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How is an Avlea Folk Embroidery kit born?

I've been participating in the March Meet the Maker social media prompts and one of the topics this week is "process." When I started writing the post, I realized it might be interesting to those of you who stitch my folk embroidery kits to learn how I come up with each of my folk embroidery cross stitch patterns and kits. To take a cross stitch idea from a vague concept to a kit is a lengthy journey, taking anywhere from six months to two years. I release at least one Avlea Folk Embroidery design each month and that takes a large dose of both creativity and organization! When I first began, I stitched all the samples myself, but over the last few years, some friends and Avlea customers (who have become friends!), have become my cadre of trusted sample stitchers. At any given time, there are about half a dozen pairs of hands stitching Avlea samples and this extra help has made all the difference in my being able to release more folk embroidery designs. But before the stitching, each design begins with an inspiration, a motif or border that I'm drawn to play around with and re-interpret for a new generation of stitchers.


Here's the typical route a single design takes:

My process begins with my textile resources, which are comprised of my library of vintage needlework booklets from around the world, photos friends have sent of their yiayia's or Aunty's embroideries (love these photos!), or an embroidery from my ever-growing collection of vintage folk embroidery textiles. I try to design several times a month, and on these days, I set everything else aside (email, admin, photos, etc.), which means if you've ever emailed me and I haven't responded for a couple of days, it's usually because I'm designing! I've discovered that I need a big block of time, both to really lose myself in the flow of design and because designing involves a lot of nitty-gritty detail work.


I have a "priority list" of textiles or vintage patterns so I have an idea of what I'm interested in exploring, but I can't tell you how many times I've sit down determined to work on one piece of inspiration and then switched gears in a totally different direction after seeing a little snippet of a motif that catches my eye. In the early days as a designer, I would chide myself to "stay on track," but experience has taught me to follow those glimmers wherever they lead (all of you who have enjoyed the Blue Larkspur design? That design came about when I was leafing through my vintage patterns while working on a totally different piece and saw that fabulous little floral motif and just had to run with it!).


Once I've chosen a motif or border that I want to explore, I begin by charting a small bit of it to get the feel for the structure of the design. During this part of the process, I'm looking for the teeny-tiny connections within the motif--how one stitch moved about here or there gives a leaf either a clunky or graceful line, or how a diamond shape looks with stitches added and removed. When I'm happy with the core motif, then the fun begins as I start playing with small sections of the design, adding elements, rotating motifs to see all the various connections that can be made, choosing colors, making areas smaller or larger until I have a motif that feels harmonious and compelling. At this point, the design is still just a rough section, and I'll often set it aside for a few weeks so I can see it afresh when I return. Letting the design "mull" is a huge part of my process and is why I'm typically working on anywhere from 12-24 designs at any given time. I see a design with entirely new eyes when I've let it naturally drift to the back of my mind and I'm continually surprised how I see a solution to a repeating element or a corner once I "forget" about the design--it's like my mind needs to erase the connections I first saw so that I can uncover the next layer of connections within the design. Everything is there, it's just a matter of my being able to see it and pull out the things about the design that I want to emphasize.


When I next work on the design, I'll focus on the layout, experimenting with how the design looks best combined with creating a layout that's reasonable to stitch. Since my weakness is super elaborate designs, this is sometimes the hardest part! But, I like the creative challenge of taking a large, complex design and reinterpreting it into a distilled form that is still beautiful and compelling, making it accessible to a wide group of stitchers. I want stitchers of all levels--from the "first cross stitch ever" beginner to the stitcher with years of expertise--to enjoy the beauty and wonder of folk embroidery, so it's important to me to offer a lots of sizes and levels of complexity.


