I hope everyone had an amazing holiday! I spent the run up to the holiday making a bunch of gifts for people but Christmas itself was lovely and quiet.
I finished this piece about a month ago but I’ve been sitting on all the photos so I could write it up properly! It was kind of a trial and error piece but I really loved the end results – it represents a real departure from stuff I was making even two years ago.
I had blogged about the start of the design awhile back, so those of you who read that can see it ended up in a reasonably different direction. I had originally envisioned this as an entry for Woodlawn and had decided to make something very technical and by the book that needlework judges would like. I made several different versions of each of the major pieces (the roof, the towers, etc) and just couldn’t land on something technical that I also liked. I ended up liking this semi-abstract version of the lighthouse building better. It combines recycled sari silks and sea glass, along with some Oliver Twist Fibres lurex ribbons for color. In the end, I entered it into several juried shows for the spring but not Woodlawn. I just feel that it wasn’t the sort of piece that they were probably looking for and I was happier to create what I felt was a stronger piece by the end of the process.
I started with this sample for the rock and shell piles and liked the idea a lot, but I ended up shifting the colors to match the building better for the final. I really loved the version I got to for the big piece, even if they were a pain to sew in. I learned a ton about mosaic glue during this project as well, as well as the possibilities for cut cork bits.
I had sampled lots of ways to decorate the piece of glass for the moon but left it plain in the final version. It was so stunning and detailed on it’s own that I didn’t want to detract from that. My friend Ginger found the moon glass on the ground while we were walking our dogs together!
As always, if I had to do it over I’d do many things differently, but I was incredibly happy with my unexpected results. I never really worry about if other people like what I make as long as I would be happy to live with it, and this is one I will definitely be happy to get framed and put up on my wall.
This was sort of a mixed work week because I’m teaching my kantha scrap flower class tomorrow, so I’ve been busy both prepping samples and class stuff as well as ordering supplies and playing with mockups for my next piece. I feel like all of the textile artists I know spend a lot of time posting pretty pictures of finished things but we don’t often show the messy process pictures or what we actually do all day.
I’m working on this piece featuring a pile lighthouse, which are typical of the Chesapeake bay region. I was inspired by a tour of the one at the St. Michaels Maritime museum, which has outfitted theirs evocatively to give you a sense of what living in one alone completely surrounded by water would be like. I think it would have been beautiful, incredibly lonely and also occasionally dangerous (apparently falling through the trap door into the water below was a regular cause of serious injury and death). It sounds like many keepers took up various hand crafts to pass the time, so it felt like an appropriate subject for the “Craft As Comfort” show theme.
I sort of accidentally ended up with a perfect collection of found objects for this piece, and then had more added in by other female artist friends as I started to talk about it more. The seaglass came from my friend Ginger who does oyster shell art and the seashells were collection on a beach in Greece 20 years ago by my friend Angela. She mailed me her whole collection all the way from the Lake District! The crowing achievement was the sea glass moon, which Ginger slipped into my jacket pocket on a dog walk as a surprise. Since the moon will make it a night scene, I decided to experiment with using sewable LED circuits to make the lighthouse tower actually light up. I’m going to combine the found objects with classic stumpwork techniques and threads to make a huge fusion piece. After all of these tests this week on the to scale printout I ended up sourcing some tiny pieces of driftwood for the door, which I think will work better.
The next step is to set up a huge slate frame next week which I am really not looking forward to. I am really slow at setting up even small slate frames and this one will be a 24 inch one! Thank goodness for audiobooks. I’ve been totally engrossed in The Peripheral by William Gibson for the past week and have the sequel ready to go.
I’m teaching my 3D kantha scrap flower class all day tomorrow, so I also spent the week making a second set of petals. These are all finished now and I will cut them out in class and wrap the stem so the students can see how it all works. People are usually the most nervous about the part where you take scissors to your work, but it’s usually the easiest part when you see it done once. I also put together materials and made handouts for everyone, so I was pretty tired by the end of the week! I have a birthday party to go to tomorrow after I’m done teaching and I’m contemplating sleeping all day Sunday after that.
I got through a lot of tv and audiobooks working on this project, but it’s finally finished! It’s definitely a style departure from my last piece but I’m really happy with the outcome.
I experimented with some new techniques on this one, including using Mistyfuse to make a pretty abstract background that would reflect the murky fall pond layers – but in a pretty way. I started with one layer of silk ribbons, then added another layer of Mistyfuse and organza on top of it. It still wasn’t dark enough for my taste at that point, so I added yet another layer of Mistyfuse/organza to get to the colors that I wanted. At this point I had basically obscured my pattern transfer and ended up tacking and tracing on top to add it back in. I am happy with how it came out though!
I used a huge range of threads for this, with most coming from stash. My Oliver Twist variegated collection got a good workout, but I also used some historic replica threads and some thicker ones that were almost like yarn to mix up the textures. In the end I made 17 pieces of needlelace and 22 flower petals for this project that only measures 5 by 5 inches.
I ended up going with a different mat color than this entirely when framing, but it was useful to try out some different options before I actually went to the framer. In the end I went for a dark gold frame and a brown fabric mat with a pinkish tint to it, with a wider area than this highlighted so the background is more of a feature. I think it lets everything breathe a bit more and shows off the background I spent so much time on.
This is going to an exhibit at a local museum in a few weeks, so I’ll be happy to see it framed and finished! Sadly it will have to live somewhere else until December when I get it back from the show. In the meantime I started brainstorming my next project, and might have even gotten braved and purchased some sewable electrical circuits…
It’s been raining and cold here for about four days now, which means I’ve been spending lots of cozy time in the studio with the dogs and the space heater. It thankfully enabled me to get a lot done over the past few days, so I thought I’d catch y’all up here.
After my Fall Forest class at Denise’s shop I got a ton of questions from students about what the next steps for stumpwork beginners might be. I suggested 3D flowers and lots of them wanted to return for it, so I’ll be teaching that in November. Since we wanted to keep it really simple, I spent a bunch of time thinking about how to design a fun flower that wouldn’t require a ton of extra decoration. I also wanted to show students how to reuse textiles or how to repurpose textiles that they may have scraps of.
I ended up basing my sample around a piece of kantha cloth that I had in my stash. I loved using the petal shape as a viewfinder to pick out all of the different micro patterns and looks within the fabric! We’re using kantha scraps from Skippy Cotton for the class, but this would work just as well with a Liberty style print fabric or any other small scale print.
I’m getting close to the end of the piece making phase of this project, which is a bunch of fall colored waterlilies. I made 22 tiny flower petals in addition to these, so I’m only 8 or so waterlilies from being able to put it all together. I used a lot of Soie Gobelin mixed in with thicker threads because I liked the textures it made, but it really stretched the whole process out in terms of time. I hate showing these kinds of progress pictures sometimes because they are so messy, but all raised embroidery projects go through that ugly spaghetti phase for a bit when they have tons of needlelace pieces. I really need to hurry up and finished this one though or I’ll miss the date for the show! I’ve only got two weeks left to finish it.
Since I’ve still got a lot of needlelace to go, does anyone out there have any good tv, podcast or audiobook recommendations? I feel like I’ve watched everything out there at this point and would love to make some new discoveries.
I submitted my final paperwork this week and also found out that I passed my year long raised embroidery certificate this week. I also had it confirmed that I will be a faculty artist at a museum starting this winter, so I’m sort of worried that next week is all downhill from here!
I did want to take some time to write in detail about the program, in part because I feel like there isn’t a lot of public information about there about any of these embroidery education options. While they are all based in the UK, they all now offer virtual options which is basically required if you’re an American and can’t go to a four year art school/move to London to join the Future Tutor program. So without further ado, here’s my American perspective on things as well as some photos of everything I made through the program. As always this represents my experience and results – someone else may have a different one.
I came in with a lot of technical skills in embroidery and the drive to make a real job transition. My job basically died the first week of the covid lockdowns and I had a serious chat with myself about my future. I asked myself if I were to die in six months if I would have been happy with my job and my life and got a resounding ”NO” back. I was privileged enough to have enough savings to take some time off work so I decided to go back to school and see if this embroidery thing could become a reality.
I’d dabbled in some RSN classes, and while I’d had several friends be very successful with them, also knew that I wanted more design work than they offered. I also wanted a program that would give me enough business skills to work right away, at least part time. If you’re not in the UK, the easiest way to do this is through the School of Stitched Textiles.
Module One asks you to choose an artist and essentially convert or re-design some of their work into student/teaching samples. I picked Kay Nielsen. These are pretty straightforward (although simplified) versions of some of his fairy tale illustrations and I was extremely happy with how they all turned out! As you can see, they focused on simple raised elements to create a complete design. You also had to cost everything out as if it were a kit, which was extremely useful when I got hired to teach the tree sampler.
Module Two is essentially art and design related. You take photos and convert them to abstract patterns and learn how to design with various software programs. I ended up not using any for my final project because I had such a strong idea of what I wanted to do, but you could carry them through to other modules if you wanted to.
Module Three focused on figures, from making heads and hands onto a complete figure. You get two modules at a time so I actually completed my final project and then came back to these – I’ve always found stumpwork figures a little creepy and was not excited about having to make a bunch of them. I ended up really liking my final project for this module though!
Since I’d already made my Mardi Gras float at this point, I choose a costume from another female Mardi Gras artist for my final figure. This is a butterfly by Carlotta Bonnecaze. I had so much fun making her little needlelace outfit!
I spent nearly five months working on my final project, which came out to about 130 hours. It’s based on a original Mardi Gras float design by Jennie Wilde and had 82 handmade pieces to it. I should point out that this was likely far above the expectations of the program – many of the final projects they showed as samples were similar in complexity to my module one samples. I wanted to make a really big piece with some juried shows in mind and I really like to build elaborate things with lots of layers. I appreciate that the program has lots of room for people to do their own thing as long as it meets the brief.
So I spent the year making a lot of pretty stuff, but what did it get me? Again, this is the results may vary part. In my case, a lot! I’m actually booked for teaching through Spring of 2023 now, partly as an artist faculty member at a regional museum. I’ve entered juried art shows. I was featured in the Inspirations Magazine newsletter ”All Stitched Up”. I have inquires about private students and am going to get a private studio setup once I have enough projects to offer people. Basically, I have a job!
While the program obviously focuses on technical skills, I would say it’s main focus is helping you establish a design point of view. I never felt like my tutor was trying to make me into a cookie cutter embroiderer. All of her suggestions for improvements were in line with making sure my work still looked and felt like my unique vision. The business skills covered were incredibly useful and the fact that some of my samples translated to paid classes was icing on the cake.
I’m planning to start the Master Practitioner course this autumn to work on developing more gallery pieces with feedback to submit to juried shows! Until then I’m taking six weeks off to recharge and work on more student samples for my home teaching studio and also finalize some other local teaching gigs.
I really hope this is helpful to some of you out there who are looking at making choices about your needlework education! There are way more programs out there then when I started looking at this a few years ago, including a new one that SFSNAD is opening up soon. I really wanted to make this post to encourage people to go for it if you’re determined enough! Art and a embroidery certification doesn’t have to be something you wait to do when you retire. If anyone has any questions for me about the program, just drop them in the comments. I’ll be happy to answer!
I’ve been really busy with work this week, but I wanted to leave a quick update about some upcoming classes that I am really excited about teaching this upcoming autumn. It’s hard to think about cooler weather projects (much less Christmas) with this heat wave, but it’ll be here before we all know it.
First up is this Fall Forest sampler that I’ll be teaching! This is going to be a slightly unconventional (but seriously fun) class format where I teach you three basic raised stitches and then you get to play with a pile of funky and high-end threads and fibers to make your own forest. It’s an easy and fun way to maybe try out some new threads that you’ve never explored before and make a pretty project for your wall just in time for cooler weather. It also makes a nice little framed project, but you could just as easily frame it in a hoop.
I know that absolutely no one wants to think about Christmas yet (including me) but I suspect this one will sell out fast so I’m putting it up here anyway. I don’t have final dates yet, but it will run in two sessions sometime around Halloween. You’ll learn how to make basic wired petals and leaves as well as lots of fun ways to decorate them! The second class will focus on simple ornament finishing, including learning to make your own twisted cord. This is a fun introduction to stumpwork Christmas ornaments and can be used to pretty much make any flower you want in the future.
Both of these classes will be run at Denise’s Needlework in St. Michaels, Maryland. Her shop has an amazing selection of threads and is a great shopping destination, and the adorable town of St. Michaels is worth a trip on it’s own. For more information about dates and pricing, check out the classes page.
I am considering running a Zoom version of some of these in the future as well if there’s enough interest, so if you’d like to take it but aren’t local make sure to let me know! If there’s a small group interested I will come up with some options.
This small project was designed to focus on raised circles. My original inspiration was from this Kay Neilsen piece, but replicating the whole thing would have been way too advanced for a student size project.
Our amazing LNS (Denise’s Needlework in St. Michael’s) focuses on needlepoint, which means that I often find different brands and types of thread there than I might at a shop that focuses on surface embroidery. I had discovered Frosty Rays by Rainbow Gallery there and used it in my tree sampler earlier in the year, but I then realized that I could use the mesh ribbon with a metallic core for a whole new effect in this piece. I wrapped wooden beads in Au Ver a Soie silk and then wrapped them with contrasting Frosty Rays ribbons. Each cabbage was padded with a range of materials from toy stuffing to dryer lint to show the effect of different stuffing options. The background was quickly sponge painted and my leftover straw silk (my other new favorite fiber discovery this year) went into the cottage roof.
I carved the tiny fence out of balsawood sticks and made the windows out of mica, although I couldn’t find the sparkly real mica that I’ve used in luxury stumpwork kits out of the UK before. It felt plastic-like and not nice, but my internet search skills didn’t turn up much. If you know where to get real mica sheets in the US, please leave it in the comments!
I think this would be a great project for a class, but I also might take another stab a the full illustration someday. Her outfit and the showy chicken might be really fun to work on.
I’m usually someone who maps everything out in detail ahead of time, so this simple sampler was a successful experiment in being spontaneous. I headed down to my local needlework shop and grabbed a bunch of autumnal threads that appealed to me and assumed I would make something work. The final mix was a blend of Silk Road Straw Silk, Planet Earth silk, and Vineyard silks in different thicknesses and tones. Extra texture was added with Frosty Rays ribbons, which I couched down using their own metallic thread core.
This piece is a great exercise in simplicity since it uses three basic stitches: couching, raised chain band and raised stem band. The base was made with overtwisting, which is easy but requires a really twisty silk like Soie Ovale. It’s in Alison Cole’s Stumpwork Masterclass book for those of you who want to look it up! I may use this as a fall class sampler this upcoming year, as it’s a great introduction to basic stitches and how they can transform themselves into real art.
As a bonus, Inspirations Studios liked it too! They featured it in their newsletter earlier this year.