical for my realistic embroideries. These are shiny metal threads, thick threads for decorative embroidery, and silk threads. I also try to embroider different landscapes from mountains to plains.
Abandoned village © Katrin Vates
The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire