Alexandra Drenth • embroidery and textile collages

ALEXANDRA DRENTH


the power of poetic textiles



No Rush is een mixed media collectief dat in 2022 is opgericht. De kunstenaars van No Rush komen uit verschillende kunstdisciplines en werken met verrassende mixed media techniekenen ongebruikelijke materialen. Met deze groep willen wij bevlogen en prikkelende exposities lanceren.


Marijke Leertouwer, Alexandra Drenth, Fransje Smit, Irma Frijlink, Mathilde Hemmes, Marjolein Burbank en Flox den Hartog Jager.


magazines - interviews - exhibitions

Schoonheid als troost 

artikel voor Textielplus - Tekst: Angela van Paasen

 

Wie het werk van Alexandra Drenth bekijkt en vervolgens het idee erachter hoort, zal vast verbaasd zijn over het grote contrast. Want terwijl haar werken bruisen van kleur, mooie bloemen en planten, gaan erachter juist treurige gevoelens schuil. ‘Ik heb momenteel een somber wereldbeeld’, aldus Alexandra. Juist dat heeft alles te maken met de paradijselijke schoonheid die ze in haar werk zoekt.

Sierra Leone

In haar creaties zien we veel mensfiguren terug, net als planten en bloemen. Een ervaring uit haar jeugd die Alexandra zelf omschrijft als “kleine aardverschuiving”, vormt hiervoor een belangrijke inspiratie. “Als kind heb ik een tijdje in Sierra Leone gewoond. Een korte periode, maar ik heb er veel mooie herinneringen aan. De natuur, dieren, het klimaat, de planten, ons huis: alles was er mooi. Ik merk dat nu die ervaringen steeds meer terugkomen. De natuurbeleving, het een willen zijn met de natuur voel ik steeds sterker.”

Kop in het zand

In haar werken gaan de mensfiguurtjes op in de natuur. Het is Alexandra’s manier om haar stille hoop uit te drukken dat de natuur weer de overhand krijgt. “Ik vind het verschrikkelijk wat er met de aarde gebeurt door toedoen van mensen: vervuiling, klimaatverandering… Het loopt de spuigaten uit. De natuur is ongelofelijk sterk, maar mensen willen haar alleen maar beheersen. We zouden ons er juist aan moeten aanpassen.” Haar werk vormt tegelijkertijd een troost: “Ik zoek naar de mooie dingen in het leven om me beter te voelen en te schuilen voor het slechte. Het is een beetje als je kop in het zand steken, maar ik vind ook dat dat mag. Mensen hebben troost nodig.”

Hergebruik

Alexandra werkt het liefst met gebruikte materialen die ze gekregen of tweedehands gekocht heeft. “Deze verwerk ik in collages tot een nieuw geheel. Door de materialen uit de context te halen en ze om te vormen, wordt eigenlijk alles bruikbaar.
Dingen maken met je handen vind ik fascinerend. Het proces, de tijd nemen om iets op te bouwen en zo echt verweven raken in het werk, dat vind ik te gek.

Interviewer Marion van der Fluit
Antique Jewellery Researcher - Haute Couture Embroiderer
Article for The Embroiderers Guild

 

Back to the Future - Transcendent pieces

 

In repurposing old embroideries and household linens, Alexandra Drenth gives a voice to the past and the emotions and memories entrusted within their once treasured threads.

‘Embroidery is essentially a personal art’, wrote Walter Crane in 1899.


In Amsterdam North, the Netherlands’ capital city, lies the residence of the Dutch modern day embroiderer Alexandra Drenth, to whom Crane’s words surely apply. Drenth became involved with embroidery in 2007, whilst working as photographer. The large project she photographed fascinated her, as did her interest in the possibilities of textiles. Later the same year she placed an advert in a local newspaper asking for old embroidery linens to help raise funds for the charity Mamma Cash. This organization defends the rights of girls, woman and transgender people worldwide. Forgotten labours of love, long stacked away in attics and closets after people had lost interest in them, were sent to her in abundance – a total of 185 square meters of embroidered cloth. In the end she produced 27 wall hangings from them, which were auctioned off in aid of the good cause.

But even when the auction was over and done with, people were still sending her embroideries. Each one had its own story to tell about illness and grief, or happy occasions like birth and marriage. And it was this- the past expression of the inner feelings of woman – that became the basis of Drenth’s work. As many of the pieces were old, most had acquired stains or holes. Drenth decided to cut into the old textiles and recycle them in an artful way. Beautiful tiny embroidered snapshots from the past found a new life when stitched onto shirts, coats, capes and even a chasuble.


