Tamara Rubilar is a Canadian embroidery artist who has had a unique training, between Canada, England, France and Spain – she opened her studio in Montreal in 2019.
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
Stitching hands © Tamara Rubilar
Haute Couture embroidery, 2019 © Tamara Rubilar
Tell us about your journey with embroidery
It was during my training at the Centre des textiles contemporains (Center for Modern Textiles) that I fell in love with embroidery art. So I did some research to see if this art was practiced as a profession in Quebec, and so I met Marie Renée Otis, a wonderful recognized embroidery artist with whom I did my first internship. After my graduation in Montreal, I decided to go for a professional training in Europe at the Lesage School in Paris and at the Royal School of Needlework in London. Practicing art embroidery professionally in Quebec is only possible as an artist and independent designer, and it is rather rare as a specialty, but it was my dream. So I created my own workshop in April 2019, Studio textile Montreal. I offer embroidery classes as well as the creation of bespoke embroidery and textile embellishment for fashion, costume or special project designers.
Let’s go back to your training sessions because they are quite unique …
Life took me to spend two years in Spain. Eager to learn about the culture, the artists and the heritage linked to embroidery, I wanted to learn about the two most important techniques, namely the embroidery of bullfighter costumes and religious gold embroidery. So I did an internship at the Fermin workshop, one of the most famous in Madrid for making “costumes of light”. I discovered an exceptional know-how, the long stages of making and the working conditions in the workshop which have not changed for ages. As for the religious gold embroidery present in the ceremonies of the Semana Santa processions, it is in Seville that I did an internship with one of the only professors in Andalusia. These two techniques are very well preserved and protected, that’s why there is no school, they are quite closed environments where the only way to train is to enter a workshop as an apprentice, then to stay there to work. In Spain, I also met an embroidery artist who is now a friend, Flor Arias with whom I organize international projects for embroidery courses. Together we organize intensive workshops and conferences for embroidery guilds, cultural centers, art schools, a wonderful way to transmit this ancient know-how, to meet new people and to travel.
Verbena project, Madrid, 2018 © nicoladixonphotographyco
The RSN is hidden away in Hampton Court Palace. How not to be amazed by the magic of the place? I did the Jacobean Crewel course there. At Lesage, in Paris, I followed the initiation level to crochet in Lunéville. I really saw the difference between the two cultures, and I particularly loved the “Okay ladies, it’s tea time!” at the RSN, at 11am every day, where the only ones not to partake in this sacred break were foreigners. It was a fairly social and relaxed atmosphere! At Lesage, it was a lot more formal, more serious, no time to chat, you had to be able to finish your work. But the place was a dream, especially the embroidery patterns that can be admired, we bathed in the beauty of haute couture.
A little anecdote at Lesage’s: while I was learning the Lunéville crochet, my hands got sweaty. Thinking that this was normal for all embroiderers, I asked my teacher “How do you do in the workshop so as not to stain the embroidery with your sweat?” Answer: “But we are not sweating! Relax your hands, you are too tight.”
This anecdote will remain on of my fondest memories, and telling it in my lessons provokes laughter every time.
The techniques used to embroider the costumes of lights are borrowed from gold embroidery, but what makes it unique are the patterns, the choice of supplies, most of which are Spanish made, and the stitches used. Each craftswoman specializes in a technique, and absolutely everything is made by hand. Several items such as buttons, trimmings, or shoulder ornaments are made at home by elderly ladies who are the last to know the trade secrets. In Spain, many ancestral techniques, including the embroidery of the mantón de Manilla are in the process of disappearing, because the transmission is done according to the succession which is rather rare.
In Seville © Tamara Rubilar
In Seville, I did a magnificent gold embroidery internship with Ana Bonilla, the only teacher in the city. She also receives international students in her studio for classes. Unforgettable experience, rich in technique and humanity.
What is your creative process?
