Martha Fieber Contemporary Embroiderer - Michigan, USA

You call your work, ‘Landscapes in Thread’. Can you discuss this?

My work is all landscapes. Some are realistic and some abstract. By far, the majority of materials used in my finished image is thread. I use hand dyed linen for backgrounds and the entire picture is made from thread of all kinds. I use some hand dyed silk and ribbon yarn for the tree trunks. The underlying message threaded through my work is that nothing is quite what it appears.

‘Red Reeds’

You use layers and layers of thread, while restricting your work to four stitches. Can you expand on this?

I use straight stitches, french knots, couched threads, and chain stitch. Straight stitches and french knots make up most of each image. Occasionally I will use chain stitch for a different texture or level separation in the picture. I have not used couching in some time, but there is the occasion that it makes a perfect line definition that I need for effect. The straight stitch and knot can do so many things. Straight stitches are like drawing with a pen or pencil. French knots are so versatile. They can have any number of twists to make their size. They can be piled upon each other for texture and dimension. I love using them and find myself going to them as a basic.

Texture plays a large part in your work. Please explain the technique you use to create you work?

I start with linen that I have hand dyed. It adds dimension and colour variation to the background and lends to the depth of the finished image. If the piece is to be a forest scene, I then start with crosshatched straight stitching to give the depth and interest to the background. I continue layering slightly variegated colour thread while adding silk or cotton trees and branches. At the same time I am adding french knot leaves and more cross hatching until I have a deep background with dimension and texture. 90% of my images I consider background. Only when I am adding the foreground trees and leaves, do I have my finished picture. I try to get all of the depth into the background from the start since I cannot go back under to add more later. I am thinking like a painter, going from distance to foreground. Lots of my stitches get covered up, but there is always a little of everything peeking thru on the finished piece. Using hand dyed silk ribbon for dimensional leaves in the foreground adds depth, texture, and dimension to my work.

‘Aspen Spring’

What lead you to give up a career in engineering for art in 1999?

After twenty years in engineering, I needed a change. I had been doing my embroidery and rug hooking as hobbies during that time. I found working within the parameters of the engineering world frustrating and longed to work for myself in the art world. My husband is a furniture maker we felt that we were in a good position to make a change to full time artists as all of the children were then out of college. We decided to take the big leap to working for ourselves in 1999. It took a few years to get established, but things have worked out well for both of us.

Can you discuss composition by comparing ‘Catching Light’ and ‘Dogwood Spring’?

From a distance, it is impossible to tell how my work is constructed and what materials I am using, so composition is what draws the viewer to get close to my work and experience its complexity.

“Dogwood Spring” and “Catching Light” are two very different pieces. Both take your eye into the distant woods, but one is a fine, misty, mysterious, light, distance and the other is close up bright forefront and deep dark distance.

‘Dogwood Sping’

“Dogwood Spring” draws the viewer to the lighter distance using bright green grasses on the horizon from a shaded grassy and tree area with blossom foremost. Grey greens in varying shades make the long boundless distance disappear. This piece is matted which is a contrast to the open area of the undefined distance.

“Catching Light” uses bright red, white, and muted greens in the foreground and draws the eye to the dark enclosed distance. The edge treatment on this piece is stitched. That gives a dark border and is shadow box mounted to give contrast to dark distance and it makes the entire piece pop.

‘Catching Light’

Your inspiration is nature. Can you explain this in relation to your work?

Nature is beautiful and peaceful to me. My work strives to bring the outdoors in and keep us connected to our world. I also want to remain aware of our fragile environment. The scale and exquisite quality of my work brings that to mind. I want to keep the viewer aware of the beauty of the moment. I live in the woods so I am surrounded by beautiful scenery every day and show it to the viewer in my work.

Explain the size of your pieces?

My pieces are small. They start at 3” x 5” for the image. My largest has been 9” x 30”. I use the horizontal format because it is easiest to work with. Vertical format is cumbersome for me. I like to work with a size I can hold instead of using a stand. Time is also a factor. My work takes a long time and anything larger than the above sizes would take too long to complete. Scale is also a factor in the size I work with. I do my best work in small scale. Materials that I use, like using only one strand of thread at a time, makes my work small scale to start.

