Years ago, when I was first exploring surface embroidery, I used to go to the downtown library and pour over old needlework books, often requesting them from the stacks because they hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. I loved the old motifs, but in order to create an embroidery, I had to transfer the design to fabric with a pencil and a lightbox, which was time-consuming and kind of frustrating because I couldn’t always get the small details onto the fabric.
When I designed the first Avlea embroidery hoop kit (Pennsylvania Posy), I used this same method to test the design, after which I had a 6x6” rubber stamp made. I hand stamped every piece of fabric and, while that seemed a lot faster than marking with pencil, it still left a lot to be desired. When my Robert Kaufman rep mentioned digital printing, I was all ears. And, when that first bolt of Kona cotton arrived with the designs PERFECTLY printed on the fabric, I practically swooned with excitement!
A few months later, I wanted to come up with a larger embroidery project for folks who were ready to graduate from the smaller kits, but I wanted a project that would have the same stitches, same skill level, and be easy, fast, and beginner-friendly. My cross stitch cushion kits were starting to pick up steam, so I thought, “Why not embroidered cushion kits?” I had been using the Kaufman Essex cotton/linen for cushion backing kits, and I thought it would be perfect to print embroidery designs on. It did take me a couple of tries to get the design size right—my initial 14x14 designs were simply TOO huge and I finally settled on the 10x10 design area in an 18x18” piece of Essex. Athenian Palmette was the first design available, after which Myra Medallions and Scottish Rose joined the lineup. Georgian Rose just released last week and I’ve been delighted to see how many of you are finding these cushion kits as compelling as I do!
Speaking of cushions, Pamela (my amazing workshop assistant), just finished stitching the Ukrainian CrissCross design as a cushion with Appleton’s crewel wools. She’s calling it a “ski sweater for your pillow” and I just love that! This design has a really unique inspiration: for the last decade, I’ve worked with a machine embroiderer in Ukraine who made specialty crosses for my vestment work, and a few years ago, Ivan sent one of my orders wrapped in a plastic shopping bag that had this old Ukrainian folk embroidery design printed on it. It just amazed me that embroidery was so interwoven with Ukrainian culture that it would be printed on something as disposable as a plastic bag and I just had to chart this fabulous example of Ukrainian folk embroidery. I’ll sew up Pamela’s cushion and take photos this coming week so that kit will be available very soon.
Last Friday, I treated myself to an extra-long design session and finally had a creative break-through on a design I’ve been working on for about three months. As most of you know, seven of my designs were picked up by Herrschners and it was no great surprise that the Arcadian Peony table runner design is their top-selling Avlea kit (it’s fabulous to think that so many people love this design as much as I do!). I think a lot of us love that we can stitch something like a table runner that we can see every day—I’ve got one on my entryway table, one on my dining room sideboard, and then several more scattered about the living room. Because I definitely subscribe to the Greek notion that “No table should go uncovered!” So, for this new table runner, I began with the old Milanese Floral design because I’ve long thought it wasn’t all it could be. The original motif from a vintage Greek needlework booklet was worked in a black/red/gold colorway that felt heavy and clunky. I started by looking at each motif stitch by stitch and added in four more colors, which increased the vibrancy and nuance of the design. That alone took me over a month as I kept changing the palette, swapping out floss cones, and figuring out a really gorgeous palette (if you’re wondering, I ended up with shades of rosewood and garnet, along with 520 fern green dark and some golden olive). Next up was adding an outer border, which is tricky to design so that it complements but doesn’t overwhelm the floral motifs. As I was playing around with it, it reminded me of one of those intricate wrought iron fences that surround European gardens and I suddenly realized this design needed a super intricate outer border around the entire perimeter, not just at both ends as if often seen with older designs (old designs often don’t have corners, most likely because without charting software, it’s tricky to mirror corner motifs). Voila! As soon as I added that lavish outer border, the design just became a riot of color and motifs, so my working title is Tuscan Garden and I can’t wait to start stitching it. I’m hoping to release it just prior to the HH Americas show, so look for this one in late spring.
The most challenging part of my week was Monday morning when I was diagnosed with another stress fracture in my left foot. I had one in my right foot a few years ago and waited so long to treat it, that I spent ten weeks in one of those annoying walking boots. This time, I decided to try learning from my previous mistake and get it seen right away. So glad I did as my doctor is hopeful we can get this one healed up in a few weeks. While it’s keeping me from skiing (drat! just as I was starting to get the hang of things!), it is allowing me a lot of stitching time for my required rest periods each day. As they say, there’s a silver lining behind every cloud! I’ll be hemming the new Pomona’s Grove and Latvian Rose (more on those next week), as well as finishing up the little poppy design below and then diving into Tuscan Garden. As usual, lots of great stitching ahead!