Embroidery Artist Immortalises the Noble Insect

From A Bug’s Life to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, insects have gotten a strange wrap in popular culture, and it’s one that the beautiful and complex embroidery of needlework artist Humayrah Bint Altaf is flipping on its head. Humayrah took her background in fashion design to the Royal School of Needlework, which has since then helped launch her embroidery career. Each piece from her catalogue is a rich and geometrically stylised marvel, and the time it takes to make each one has, she says, only enriches her appreciation of her subjects:

“The time consuming nature of hand embroidery has developed a certain appreciation in me as opposed to other art forms.”


It seems that patience for artists, too, is a virtue. Her three-dimensional pieces incorporate leather and metals, making for a weighty and unique end piece that fits more comfortably in the category of sculpture than it does needlepoint. But how does one land upon insects in a needlework career? We got in touch to fine out…


The Plus: You work a lot on insects – what’s the attraction for you?
Humayrah Bint Altaf:
My style of work is an amalgamation of all the things that are dear to my heart. I have a growing penchant for nature, old objects, light, darkness, insects, ephemera, and paper. All these inspirations are woven into my work. I often wander through the woods near my home, where I gather leaves, twigs, feathers and other things I can find to bring back home and preserve.

TP: Have you always had this affinity with nature?
Natural elements have always been an integral part of my life since my childhood. My love for nature was enhanced whilst studying at the Royal School of Needlework, which looks on to magnificent green gardens with many


TP: So do you work from real-life insect finds?
I work from real insects that I’ve gathered on walks, and also a plethora of images I have collected. Imagination is key in the design process, and I feel each artist adds their own unique touch to their designs.

TP: How do you design the piece, and then realise it?
The process usually begins with a sudden burst of inspiration. I then make a few illustrations and choose a composition that I think will work best. Subsequently, I draw my design onto the fabric and begin using materials like leather, metal and beads.


TP: Which insects pose the most problems? And how long do your pieces usually take to make?
The amount of time it takes me to complete a composition depends on the intricacy of the design. My insects take from 8-25 hours to complete. Insects such as bees and butterflies which have many small components take the longest, as I have to use a different texture for each part.

TP: What’s next? Will you expand into other species?
I would like to step out of my comfort zone and embroider something a bit more challenging using a colour palette that I have not used before. There are millions of different varieties of beetles, moths and butterflies that I would like to choose from. The Monarch butterfly and the Atlas moth are both intriguing, and I would like to embroider these in the future.