Janine Magalhães: The simplest embroidery
Brazilian embroiderer Janine Magalhães is a full-time art teacher and an embroiderer in her spare time. Though she started both her art and embroidery careers from humble beginnings, sharing her embroideries solely through her Instagram account has gained her a respectable following of nearly 5,500 followers (at time of writing).
Although her line-based embroidery, primarily of figures on white cotton cloth, is minimalist, each has a deeper message for the viewer to interpret. This essence has led to her growing following which includes many well-known names in the textile art world.
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium? How was your imagination captured?
Janine Magalhães: In 2014, I was working as an art educator in museums, alongside Art School, when I came across the work of this incredible black artist, Rosana Paulino, in an exhibition that I was working on. As a black girl too, I identified right away with her poetics. Rosana uses embroidery, stitching, engraving, photography and drawing, and I began to consider how I could give the sketches I’d done in my youth a new life with a new language.
When I started searching the internet, I found several inspirational craft and textile artists, but most importantly “Clube do bordado”, a female group that encourages and supports contemporary embroidery.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
When I was a child, I was always drawing. My father used to sketch and my sister was good at crafts and painting, so art was always a part of our family life. My own sketches were all about female bodies, playful characters I invented or interpretations of the lyrics of the songs I used to like. These were all things that I enjoyed and so related to well.
After art school, when I started working in education with museums, I was lucky to see lots of artworks every day, and I’ve been inspired by them.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I went to Art School at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), not because I was particularly good at drawing or doing anything arty – I don’t profess to have any defined art techniques and skills – but at the time I didn’t know what else to choose to study. Despite gaining a qualification there, I couldn’t find a suitable place at university for the type of work I was into – illustration and textile art.
When I started to do embroidery, I felt craftwork was seen as unimportant, and what I did was nothing innovative. So I didn’t pursue it initially and concluded my studies in order to become an art teacher.
When I came across Clube do Bordado and found it to be a growing embroidery community that was right here in Brazil, I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of it. What I liked about it was that it was contemporary; its members were young women doing modern, creative embroidery. It showed that embroidery was no longer something that was just for grandmas.
Here we call it “bordado livre”, which means “‘free embroidery”. It has no rigid rules, you just use a hoop as the frame and off you go!
One Christmas night, I was telling my mom about this and one minute later she appeared with a complete embroidery kit that she had kept for years, from when she used to stitch. That kit was my very first experiment with textile art.
I’ve never attended a workshop or course, I’ve taught myself from tutorials on Youtube. You’ll see that my works don’t usually use many techniques – I like it to keep my pieces clean and basic.
Identifying with the story
Tell us about your process from conception to creation
At the beginning, I just revisited my old sketchbooks and started to embroider some lines. One of them was the body of a Venus de Milo sculpture with some flowers growing – a simple sketch. At some point in my production I was confident enough to share on Instagram, and a friend liked it so much that he wanted to buy it. I was in need of an extra income (I always do!) so I started to sell my works, and I was surprised that people wanted to buy! And that’s how my Instagram name “Vênus em flor” came.
I keep my work very simple – it’s drawing with lines. I mostly use common sewing threads on raw cotton fabric with sometimes a bit of colour in the lines.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques and how you use them
Because of its simplicity, I call my work embroidery drawing – because it is just that. I love black lines just like in the sketchbooks. I almost never use colors, but when I do it’s only as a detail.
I have a fascination with the back side of the embroidery and how that mess tells more about me than the right side. My back sides are never perfect. Sometimes I show that side to express something that’s ‘beneath the covers’ – things that reveal our deepest intimacy – especially being a black woman.
In “Matriarcal”, for example, I chose to display the back side to show a scene where a mother combs the kinky hair of her daughter. It can be a painful moment, whilst being full of love and care at the same time, and it conveys the connection between women of younger and older generations. It could be any black girl in there, and that’s why I use minimal facial details – because it’s a story that belongs to many others besides me, and I want people to identify with it.
I still love keeping my pieces framed in their hoop, but certain fabrics I choose to put in regular frames.
What currently inspires you?
I am inspired by simple lines, and by the intimacy, the feelings, the strengths and vulnerabilities of my existence. I can embroider many different bodies, but they are all a part of myself.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
“Matriarcal” is my favourite piece and is the only piece that I would never sell.
It reveals a very intimate moment experienced by every black girl, with her caring mother figure taking care of her hair.
With my own mother, it was like a ritual, whether it was combing out my kinky hair or the time that we decided that straightening my hair would be the best choice to minimize racist and offensive comments.
My sister and I spent hours sitting with our heads between our mother’s legs while she was doing our hair. It might sound weird, but it felt to me like it established a connection through the generations, linking the origins of my kinky hair with my ancestry.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
In the six years since I’ve been doing embroidery, I think it’s absurd that I have virtually none of my works decorating my house – because I sold or gave them all away, or almost all! But still, I’m thankful for all the people who are enjoying having one piece of me in their homes.
Nowadays I’m not producing as much as I would like because of other responsibilities that I have. I used to work in art education in museums and now I’m a full-time art teacher in a school. This doesn’t give me much time to produce new pieces, so most of my orders are for existing designs from my Instagram page.
I did participate in a few exhibitions, but I really like having my embroideries in the intimacy of friends’ houses and those people that I only meet through my embroideries.
Once, I received an order to create a design: it was based on the intimate email conversations of two close friends, full of affection and philosophical perceptions of the world. I found it difficult at first to be so closely involved, but I really enjoyed making that one.
Custom orders are very special to me because I am given the opportunity to step into a world that is not mine and yet to be a part of it.
- Do your research – you can scour the internet to investigate different artists’ work and different kinds of textile art
- Feel your way into your particular genre of textile art – what kind of work do you like doing?
- Doing live workshops is great, but it’s both cheaper and more convenient to learn online. You can learn from YouTube tutorials, individual artists’ and online classes and workshops
- It doesn’t have to be complex – “my line work is simple but still reaches people and contains meaning”
About the artist:
Janine is a Brazilian art teacher, and an embroiderer with a large Instagram following, which she started in 2014.
She attended art school at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), and now makes her minimalist embroideries in her spare time, selling them through Instagram.
For more information visit Instagram
Does Janine’s intimate line-based embroidery inspire you? Let us know in the comments below