Finding new meanings in age-old embroidery techniques and her Greek-Swiss heritage

Iliodora Margellos, Moirai, 2021, Handmade embroidery on tie dyed canvas, beads (Swarovski crystal, glass, hand blown Venetian glass). Courtesy of ITERARTE & the artist

Margellos uses cross-stitching as her preferred embroidery technique. Across the world, cross-stitching has been a means of conveying stories, beliefs and cultural identities. In the eastern Mediterranean, this artform is interwoven with the region’s history, reflecting the influence of Byzantine, Ottoman and Arab cultures. Its importance lies not only in the creation of beautiful and durable textiles, but also in its deep cultural significance. 

Her signature method involves adding embroidery and weaving to a fine-mesh screen, blending soft and hard materials to create abstract pieces, often in vibrant colours, that have the visual effect of a painting. She also uses text, hand-embroidering words on canvas or other materials. The titles of her artwork are also carefully composed, hinting at stories or a thread of thought that she encourages the audience to explore but without dictating the meaning of each piece directly.

My work is abstract, and I often build stories through titles and colour compositions. The balance between negative and positive space, transparency, and reflections all play a role.”

Motherhood has also played a pivotal role in Margellos’s creative direction: “The dynamics of being a mom have also influenced my art, especially since I work from a studio within my home.” While pregnant in 2013, she transitioned to working with threads and textiles, exploring themes related to maternity and nurturing. 

Iliodora Margellos, 'Securities (‘Security is Given Magic’) (detail), 2021, handmade embroidery on tulle & tie dyed canvas, yarn, 24-carat gold plated embroidery floss. Courtesy of the artist
Iliodora Margellos, 'Securities (‘Security is Given Magic’) (detail), 2021, handmade embroidery on tulle & tie dyed canvas, yarn, 24-carat gold plated embroidery floss.

Margellos continues to push her artistic boundaries. In 2023, she created an immersive textile installation for The Butterfly Effect, an exhibition at a former textile factory in Athens, for which artists were invited to reflect on the factory space and its surroundings, and respond to the concept of the ‘butterfly effect’ – the idea, central to chaos theory, that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system. 

Margellos finds inspiration in the work of a variety of other artists, past and present, sometimes from a conceptual perspective, sometimes from a purely aesthetic one. Since her early academic studies, she has been influenced by the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, especially his treatment of light. Another key figure is Louise Bourgeois, the grande dame of sculpture and installation, for her philosophical approach as well as her juxtaposition of hard and soft materials. Bourgeois’s techniques have also affected Margellos’s use of embroidered text, while the words and lettering in works by the American photographer and artist Jack Pierson have contributed to her examination of the scale, size and colour of typography in her own works. 

She also mentions the influence of American experimental artist Mike Kelley and British modernist writer Virginia Woolf, “especially in creating immersive experiences”. Margellos also greatly admires the artists Ruth Asawa, Sheila Hicks (both from the US) and Anette Messager (France).  

As she looks toward the future, Margellos has grand plans for her art. She intends to revisit large-scale works, rekindling a passion she last explored in 2016. Her commitment to art’s transformative power remains firm, and she is eager to work in new mediums.

Seeing through Seeing through Deliverance. Portrait of my daughter, 2023