Behind Drenth’s work is a deep consideration of life. Her vision of the continuation of life after death is made clearly visible. She had, at the tender age of 20, worked photographing the deceased in a mortuary, a somewhat unusual occupation at the time.

‘The materials that I use are transformed: everything in life is about transformation, from birth to death,’ she says. ‘I’m always pushing the boundaries of tradition to express my own feelings. I like old embroideries but not shown on the wall behind glass. I change them, for example, into a piece of clothing not to wear but to look at. It doesn’t have to be wearable. I love textiles that have already had another function, are worn out and tell a story. Those things are already beautiful by themselves. People sometimes recognize the used, old embroideries, which bring back memories and emotions: they made something similar, or remember their mother’s or grandmother’s pieces.’ Drenth also uses old linen shrouds, which in the past were produced in the Netherlands as part of a girl’s dowry, who would learn how to embroider them at a very young age.

 

The lessons began with a sampler of the alphabet in cross stitch, followed by a collection of other stitches and patterns to serve as a reference in later life, a practice not always enjoyed by the makers. Cross stitch was also used for initials to mark the shrouds. Some have beautifully embroidered edges and are hand sewn. They have no pockets, as wealth and status cannot be expressed in death. Men in the Netherlands used to wear shrouds on their wedding day after they were washed and carefully put away for their burial. However, these perfect examples of work, many with private, personal feelings attached, became disregarded over time due to changing customs.


From making collages of existing embroideries and textiles, Drenth evolved to producing more and more embroidery herself. By adding embroidered song texts or poems, her works became more personal. Words express emotions, feelings or a message.

Usually she works on two or three objects at the same time. Drenth finds the embroidery easy to handle and says it can be worked on wherever she travels. She often embroiderers with French knots, running and back stitch. For Drenth it is not about the difficulty of the stitch, rather that stitches are a means used to express herself. An old green chasuble bought at a fair, is having a makeover using her textile collage technique. The work is being completed on a large table in a corner of her living room when I visit.

 

‘I see my embroideries as works of art, an object to enjoy. Creating them makes me very happy. I do a lot of research and get my inspiration from flora and fauna. I use all kinds of shapes, from animals to people and vice versa. At the moment, for example, I’m intrigued by women transforming into fish. My inspiration comes from Africa. In my early childhood I lived in Sierra Leone, I recall swimming amongst the fish there every day, I often dream about water and fish. Dreams are sometimes a starting point for me.’ People always ask how long she works on an object: a question she doesn’t like, as there is no simple answer. Adding and taking away is a daily routine until she is satisfied. ‘I can’t work in a hurry: it can take months for me to find the right composition. Embroidery is something very personal for me.'

SEA • www.seafoundation.eu - Books in practice 2022.

#04 on No hurry, our ambassador.

Dutch artist and embroiderer Alexandra Drenth, has selected publications that have connections to her artistic practice and to the fold’s theme: No Hurry.

 

How are embroidery and old mystical texts connected? Artist Alexandra Drenth gives perspective on a sustainable future through her favourite books. 

For fold #04 on No hurry, we invited Alexandra Drenth to highlight the cornerstone publications for her practice. Drenth calls herself a contemporary embroiderer. She combines old and new textiles into lively and mystical textile collages, and ‘made with medieval patience’.

 

Writings and the past – The Bookcase

The bookcase that relates to my work and life. Besides books that can be a source of inspiration, I’m also working with patches of texts, among which are song lyrics, but I also draw from my own poetry and make use of the diaries of my mother,  she has written a lot and I regularly find myself reading through it. It gives me back sensitive moments that I can reflect on and integrate into my work. Furthermore, I inherited a memorial book from my Indonesian mother-in-law, containing personal writings from the Dutch East Indies. These old handwritings and records of events and encounters are inspiring to me, and give an impression of times few are still alive from.

 

The past is often far more fascinating to me than the here and now. As far as I’m concerned, I have the feeling of living in the wrong time. My textile collages subsequently often relate to nostalgia and melancholy. Because my work is made without the use of a sewing machine, I cannot hurry, I take my time and through that I get time. The concept of temporality gives me a great sense of freedom and not being stuck in time. It’s about traveling through the mind and letting go of linear time.