When I feel the design layout, size, and stitch count is what it needs to be, I'll move onto choosing an initial color palette and start playing around with various shadings, contrasts, and combinations. Sometimes, choosing the color palette is really easy, and other times, I can work on this for months. Yes, months! I'm currently working on the color palette for a design inspired by a Greek island cushion cover from the 1700s since last fall and I still haven't settled on something that really sings. When the colors are right, the only way I know to describe that is the design "singing"--there's a visual harmony that has a quality of awe similar to how music can sound. It's a moving experience and once I know it's right, I just know (and, maybe it sounds a little bit weird, but some designs even make me tear up when I get the colors right). A good example of this is a table runner I'm currently stitching that has the most glorious peacocks and was inspired by a vintage Greek pattern (photo left). The original was stitched in black, red, and gold and while it was striking, it somehow seemed flat. We had recently gotten in the DMC 3808 turquoise ultra very dk and I just couldn't keep my eyes off the color--it made me happy every time I looked at the floss wall--so I decided to swap out the black for the deep turquoise and suddenly, there was that feeling of singing. I've been stitching it the last few weeks and I love the richness of this shade and how it has looks both saturated and glowy.



After the design, layout, and color palette are finalized, I stitch a small section of it with my called for fabric and floss so I can see if everything works together. Sometimes the floss palette I've chosen doesn't work with the fabric I thought I would, or maybe one color needs to be brightened up a bit or changed out to something that coordinates with the fabric better. Once that's done, either myself or one my wonderful sample stitchers will stitch the sample. The sample stitching can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on the complexity of the design and how much time each of us has. This is part of why I try to have at least a dozen designs going at any time--I never want anyone to feel any pressure when they stitch so by having multiple projects in process, something's almost always ready to be finished. When the stitching is completed and the sample stitcher has "proofed" the pattern and discovered any errors, I edit the pattern. Next, I finish the sample by working a drawn thread, sewing it into a cushion cover, wall hanging, or drawstring bag, taking measurements along the way and writing any additional instructions.


Once the sample is completely finished, I think about how I want to photograph it and this is another part of the creative process--what story do I want the photos to tell? What kind of light sets off this design best? How would an Avlea stitcher want to use this piece? I came late in life to photography and really struggled with it in the early years of being a designer, but I've come to deeply appreciate how photos help me communicate my creative vision through light, staging props, and where I position the embroidery (on a table, in a chair, etc). I play around with the photo shoot setup, choosing different things like plants or candlesticks or old glassware to set off the design and if the weather's good, I take photos. If the weather's gloomy (So. Much. Of. The. Time.), then I keep everything laid out and start watching the weather. This past winter, my husband and I took an unused sunporch in our house and turned it into a photo studio which has been a gamechanger for me: if you've ever been a sewist who had to set up and take down your sewing machine every time you sewed, you know what I mean. There's just an ease and immediacy to being able to be creative when your space is set up and ready to go. I've been able to do more reels and short videos because now I have great natural light and a table dedicated for this purpose.



Once the photos are done, I choose the cover image and then the photo along with the edited charts, pattern info, and any specialized instructions goes off to our wonderful graphic designer, Kristen, who never ceases to amaze me with how quickly she turns things around and how she intuits the look I'm going for. I then proofread the finished pattern and when it's correct, we start printing patterns on our trusty printer (we've named her Iris for the Greek goddess of the rainbow).


When the patterns are ready, Pamela makes a pattern template for the fabric and starts cutting fabric. The fabric's raw edges are then serged and it's folded and placed on our big work table. Pamela winds the floss and then combines it with the fabric, pattern, and needlecard to create kits. While she's making the first batch of kits, I'm adding the new design to the website (both physical kit and download pattern), uploading photos, making reels, and creating any needed how-to videos which can be a big task: for example, the first four Folk Flourishes kits have involved 28 samples and a dozen videos and reels. One of the final steps is to showcase the new release in the weekly email and after that, we hope that orders come in! Thankfully, they usually do, and we start packaging and shipping orders the following Monday.


There you have it--the entire journey of an Avlea Folk Embroidery design from my mind to your hands!

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3 Comments


A true art and many hours of prep so you can share it with us. I sure would love to be one of your stitchers.

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Thank you!

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Very very interesting! Thank you for taking the time to describe your process. I enjoyed reading it very much!

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