Jewel-toned beetles and a cerulean butterfly flecked with gold seem like they could escape the wooden hoops in which they’re embroidered, if only they weren’t stitched down. These intricate needleworks are the creations of Humayrah Bint Altaf, a talented embroidery artist from the UK, who stitches richly detailed plants and creatures inlaid with luxe materials. Her work updates the ancient art of embroidery, breathing fresh energy into an age-old handicraft.
Though she started out studying fashion, Bint Altaf decided it wasn’t for her and enrolled in the Royal School of Needlework, studying hand embroidery. “The time consuming nature of hand embroidery has developed a certain appreciation in me as opposed to other art forms,” she tells The Creators Project. “Embroidery increases me in patience and forbearance, as nothing can be hastened or hurried. Each bead, each piece of leather, each metal is stitched with concentration and much deliberation.”
Each tree, feather, bumblebee, or toadstool she stitches is three-dimensional and elaborately textured, adding to the illusion that they might crawl right out of their settings. Insect wings look fibrous and veiny; the spindly legs of a beetle, crafted with a single thread, appear as delicate as they do in real life. For inspiration, Bint Altaf says she often wanders the woods near her home. “I've always loved discovering beautiful things,” she says. “I also like to incorporate nature's treasures into my embroideries, and with each piece I feel that a part of me has been embedded into my work.”
Bint Altaf chooses rich blue and crimson thread, offset by accents of chestnut and gold, and embellished with precise beadwork and leather accents. “I like to create a variety of texture in my pieces and include an element of light reflection,” she explains. “Goldwork, metals, and leather are important to me because of the way the metal threads vary in color when seen in different lights and from different angles.”
Embroidery is a personal and time-consuming art practice. “Each bead, each piece of leather, each metal is stitched with concentration and much deliberation,” says Bint Altaf. Certain pieces have to be repeatedly unstitched, redone, and redesigned before they’re finished. When they’re completed, however, Bint Altaf shares her pieces on Instagram and sells original works and commissions on Etsy.
Bint Altaf’s Instagram posts are a beautiful diversion and a vocabulary lesson. “I am a 'word collector.' Unusual words with wondrous meanings fascinate me,” she explains. “Take 'Kawaakari' for example. A Japanese word, meaning the gleam of last light on a river's surface at dusk; the glow of a river in the darkness. I feel there is a spiritual mystery hidden in the folds of language and it's important to hem these extraordinary blessings with thankfulness.”
“Often, the correlation between embroidery and words is not apparent to anyone but me,” she continues. “However, I believe in storytelling through imagery: the comforting effect a word or photograph may have on people. A single image with few concise words woven together is enough to whisk people away to a more gentle world.”