The incredible art of contemporary embroidery from Japan

Traditional Japanese embroidery techniques such as sashiko are more practical than artistic, but check out this badass new style of embroidery. A wave of Japanese embroiderers are attracting worldwide attention for designs ranging from dark and weird to comical and cute.

Spurred in part by the rise of photo and image sharing apps such as Instagram and TikTok, which have given art a global platform to speak for itself, there has been a recent surge of contemporary Japanese embroidery artists flexing their needle and thread Talent.

The traditional technique of sashiko embroidery

Coelacanthe Lemon Butter Meunière by Genkakulemon

Take the eye-catcher Genkakulemon AKA 幻覺レモン, who creates imaginative pieces using 3D embroidery and modeling clay. Newcomer Chika Mizusawa, who held her first exhibition in Tokyo less than a year ago, has seen followers flock to her Instagram page for her surreal embroidery designs and details of the painstaking embroidery process. Genkakulemon’s most popular piece to date is a bright blue fish with the title “Coelacanth Lemon Butter Meunière”. Complete with embroidered lemon slices and handmade clay fish bones.

In a previous post, she shares the process behind the exquisite piece, showing different steps and where she went wrong. This allows subscribers to appreciate the time and effort put into each piece.

The Flower Lobster Present by Genkakulemon

Other designs include “The Flower-Growing Lobster Present” which features a bright red lobster — embroidered, of course — resplendent with delicate flowers crawling down its back. Alluding to Japan’s love of fish dishes, she presents it on a porcelain plate.

Then comes the serial-memer, HANA. Featuring references to pop culture and Japan-specific subjects, her embroidery is accompanied by a smile. His detailed little works include Napoleon Dynamite, with his infamous “Vote for Pedro” t-shirt, and Salavdor Dali, resplendent with a 3D mustache.

Vote for Pedro in HANA

Closer to home, she recreates Taro Okamoto’s tower of the sun, and another brings a meme to life, that of “Uncle Reiwa”. Uncle Reiwa is the current Prime Minister Suga, who has dismissed a billion memes, thanks to his deadpan announcement of the start of the Reiwa era.

Dali by HANA

On the “kawaii” side, there is ume.kaori, a professional embroiderer based in Saitama. Known for her kitschy designs featuring animals ranging from rabbits to kittens and even otters, she regularly hosts exhibitions and pop-ups in Tokyo.

Focusing on 2D, Kaori’s brooch designs incorporate pearls, beads and gemstones with a twist. Opulence abounds as bunnies have bejeweled bikinis, cats wear elaborate dresses with beaded necklaces and carry handbags. Elsewhere, otters hold gems in place of the traditional shell.

Rabbit brooches by Ume.Kaori

Another embroidery artist who incorporates materials into their designs is artist and author, PieniSieni.

Noted on her blog as a “felt and bead embroidery artist,” she crafts the felt flowers that she interweaves into her designs, which focus on realistic plants and insects. She is known for designing a method of freehand 3D embroidery, which she teaches as a lecturer in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.

Dandelion by PieniSieni

PieniSieni regularly organizes exhibitions of his work, in which visitors can admire the realistic flowers, ranging from lifelike dandelions with roots to bouquets of flowers. Passionate embroiderers around the world can learn to create the designs themselves, as her books have been translated into French and English.

In Portland USA, Sawako Ninomiya has organized exhibitions with the aim of introducing Japanese embroidery to the world since 2017. Prior to her experience in Portland, Ninomiya taught embroidery to disadvantaged communities in India.

Kimono embroidery by Sawako Ninomiya

Back in Japan, Ninomiya ran the Tambourin gallery in Tokyo until 2020, teaching embroidery and organizing exhibitions of her works. Today, she works as a consultant and a go-to in the fashion industry for embroidery in Tokyo. Her creations have been worn by models including Serena Motola and have appeared for brands like APC France.

His signature style is glitchy, often featuring pop culture figures and artists such as David Bowie and Yayoi Kusama, the latter appearing with two and a half eyes thanks to Ninomiya’s glitchy block effect. Another remarkable work was his massive replica of the world’s second tallest mountain, K2, which featured as much wire as the mountain itself at 8,611 meters.

In a culture where tradition is valued as much as contemporary creations, these artists make their mark. Some incorporate flowers into their designs, others have more of a pop culture twist, all are quirky and exciting.