‘Sun through Woods’

You do your own dyeing and hand painting of thread, as well as commercial threads. Can you discuss this aspect of your work?

I dye my linens, threads, silk fabrics, and ribbons with water based dyes and set the colour in the microwave. It is so quick. I do not use specific formulas for colour. I just mess around some colours that I know will work for either trees, grasses, leaves, etc. I do get some ugly colours at times, but they end up being perfect for something later on, like mud coloured thread. I buy bulk linen and ribbon and dye big batches of pieces to use later. I look for threads at the thrift stores and overdye them. Sometimes I buy bulk threads and dye them. Dying my own gives me more natural colours and more subtly variegated materials. They blend together more naturally and easily than using solid colours. When I start a picture, I go to my stash and pick out the colours that will work best for the piece I have in mind.

Do you feel that being a self-taught embroiderer has allowed you to have a greater scope?

Yes, I think that being self-taught has allowed me do go my own direction and use unconventional techniques while at the same time using conventional stitches in a traditional craft. I am not restricted by perfect spacing, perfect stitches, colour combination charts, or the neatness of the back of my work. The backs of my works are abstract versions of the fronts. I put stitches anywhere, in any combinations, whenever I desire. My process is so slow that I can change at any time or go in another direction that works better for the composition. I am not working toward a specifically defined finished pattern, I do have a finished image in mind before I start.

‘A Dusting’

Can you discuss ‘Spring Birch’

‘Spring Birch’

‘Spring Birch’ has many examples of techniques I use.

This piece starts with hand dyed linen in grey blues. Next I paint the distant hills with water based, heat set, ink. Then straight stitch grey blues in darker shades make up the near distant hills. Then, lightening up the nearer hills in straight stitch grey blues. I am then using a straight stitch to make different size and distant pines. At this point I start to put in some grasses and bushy areas. Next, the birch trees are put in using white cotton gima inked to look like birches. The high birch branches are next. Last is the leafy front bushes and enhancing the french knot leaves of the bushes before and behind the birches. I am sewing in all of the foreground grasses, bushes, and leaves during the last few steps.

This piece has a bright, dramatic foreground of birches and leaves as the focal point, then leads the eye to the distance with darker colours, greyed shades, different weight threads, and different material threads. Cotton and silk give either flat or sheen to the area which works to separate and define. Since I work close up, I am constantly putting the piece at a distance so that I can gauge composition.

This piece is 6” x 14”. It is presented matted, in a black simple frame that is 12” x 20”.

Contrast and colour can be inspiration to me. I used a birch stand near a local lake as a reference. As you can see, I changed the lake to distant hills.

Your work comes in three categories. Please expand on this?

I have found that my technique lends itself to forests, fields, and flowers. I do have water scenes, close up forest floor scenes, and abstract scenes, but most of those subjects are still in development stages.


Crosshatched stitching lends itself to making the woods look deep and to making trees recede into the background. My hand dyed silk fabrics make really good tree trunks. I also paint birch tree trunks. So, materials define a good portion of my works.

‘White Poplar’


Using one strand of thread at a time and stitching in both directions makes realistic looking fields and makes the grasses separate. There are so many new materials to stitch with, like gima, novelty thread, different weights and sheens of threads, different twists, ribbons, that can add dimension and depth to my work and lend themselves to varied grasses.

‘Greys and Browns’


French Knots make good flowers. Silk Ribbon can also make a different type of flower. Flowers add colour. They add another dimension and contrast to my pieces. This is another example of colour and texture of the materials determining my subjects.

‘Blue and White’

How has your combined knowledge of weaving and embroidery helped the current work you are doing?

My combined knowledge of weaving and embroidery probably helps the most in colour combining and layers. I’d say that my embroidery experience with different materials influences my weaving more than the other way around


Contact details.

Martha Fieber, Michigan, USA

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, July, 2014