How Charles & Elin are Bringing Embroidery to the Modern Art World
Charles and Elin are the duo behind Le Kadre. They are a French-Swedish couple who use embroidery to create modern art. They run workshops, teach local communities, and share the importance of making things by hand. Their work explores architecture, with embroidered cityscapes illustrating their travels to European cities. Together they have 110k+ followers on Instagram, and are using social media to empower others to take up the craft. I spoke to Charles and Elin to discover how they are bringing embroidery to the modern art world
I would love to hear your perspectives on why you started to make embroidery. In an Instagram video, Charles mentions that he wouldn’t have learnt how to make embroidery without Elin. What is the story behind this?
Charles: I confirm, without Elin I think I would never have touched embroidery in my life. I watched Elin making embroidery when we first met, but I didn’t have so much interest at the start. Seeing that she spent a lot of time doing embroidery I became interested a little more day by day. A friend of ours happened to spend the weekend with us and Elin had to teach her embroidery that weekend. So I joined because it was the perfect opportunity to learn. Since then I have never stopped.
Elin: I have done different kinds of embroidery for many years, but got caught up with freehand embroidery just a couple of years ago. I mostly did cross-stitch and never fell in love with it the way I did with freehand embroidery. I think it just fit so nicely with my passion for drawing as freehand embroidery almost becomes like realising a drawing in a concrete medium.
Are you drawn to embroidery more than other art forms?
Charles: I think that Ellin and I have similar characters. At the moment our way of expressing ourselves is mainly embroidery, but maybe next year it will be quite different. We have good artistic luggage: drawing, embroidery, photography, video, writing, painting. We do not privilege an art form in particular, we just go with our desires and at the moment it’s embroidery. Embroidery is unique in itself because you can feel it, touch it, be spontaneous, but at the same time it requires patience that not everyone has.
Elin: Just like Charles says, we have many things that we love to create and embroidery happens to have caught our attention at the moment. Personally, I really love the combination of architectural designs and fiberart becuase of the “colliding” mediums. With this I mean that I find the contrast of using a “soft” medium to create a “hard” building very interesting. Furthermore, embroidery is great in its wide applicability. You have endless possibilities in how you can combine embroidery with other artforms and change the way you embroider – for example, by including pearls or other objects.
Do you make other kinds of art or craft as well as embroidery? Do other kinds of art influence your embroidery?
Charles: We draw a lot. I was a photographer in the past and I really like filmmaking. I am going to explore this form of expression more and more. I tend to not get inspired by art that others create, it disturbs my creativity and I become influenced, so not really.
Elin: Yes, I also love to draw and currently I am doing quite a bit of knitting as well. I love to create things that I am able to use, which is where knitting is very satisfying because I can make something usable and then decorate it with embroidery to make it like a “usable” piece of art. I find that I get inspired and motivated to create other kind of art as I am doing knitting and visa versa. In a way it is as if the creative process makes me want to create more. Though I am like Charles on points of looking at other art for inspiration – I don’t really like to turn to Social media or similar to try to find inspiration. It is much better to just go out of the door or have a great conversation with Charles or other people we meet!
You have a very collaborative, creative relationship. What is it like working together?
Charles: We are very complementary in our work and we naturally give ourselves different tasks, it is what allows us to perform well. We are also very ambitious so we keep each other motivated constantly.
Elin: I couldn’t agree more with Charles. Very early on we recognised that we are good at different things and in that way we have naturally complemented each other very well when it comes to most things “behind the scenes,” such as the website, outreach, marketing, imagery and so on. It also helps a lot to have someone that you can bounce ideas with. If one of us has an idea for a piece of art, a post or a video, by talking about it we often find even better ways to realise the idea. Two heads are always better than one! We would wish to see more couples working together! It doesn’t just improve your work but also strengthens the relationship and connection a lot.
Where do you like to create your work?
Charles: Our workspace is anywhere we are. We don’t have a base yet, we are pretty flexible. We are living face to the Atlantic Ocean right now since January, but in two months we are going to travel a lot in a short time, and our workspaces will be cafés, airports, and cars (when one of us is in the passenger seat of course haha), parks, hotels. The goal is to have a big space to have our workshop but to also welcome people for week programs. To be continued!
