Jenny Hart didn’t learn to sew until she was an adult, so it’s a lucky fluke that her original embroidery is on display through February 3 at Washington’s Smithsonian American Art Museum in the 40 Under 40 Exhibition, a show recognizing 40 top artists under the age of 40.
Jenny Hart called on extensive fine arts training to create edgy designs for her embroidery company, Sublime Stitching. Photo By Kenneth B. Gall.
“My background is in fine arts,” says the Los Angeles-based embroidery artist. “I didn’t grow up sewing. Needlework wasn’t part of my generation.”
Jenny learned embroidery during a stressful time in her life. When her mother returned from the Mayo Clinic after breast cancer surgery, Jenny, then in her mid-20s, spent time at her family’s rural Illinois home. She’d always liked the look of embroidery and decided to give it a try. “My mom knew how to do it,” Jenny recalls. “I thought it would be interesting to play around with it.”
An example of Jenny Hart's embroidery portraiture. Photo Courtesy Jenny Hart.
Once her mom demonstrated the basics, Jenny was a convert. “It became very therapeutic,” she remembers. “I thought you had to have so much patience to do embroidery, but it was very calming and peaceful. I became addicted to it. I got upholstery burns on my elbows.
While traditional embroidery often features kitties on tea towels and bunnies on bibs, those patterns had no appeal for Jenny. Her original effort was ambitious—a portrait of her mother based on an old photo. She made the finished piece into a pillow and then began an embroidered portrait of her father.
“I became engrossed in embroidery, and I started working seriously in portraiture,” says Jenny. Her stitched pictures of rock stars and singers, such as Dolly Parton, began generating attention, and within a year she launched her embroidery pattern, textile and supply company, Sublime Stitching, which recently celebrated its 11th anniversary.
Yoga-themed embroidery from the Sublimed Stitching website. Photo Courtesy Jenny Hart.
“I thought there needed to be alternative designs,” says Jenny, whose online store offers a change from conventional teddy bear and Sunbonnet Sue designs. Instead, embroidery fans can purchase iron-on transfers of Big Foot, glamorous cowgirls, sexy librarians, robots, pirates and day-of-the-dead icons.
“I created patterns what I would want to do, such as vintage tattoos,” she says. “Also, I’m a big comic book fan and love comics. Nowadays, inspiration is everywhere.”
Customers of Sublime Stitching are “People of all ages, predominately women, but I’d like to have more men,” Jenny says. “Mothers do it with small children. Teenagers do it. Women write in and say ‘my grandmother in her 80s likes your patterns.’ That makes me really happy.”
Jenny still likes to experiment with colorful threads and has produced embroidered art on screen doors, skateboards and chain-link fences. “I’ll embroider anything I can get my hands on,” she says. She regularly teaches embroidery classes in Los Angeles and will be an instructor at The Makerie, a creativity retreat in Boulder, Colorado, in April 2013. If you can’t attend her in-person classes, check out her instructional videos on youtube.com. Just search for “Jenny Hart.”
Pat Pape is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She lives north of Dallas on five acres, dubbed Pigs Fly Ranch, along with her husband, cats, dogs and pygmy goats. She loves needlework.