Until the first of many phases of extensive facial surgery to correct my Bells Palsy three years ago I’d never embroidered anything. It was during a hospital stay to insert one of my chest muscles into my left cheek that I realised I could marry up my love of hand sewing with my love of human anatomy and a hobby was born. I bought embroidery thread, dug out my old copy of Grey’s Anatomy and got started on an image of the facial muscles which was immediately bought by my consultant facial surgeon.
I’ve since created hand-embroidered images of the heart, uterus, hand, ear canal and am now working on an image of the kidneys and I’ve sold them to a mix of clinicians.
Each embroidery takes up to three months and I start by researching images which are medically interesting and possible to be rendered in false colour (otherwise everything would be pink!). I begin with Grey’s Anatomy then move onto books of photographed clinical dissections to get a feel for the textures of the organs. I’ve even dissected the dead animals that my cat has brought in, to get a better idea of which embroidery stitches I can use to render muscles (couching stitch) or glands (French knots), and have attended shows about anatomical dissection.
With each image I begin by stitching a general colour for each of the parts. I then move onto the darker and lighter shades, layering the stitches to create levels of texture and depth which also makes the pieces tactile. It helps the embroideries to pop off the hoop and gives viewers an idea of how the organs actually look and feel but without the gore factor.
The embroideries become increasingly intricate as I work them, moving from larger swathes of colour to the tiniest stitches in single strands of thread. It’s extremely detailed work which requires constant reference to anatomical accuracy but it’s deeply therapeutic and the end result is an image that is educational as well as gorgeous (even if I do say so myself!).
I’ve now completed all of my facial surgery (for now, at least) and although I still carry the effects of Bell’s Palsy it has at least opened a door to a form of art that I had never considered before. It’s a silver lining that not only brings me joy but helps me create. Beauty really can be found in the most unexpected places after all.
Anatomical embroidery of the heart
Anatomical embroidery of the facial muscles
Anatomical embroidery of the female reproductive system
Anatomical embroidery of the nerves of the hand
Anatomical embroidery of the inner ear with cochlea