The same sense comes back in different kinds of meditation and gives mental resilience to strengthen the work as well. I find peace in narrative mysticism and books like described below. Great tomes (for example De Avonden and Het Bureau) seem to describe a time that keeps reoccurring. This is very similar to craft and meditation, with repeating gestures, though slowly growing towards an engaging whole.

 

Books on textiles:

Ideas for church embroidery – Beryl Dean (1968)
Profusely illustrated with photographs and some drawings, the majority being in black-and-white, this book explores the use of embroidery and also application in the ecclesiastical setting. This book was designed/planned as a successor to Church Needlework which gave practical instruction for making vestments and furnishings. Now the intentions towards sparking off the creative imagination so that the embroiderer can herself design the same undertakings.

 

Van aardse stof tot hemels lof – René Lugtigheid (2021)
A priest robe of which the silk fabric has swayed over a dance floor once before. In the eighteenth century, gala dresses (robes à la Française) were sometimes tailored to priest robes. But how could this transformation from worldly clothing to sacral garment take shape?

Or with other words: How did ‘worldly fabric become heavenly glory’?

 

Tot op de draad – Ileen Montijn (2017)
In ‘Tot op de draad’, Ileen Montijn shows how in times when ‘something new’ was still a rare luxury, the idiom of ‘something borrowed, something new’ was more than a slogan. With imagination, patient dedication and craftsmanship, clothing was mended time and time again. Old clothes are indeed a hundred times more fun and interesting than new ones.

 

Threads of life – Clare Hunter (2019)
The Hare with Amber Eyes meets The History of the World in 100 Objects: an eloquent history of the language of sewing over centuries and across continents.

 

Books on mysticism:

Die Minne es al – Hadewijch (2002)
Particularly beautiful anthology from Hadewijch’s letters, strophic poems, epistles and visions with translations, illustrated with ten (enlarged) miniatures in colour from a Northern French prayer and meditation book of around 1300.

 

De Fioretti van Sint Franciscus
In the Fioretti (translated: ‘flowers’) are collected the most famous stories of the life of Franciscus of Assissi (1182-1226), gathered and written up a century after the death of Franciscus by an anonymous friar.

 

De zeven manieren van Minne – Beatrijs van Nazareth (2002)
In this work, Van Nazareth distinguishes seven forms of experience: purifying love, serving love, the unsatisfiable desire for full love, mystical joy of love, the storm of love, celebratory love, and the transition to eternal love.

 

Louteringsberg – Thomas Merton (2001)
An autobiographical account of the course of development from an artistic, free-spirited milieu to the entry into a strict Catholic monastic order.

 

Hildegard von Bingen, content about monastic life, healing powers of herbs (and monkery in general) and monasticism.

 

Heiligenlevens in Nederland en Vlaanderen – Ludo Jongen (1998)
In ‘Heiligenlevens in Nederland en Vlaanderen’ are assembled tales of the lives of the most important saints from the Dutch language area, from the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century, ordered according to the Roman Catholic Calendar of saints.

 

Other books:

L’angerie. Visuele poëzie – Hans Clavin (1973)
I have several books of collagist Hans Clavin that are inspirational for making collages. Find a short portrait of Hans that I incorporated into my own film 'tastbare herinneringen' uit 2011 here.

 

Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka – Johnny Frisbie (1996)
‘The Autobiography of a South Sea Trader’s Daughter’, written by Florence ‘Johnny’ Frisbie. Johnny wrote this book between the age of twelve and thirteen, in three languages of the Pacific; Rarotonga, Pukapuka and Pacific English dialect. ‘Puka-Puka’ describes the childhood years of the half-Polynesian girl on different islands in the Pacific, though specifically the northern Puka-Puka. The book was rarely reprinted, still less translated. Published in relatively small editions, the book was nearly unfindable after the 1950’s.

Fortunately, I managed to get a hold of a copy translated to Dutch. These days it is again widely available through webshops (though usually second-hand). Some passages in this book bring me back to a piece of my childhood in the tropics.
I recognize being engrossed in and the experience of becoming one with nature. Remarkable and inspiring woman and life. In this video, Johnny does an interview with Boudewijn Büch (Dutch writer, poet and television presenter of the late 20th century) – hence how I found the writer through his show.

