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Online talk on Monday 13th November2023

Emily Tull -  A Stitch in Time


Emily began, not as a stitcher but using paint, generally oils, and enjoyed mostly portrait painting following her Art degree.  She has always loved drawing and her observation is key to her work.

On a visit to the ICA Gallery in London, she came across some artwork incorporating stitch which she had never seen before.  This was her inspiration and in 2006 she produced her first stitched portrait of a man with a beard.

She starts her work by making a pencil sketch onto muslin laid on top of hessian and always begins with the eye.  She stitches densely with a selection of colours, and the initial stitching can take her a while, using just general sewing threads (Sylko and Gütermann) and occasionally embroidery and more recently some silk threads.  Her faces are fragmented; some areas with lots of stitches and other areas left purposely free, simple lines often hint at the shape of a face. There is no order to her stitching, she works randomly.

Emily’s portraits are mostly of family and friends; people she knows well.  She believes a portrait is successful when you can express the personality and character of the sitter through the artwork so knowing the person well makes this process much easier.  She has undertaken a few commissions but actually doesn’t like the idea of doing a portrait of someone famous as she likes to feel a connection with her sitter and would rather get to know someone first.

She also creates a fair number of self-portraits; she always has herself available as a back-up!  Self-portraits can be harsh and critical, but she has come to terms with this.

A few years after starting the stitched portraits, she began wildlife artwork mainly as gifts for family.  This was outside her comfort zone, but she found it enjoyable and carried on.  Through her wildlife pieces, she began incorporating fabrics even more than stitch, using anything she could find with no deep knowledge of the fabrics.  Patterned wallpapers as backgrounds she has also found interesting even though she finds colour quite hard to use; patterned fabrics also occasionally appear.


Emily’s process always starts with her sketchbooks, and she usually has three on the go at one time!  These include samples of fabric/collages, and she uses photography as inspiration, zooming into her images to allow her to get more detail into her work.  Her pieces begin with a title (which can be abstract) and the artwork follows.

A recent project has been how litter has produced scavengers.  She showed us an embroidered fox on a polystyrene pizza base; not easy to stitch through apparently.  Other images were of birds on top of a background of embroidered net highlighting how the waste that we throw away affects wildlife.  Another image of an embroidered crab appearing from a high street bag certainly provokes thought.

One of the final images Emily showed us was of a bearded man (her brother); more heavily stitched than the previous portraits she showed us; combining wildlife with the face so using her two styles of artwork in one piece.

The final image was a more pared down portrait of her mother’s faces using simple stitched lines and densely stitched birds, sparrows, in several poses reflecting her mother’s love of the sparrows she observes in her garden every day.

Emily’s portraits are unique; she has created her own style; it was inspiring to hear her journey.


See more of Emily's work on her website: 

Words © Tina Leslau/CETG 2023

Photos © Emily Tull

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