Elin: Yes, to be open minded as to where the office of the day will be also helps with staying inspired and motivated. Many times we bring our embroidery with us when we go out and maybe do some stitches on a bench or in a restaurant and then continue when we are back in the apartment or wherever we are staying at the moment.
Your goal is to explore embroidery as modern art. Why is this important to you?
Charles: We want to give embroidery the value it deserves in the world of art. That’s why we are at the beginning, there is a way to go.
Elin: Yes, it would also be nice to further explore the different combinations that you can make with embroidery.
Embroidery is sometimes considered a more feminine craft. Do you think it is good for it to be presented by more men?
Charles: In fact, it all depends on where you come from. In Central Europe and USA the majority will think that it is mainly women who embroider. But if you go to North Africa, India, China embroidery is a popular male profession that is still alive. One of my goals and to show that a normal guy can do embroidery and that will not make him ridiculous. I have had remarks from some men who think it would make them ridiculous or too feminine, so our duty to me and all my fellow men embroiderers is to show that embroidery is for all kind and that it’s cool.
Elin: It is super important I think to show that it is for both genders! I am sure that more men would love it.
There are currently quite a few artists bringing embroidery to the art word to give it the recognition it deserves. Why do you think it is becoming more popular now?
Charles: I think there are several factors. We are in a society where we do less and less with our hands. For people it may suit them for a moment but after a few years they realize that they are made to create and do things from their hands. Craftsmanship has always existed, I even think it is vital. One of the other factors that makes it so popular is that people are stressed, and embroidery calms them, heals and focuses them. The world is going too fast sometimes.
Elin: I also think that embroidery is a part of the trend connected with wellbeing such as yoga, meditation and to eat more vegetables, be in nature etc. Because embroidery is a handcraft that connects to history and to the handmade and we can see more and more trends that refers to “this is handmade”, which makes it more exciting.
You are currently expanding to the larger art scene with exhibitions. How are you engaging with the art scene and what kind of exhibitions will you be working on?
Charles: We will do independent exhibitions and have the opportunity to do what we want without rules. We will also have opportunities with galleries that will have the same vision as ours.
Elin: We are still in the working progress so we can’t tell you too much haha – stay tuned and you will soon know more!
You are interested in running workshops and engaging local communities in embroidery and craft. Why do you think it is important to get people involved with making things by hand?
Charles: The workshops are something very present in our work. We like to be in front of people, to share, to communicate, to exchange and to learn. Some people need a little help to get started for the first time. That’s exactly what we do. The goal is that each person coming out of our workshops, continues to express themselves by creating their own art.
Elin: We also think that creating is a crucial part of wellbeing. Especially for people that work in office jobs where they spend most of their hours in front of a computer. The feeling of seeing something grow and to have an end-result/end-product is extremely satisfying and increases your confidence in yourself. We want more people to regain this feeling of being able to create things by themselves (this also gives a sense of freedom!).
In the long run you plan to create more extensive workshops focusing on creativity and wellbeing. How do you think creativity influences wellbeing?
Charles: It’s simple, you can not be passive in your life to feel good. We need to act in one direction or another. I sincerely believe that if everyone started to take the time to create and express themselves with art, they would save mental and physical health.
Elin: By creating things yourself you become more aware of your surroundings and it forces you to slow down, which I think everyone in our stressed society needs.
What are you working on now? And what’s next?
Charles: We are working on our company le Kadre and our embroideries. The future will be surprising and full of different things, but at the moment I think we want to remain discreet to surprise people!
Elin: Haha yes I agree, we always keep developing new designs – for example for our Monthly Pattern Program – where we make one new pattern each month. Apart from that we also create some external patterns inspired from the places we travel t0, as well as embroideries. We are currently developing more e-courses which is very existing! E-courses are another way by which we can share our passion with the extended community that are not able to attend to our physical workshops.
All images copyright of Charles Henry and Elin Petronella. Images used with permission from the artists.