Textile exhibitions ao


Zeeland Kunsthuis Veere 'Peepshow' Collectief No Rush

Den Dolder - Galerie P’Arts - artist books
Tokodinboxing Amsterdam - 'The Art of Boxing'
Woerden Stadsmuseum - Bonifatius  
Den Haag Anthus Decorations
Baarle-Nassau Kunstgalerij High Five Art
Amsterdam Dutch Design Artemis ‘Connections’
Egmond aan den Hoef De Kapberg 
Brabant Kloosterkapel Vorstenbosch
Amsterdam Noord Atelieroutes 
Amsterdam Noord Pinkster Embroidery Show 
Zeeland Grote Kerk Veere
Amsterdam Noord The first SummerShow Nieuw Dakota
Leiden Textielfestival ‘15 - Petruskerk - ‘A Sea of Embroidery’
Leiden Pieterskerk Tentoonstelling ‘Water-Land’ 
Stichting Textiel Plus in het TextielPlus Huis (poppenproject)
Noord Groningen Usquert QFestival
Rotterdam Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Bregjes Rondleidingen 
Drenthe Textielleeft! ‘Zweeloo Kunstenaarsdorp’
Arnhem Eusebiuskerk
Deventer Lebuïnuskerk TextielPlus Kunstdagen
Haarlem Kunstlijn ‘Verzachtende Omstandigheden’
IJmuiden /Amsterdam Noord ‘Neerlands Nijver’
Haarlem Galerie De Waag 'Memories are made of this'
Streekmuseum voor de Krimpenerwaard
Vinkeveen Te Hooi & Te Kunst
Haarlem Galerie de Waag ‘Geheimen’
Amsterdam Noord Family Matters - Sleepbootstaat 26''
Amsterdam West Family Matters - Buskenblaserstraat 34'''

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Articles


Kate Grinnell - Selvedge Magazine august 2019



Based in Amsterdam, Dutch textile artist Alexandra Drenth hand stitches intricate textiles filled with female forms, gardens, flowers and words. Inspired by the natural world, poetry and song lyrics, her work reflects a female perspective, storytelling the experiences of women’s lives mixed with elements from nature. Alexandra’s textile collages, wall pieces and panels are incredibly detailed, reviving not only the tradition of hand stitching but also by reworking old and pre-used textiles, she instils her work with an inevitable link to history. Alexandra was originally a photographer and artist working mainly in oils, but in 2007 she became fascinated by the possibilities of textiles after working on a large embroidery project. Inspired by themes as diverse as ancient China and Japan to the diaphanous costumes of the 1920s/30s, she uses simple lines and stitches focusing mainly on outlines and silhouettes to tell her story. Large pieces can take anything up to 2 years to produce. Alexandra admits that she is not commercially driven, for her the commercial aspect removes the enjoyment from producing her work. As a result, she will only exhibit at venues where she is invited as an artist rather than as a selling opportunity. She works mainly to commission for private clients with a recent project to make a garment from clothing that had belonged to her client’s deceased mother. Alexandra created a kimono jacket which proudly adorns the wall of the client’s home.

On Alexandra’s Youtube channel she has produced a short film entitled ‘Experience Quality Time’. Images of Alexandra’s work are set against poetry and phrases in Dutch extolling the wonders of time experience which is very much the essence of her work.


SEA • www.seafoundation.eu - Books in practice 2022

How are embroidery and old mystical texts connected?
Artist Alexandra Drenth gives perspective on a sustainable future through her favorite books.

 

HZG Levendige en Mystieke Textielcollages editie 222 '20

LES GRIGRIS - entretien en français '20

Project SEA_youhere 2.0 | art and sustainability '20

Contemporary embroidery without limits '19

Selvedge Magazine august '19

 

TxP Schoonheid als troost -nummer 248

SAQA Visionaries issue - no.4 '18

Dutch Design Artemis Magazine '18

The Embroiderers Guild Magazine '18

TxP 242 Rubriek Het atelier van... '17

Fiber Art Now Magazine Dutch Textile Artists '17

Over textielkunst, een initiatief van Flox den Hartog Jager '17

TxP 241: Een woelige wereld '17

 

Autumn no serial number '16

Embellished Talk '16

Textiel Plus juni - '16

Amsterdam art Magazine '16

Close-Up fashion Textile '16/'17

Handwerken Zonder Grenzen - nummer 183 

Interview TextielPlus nummer - 219

 

 

'I get a lot of reactions from all over the place, scam sites are using my designs and images unauthorized. I have not authorized these scammers to use my photos and my designs for their scamming practices. I am not responsible for the content of these scam pages.

I do not sell my work through other websites unless I mention this on zachtewereld.nl that is the site you are visiting right now'.