I balance between the abstract and the figurative. I like to create through experimentation, to create textures, surfaces, often in 3D, and I let myself be guided by the material, by the shapes and the colors, in a spontaneity of the gesture, but this must always remain harmonious because I favor aesthetic beauty. My goal as a designer is to make the viewer dream by creating wonder.
For the figurative side, I always start from an idea, I make a drawing, a precise choice of materials, and the work becomes very meticulous and precise with the search for a certain perfection in the execution. Flowers in all forms are very present in my work. Lockdown allowed me to experiment with all kinds of fabric flower techniques, ribbon and raised embroidery, and I would like to do a project with the creation of a wall of 100 fabric flowers.
Raised embroidery, 2018 © Tamara Rubilar
How do you organise your classes?
For me, being a teacher is a vocation that requires patience, organization and love for relationships. I teach in my studio in Montreal, as well as in other schools. I often offer courses and techniques resulting from my research and creations, with a penchant for ornamental embroidery, for fashion. My students come from various backgrounds, both textile art enthusiasts and artists and craftspeople wishing to add embroidery to their work. I offer one-off and intensive courses, and I also have guest teachers. In the long term, I would like to develop long-term training, and bring in teachers from Europe.
Studio textile Montréal © Tamara Rubilar
Creative and independent: is this a workable balance?
Choosing the profession of freelance embroidery designer involves pleasure, in the sense that I do what I love. The other facet is to live from it, and it becomes a daily challenge, because most of the time, we find ourselves managing the organization of the lessons and the studio, and there is only little time left for creation. That being said, it is about setting aside times when we can create freely, without thinking about profitability, but also times when we are inspired, we feed ourselves, we recharge, whether in nature, at the museum, on a trip or through reading.
Kit for Spanish Embroidery © Tamara Rubilar
Flower-Brooch 2019 © Tamara Rubilar
How do you choose your material?
I like to work with noble and quality supplies. Most come from France, Spain and sometimes India. But I also like to find old materials in markets and flea markets. I collect lace, guipure, tatting as well as the small tools and pieces that I can find. The craftsman who makes my embroidery looms gave me some small Luneville hooks that belonged to a lady who was an embroiderer in the 1940s in Montreal and who embroidered wedding dresses. These little treasures keep the memory of the work and the know-how of these women who, down through generations, have embroidered for long hours.
What are your other interests?
For some time, I have been passionate about the world of flowers and plants, a heritage from my mother who is a florist. The incredible source of inspiration that is nature, which vibrates with life and beauty, captivates me, as it has always done for so many artists. I grow plants and flowers at home, and I try my hand at botanical watercolor.
Spanish Embroidery Course – Project directly inspired by the embroidery on “costumes of light” © Tamara Rubilar
What does travel bring you?
I have had the privilege of traveling a lot, especially in Europe which represents everything I love: the old, the history, the architecture, the art of living, the traditional know-how. I have had the chance during my travels, to see amazing exhibitions which are privileged moments to be inspired and to dream. At the Opus Anglicanum exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I was dazzled by the delicacy of the embroidery and the high level of techniques. It was the golden age of embroidery workshops, and many of these techniques have been lost. Time had another value, when you consider that a single piece could take years to make. Today we have access to our embroidery accessories, glasses, magnifying glasses, lamps, but how did they do it? I like the part of mystery that there is behind a work, when one wonders how it was done.
Which artists do you like, who can influence you?
Sonia Delaunay, Coco Chanel, Yves St Laurent, Alexander McQueen, David Bowie, Pina Baush. Most of these artists were innovators who made their dreams come true, lived off their creativity, went above and beyond the norms and opened up new avenues. They all created their own world, filled with sensitivity, madness, dreams and sometimes pain.
I especially admire the women who braved social constraints and built their careers with determination and a precise vision of what they wanted.
Classes – Portrait II © Tamara Rubilar
During lockdown, Flor Arias has created an Instagram group, where she teaches many stitches and techniques. It is in Spanish: un_punto_nuevo_cada_dia
Studio Textile Montréal
2019 rue Moreau #416
514 224 2671
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The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire