Art & Deal magazine features Lettering for Stitchers | Embroidery for Designers

The August issue of contemporary Indian art magazine, Art & Deal featured the story of my project, Lettering for Stitchers | Embroidery for Designers. I was genuinely surprised and very happy to see someone (besides me!) be excited about the idea. This has happened to me a couple of times in the past few months—the typervention at Hauz-e-Khas and before that winning the Fontstruct competition with my entry, Rise of the Cellphone—and has made me feel very fortunate every single time.

Here is the article in the magazine and below that the text itself,

When I was fourteen, my girlfriends decided to spend their summers embroidering. And even though I wasn’t interested, I gave into peer pressure and pestered my mother to buy me embroidery supplies. I spent the summer battling needles and threads. Embroidery needed patience, and I had very little of it. Still, giving up was out of the question! So, I toiled and took two years to complete my first and last embroidery artwork. I vowed, after that, to never attempt embroidery again.

I grew up to become a graphic designer who wanted to design typefaces. I began designing bitmap fonts, which had become popular in the mid-1980s due to the limitations of early desktop computers and low resolution printers. In bitmap fonts, the shape of letterforms must be rendered to fit inside a grid. A few years ago, type designer Jonathan Hoefler opened my eyes to the historical counterpart of bitmap fonts. He wrote on his blog about La Vera Perfettione del Disegno di varie sorte di ricami, an embroidery guide by Giovanni Ostaus published in 1567. Ostaus’ elegant letters neatly fit into a grid, just like a bitmap font’s letters should. The challenge of designing bitmap fonts was older than I ever gave it credit for — lettering in lace and embroidery pattern books has been around since the Renaissance. Of the many things I had expected from typeface design, a new-found understanding and respect for embroidery was not one of them.

My own moment of creative epiphany struck me when I came across a book called “A Handbook of Lettering for Stitchers” by Elsie Svenass. An instruction guide to embroidering letters, the book traces the history of monogramming. Elsie Svenass, who was a popular Swedish quilter and author of the sixties, wonders in her book why the art of monogramming has disappeared. She mourns the loss of decorative and ornamental letterforms from books, newspapers and other typographic products, and fears that they will disappear from textile materials as well. ‘For the sake of future generations,’ she writes, ‘… we ought to build on tradition, and adapt the shape and size of the monogram to the taste and style of the day.’ To meet this end, she wrote the handbook.

It has been many years since, and monogramming on textiles has been on a decline too. Flipping through the book, I was amazed at the variety of styles and alphabet, and like Svenass, I thought it would be a complete shame if they die out. Now, unlike her, I am no good at embroidery, so the only way I could revive these styles is by making typefaces out of them. Thus began an ongoing project of digitizing these designs — Lettering for Stitchers | Embroidery for Designers. Through Lettering for Stitchers | Embroidery for Designers, all the lettering styles in the book that use cross-stitch are being digitized on an online modular type design tool called Fontstruct. The letter designs are full of elaborate borders and ornaments, and are available for free download.


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