The “Beyond the Surface” embroidery exhibit at the de Young Museum

Did you ever wonder what people did before prints? Among other things, they embroidered fabric to create the designs they wanted. Then prints came along, yet they still embroidered. Why? Because it is so beautiful and had become so integral to cultures around the globe.

The de Young currently has on exhibit an assortment of embroidery examples from such far-flung locales as India, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Panama. The Beyond the Surface exhibit isn’t large, but the garments were clearly selected with a good deal of thought and are displayed for optimal appreciation.

Detail of an Indian blouse with classic shisha embroidery, using mirror fragments.

Any one of the pieces boggles the mind when one tries to imagine the time required to complete it. A tunic from India is so highly embellished that the underlying fabric is difficult to see. Similarly every inch of a headdress from Pakistan is covered with tiny stitches. These are clearly special pieces—often collected by world traveler-cum-museum patrons over many decades. In at least two cases, embroidered items were given to a collector by the Queen of Serbia—not your typical source!

Detail of an apron from Belarus—part of a traditional ensemble worn at Christmastime.

Examples of woven textiles are on display as well as the embroidered pieces. They can be viewed by pulling out special drawers for archiving and displaying textile samples. Included among them are some simple black and white examples of different types of weaves. (Hint: If you’re planning to take Textiles at Cañada any time soon, examining these closely will be very helpful!)

Vest from Bavaria, Germany.

The exhibit closes August 31st, so don’t wait to go see it! More information here.