Sarah K. Benning’s Botanical Embroidery

I was recently searching the web for my own creative inspiration, and stumbled upon the works of Sarah K. Benning. She creates hand-stitched, intricate illustrations onto beautifully designed embroidery hoops. Much of her work is inspired by her love for potted plants.

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(A selection of Sarah K. Benning’s work)

Sarah K. Benning begins her works with a pencil sketch of her design onto fabric, and carefully uses needle and thread to stitch within the lines, creating brilliant colors and textures.

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(Sarah K. Benning’s embroidery process)

Although not explicitly science-based, Sarah K. Benning uses techniques of scientific illustration to depict her beloved houseplants, using fabric and thread as a unique medium.

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(A selection of Sarah K. Bennings media and works)

We are often taught science as a series of facts, or truths. It is important to remember, however, that science is not made up of facts. Science is a way of thinking and of discovering: with observations, questions, and investigations.

The most important first step in the scientific process is observation. The field of scientific illustration involves careful observation. Scientific illustrators use their skills of observation to create an accurate representation of their subjects. These careful observations lead to questions, which lead to investigations, which lead to new discoveries, observations, and questions. The process is unending, and would not progress without the careful works of scientific illustrators.

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(Graphic of the scientific process)

For example, thanks to careful observation of the Split-Leaf Philodendron (one of the plants depicted in Sarah K. Benning’s embroidery) we now know that this plant is poisonous, and should be kept away from children and pets.

(Split-Leaf Philodendron and Sarah K. Benning’s embroidery)

Similarly, while observing many cactus species (such as the prickly pear depicted in Sarah K. Benning’s work) we notice that they are round and thick, in contrast to other kinds of plants that grow flat and thin leaves.

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(Sarah K. Benning’s Prickly Pear embroidery)

This observation leads us to an obvious question: why? Through the scientific process, we have discovered that these strange shapes help cactuses survive in dry environments. Their thick stems can expand when water is plentiful, and shrink during dry periods. The waxy coating on the outside keeps them from drying out.

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(Prickly Pears at sunset)

Before photography became inexpensive and widely-used, successful scientists such as Charles Darwin relied entirely on their scientific illustration skills for their notes and observations. Although not as obviously necessary today, anybody who has spent time observing and illustrating an object will probably tell you that their observations of the object improved dramatically after spending time creating their illustration.

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(One of Darwin’s illustrations from the Beagle Expedition)

Although the primary purpose of scientific illustration is to observe and depict an object accurately, the result are often extremely artistic and aesthetically pleasing, like the works of Sarah K. Benning. In addition to creating unique and complex embroidery works, Sarah K. Benning has also created a monthly pattern program. Every month, she releases a new embroidery pattern, with step-by-step instructions designed for all skill levels. Sarah K. Benning has a website, and she’s on Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy.

Happy embroidering!

Here is a page with more information about common houseplants, and here is a page about cool cactus adaptations.

Have a suggestion for an artist or topic I should write about? Comment below or on my “Suggestions” page!

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