Fascinated by the delicacy with which Virginie Renault takes up in embroidery the drawn or painted illustrations of many artists, I was happy to be able to meet this passionate craftswoman, who reveals herself thread by thread
Photos – © Virginie Renault – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
How did your story with embroidery come about? Did you think you would live from it one day?
One day, I saw a film on Jean-Paul Gautier and I discovered the profession of embroiderer. It was a revelation. I was 32 years old and I worked in a children’s bookstore. So I was already very drawn to illustrations. The store was going to close but I didn’t feel like going back to another bookstore.
I have always been very manual, very drawn to working with my hands, so I decided to give it a go. I didn’t ask myself any questions about my financial future, I didn’t do any market research, nothing. I just wanted to embroider. It was like a calling.
Goldwork embroidery, intership with Shikha Chireux
In France, we often speak of “Art embroidery” when we think of the embroideries made in haute couture workshops. What does this term mean to you? Do you see yourself as an artist or a craftswoman?
As far as I’m concerned, I’m talking about art embroidery because I trained with an Indian master embroiderer. She taught what she called art embroidery. For me, it’s a technique that uses a wide variety of materials and tools. But I don’t see myself as an artist at all. I see myself completely as an artisan. What I like to do is work with my hands. And touch materials, transform them. For me, an artist has a message to give, needs to share a story, which is not my case. I just want to stitch!
What are your sources ? What are your favorite materials?
I buy a lot on the internet and at Fried in Paris (supplier of beads and sequins) or from my embroidery teacher who brings back materials from India.
I love getting lost in a store. When I know exactly what I want I look on the internet.
There are a lot of materials to embroider (beads, threads, etc.), I’m not really looking for new ones. On the other hand, the supports to be embroidered can also be very varied and that interests me. Leather, linen, paper, etc. I like this variety.
From an illustration by Cyril Pedrosa
Do the authors feel that you add something to their stories?
I follow the work of the illustrators who I love with attention and as soon as one of their illustrations particularly touches me it makes me want to stitch it. Once done, I always offer the embroidery to the artist.
It’s a job that I love but it takes a lot of time, and then I have other projects to do too, so I can’t just do that!
So yes, this way of doing things made me meet authors with whom we are thinking about projects for future books, but for the moment it is still at the very beginning of the idea, I can not say anything more about it ! But since I was a bookseller before, it would be very consistent and exciting for me.
It also brought me collaborative projects, notably with Mathilde Domecq, Petites Luxures, Camille Garoche, Adolie Day and many others. And then lots of beautiful things to come later …
Do the authors feel that you add something to their stories?
When I embroider an illustration it’s a bit like when I read a comic book, I have the impression that I know the author better because I spend a lot of time looking at their art and then when I think of the work in volume it plunges me inside. The authors tell me that it brings something more alive, a contribution of material that seems to please them.
From an illustration by Petites Luxures
From “Les Brumes de Sapa”, Lola Séchan
From an illustration by Sophie Lambda
You choose a lot of feminist-based books that you illustrate with a technique that has long been linked to the “housewife”. Are you aware of this paradox?
Honestly, I don’t choose a book based on a label. When you look at my work, it’s not just that. But I find it great in fact that it is revealed in spite of myself! I might just be sensitive to feminism. When we talk about embroidery, we often think of women, of something ancient, but it is very cultural because in India it is a man’s job. When I started it, I didn’t dwell on it. I think it’s great that the image of embroidery is changing. There are a lot of great embroiderers out there who are offering something new. The picture changes, slowly, but changes. But the important thing for me is to do what I love to do.
Illustration by Charlotte Gastaut “Secrets d’étoffes”
From Fox’s Garden by Camille Gavoche
Collaboration with Camille Garoche
La garde-robe, Emmanuelle Houdart (detail)
On a practical level, do you mainly work with needle or crochet?
Most of the time with crochet, which allows me to make a chain stitch very quickly and to apply beads and sequins. But the needle will allow me to make other stitches such as the French knot, beautiful satin stitch, etc. And allows me to embroider in other kinds of couching. And then it depends on the material. Wool, for example, requires the needle.
Benjamin Lacombe, Frieda Kahlo
What is your creative process? Where do you work ?
At first I read a lot of comics. I try to see as many images as possible on Instagram, in books (novels, mythology), nature, and, when it was still possible, in museums. I need to feed myself with images and ideas. From all this mix, an idea, a desire will surface. I will draw it and move on to the realization.
I work a lot in my bedroom-studio. I work while listening to podcasts or TV series in the background, surrounded by all my materials, threads, beads, etc. which allow me to fill my imagination.
I also work in workshops with other artists at their homes, or in stores, especially around Christmas, where I embroider to personalize people’s purchases.
The crow, my “totem”
Dress Iris, collection Anne de Lafforest
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