Forum Posts

kristamwest
Jul 22, 2022
In Ask
I'm partnering with Help Heal the Vets, a charitable organization that teaches handcrafts as therapy to US veterans (they call it the "therapy not in a bottle"--love that!). One of the things I've thought about doing involves the reusable poly mailer that we ship orders in: I'm thinking of including a shipping label so that an Avlea customer can re-use the poly mailer to send craft donations to Help Heal the Vets, but I've got some questions and would really value your feedback: Type of donations? If this idea appeals to you, what kind of things would you envision sending to HHTV? Maybe leftover floss, craft projects you're cleaning out, extra counted thread fabric, etc.? Shipping? To begin with, I would include a flier with the return shipping address, but not a prepaid shipping label as I can't swing that expense just yet. Would it be a big barrier for you to drop off your donation at a local post office and pay First Class postage? First Class postage under 15 ounces is less than $5, so it's not a huge shipping cost, but I'd like to know if that's a barrier and we should wait to implement this until I can provide a pre-paid shipping label. If you have a kitchen scale, I could put in a chart of what the cost is up to 15 ounces and you could affix stamps to the package and hand it off to your local postal carrier. Other thoughts? Things I might have missed? Your ideas? I've been searching for a charitable organization to partner with and I think Help Heal the Vets is really amazing because they are putting the latest occupational therapy research into practice to help heal those traumatized by war by teaching them handcrafts as a therapeutic tool they can use virtually anytime with no side effects. But, I want to make sure this partnership is sustainable which is why I value any feedback you have! Thank you!
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kristamwest
Jun 30, 2022
In Notes from the Workshop
I returned a few days ago from the H+H Americas trade show, a gathering of exhibitors and attendees who work in the soft crafts industry, which includes local yarn shops, local fabric shops, cross stitch designers (such as yours truly!), quilt designers, quilt shops, knitwear designers, yarn wholesalers, small-batch dyers, distributors, and fabric wholesalers. I was a bit uncertain if my admittedly unique cross stitch designs and embroidery hoop kits would be a good fit but it sounded like such a fabulous creative environment that I took a leap of faith, bought a booth, designed a display, and packed my bags. And, I was so glad I did! To say that I will look back on this week as a turning point for Avlea is an understatement. When I began Avlea four years ago, I initially thought I would produce a few cross stitch patterns with the hopes that it would give me something to do when I retired (and justify my copious purchases of embroidery supplies!). What took me completely by surprise was how much demand there was for embroidery KITS. Until I opened Avlea, I had never bought an embroidery kit in my life because I always wanted to put everything together myself, something that came easily to me having spent decades working as a professional tailor and doing a LOT of fabric purchasing. Doing the math of how much fabric I needed, feeling the hand of the fabric to determine quality, choosing flosses, all of this seemed easy to me, but I quickly realized that this was a high bar for a lot of folks wanting to join the crafting world--many had never been in a fabric shop, much less learned how to feel the "hand" of a fabric or choose a floss. The myriad options for floss, fabrics, and patterns, rather than being creatively inspiring, could be overwhelming for new stitchers or those short on time, and I suddenly realized that I could help by offering a "curated" stitching experience with really great fabrics, easy-to-use patterns, and good floss. So, my attention broadened and I became just as interested in creating a really great cross stitch or embroidery kit as I was in creating historically-inspired patterns. Because I wanted to throw the doors to stitching WIDE OPEN. Well, it turns out that shops--all kinds of shops, such as fabric shops, local bookstores, yarn shops, downtown boutique-y shops, and even needlework shops--love kits! Cross stitch and embroidery kits allow a shop, say a bookstore, to offer an experience to their customers without having to invest in a bunch of stand-alone supplies like expensive floss displays or yards and yards of specialty fabrics. Kits are convenient not only for stitchers, but for small business owners, too. I began offering Avlea kits on Faire in December 2020 and was simply amazed at the wholesale orders that began to come in. And, this interest in my kits sparked creativity in other directions, too--the articles I've written for Taproot magazine? Well, those came about because Taproot placed an order for my embroidery hoop kits the first month I was on Faire. And, here's where the magic really began to happen--the wholesale orders helped increase the quantity of fabrics and flosses I was purchasing from my suppliers, which reduced prices across the board, both for my wholesale customers, and those who purchased from the Avlea website. I realized that retail and wholesale customers worked together to create a better, less expensive kit for EVERYONE. Mission accomplished! That's why I decided to exhibit a booth at the H+H Americas show. I thought I would get to meet shop owners I was already working with as well as partner with some new shops who wanted to offer Avlea kits. And, all of that certainly happened, but here are a few other things that happened that were surprising, inspiring, and just all around interesting: Industry trends: I got to go to a presentation by one of the industry trends experts at DMC and it was so interesting and informative. She began with sharing about all the big-picture things going on in the world and then moved onto sharing about home decor, fashion, and textile industry trends such as the color palettes that are upcoming. Grandmillenial, granny chic, coastal granny--all of these decor trends are really big and expected to last for quite awhile. All I can say, is hallelujah! because that minimalist stuff never worked for me ;) Social media: I went to another presentation on social media and I entered with a sigh, thinking "OK, what overwhelming social media thing do I need to do next?" I was pleasantly surprised to find that my quirky little Instagram system (one daily alarm clock and one Google Keep note) was working just fine. Whew! (for now....) Community: it seemed everywhere I turned, there were industry experts, shop owners, and other exhibitors talking about how important community is in our industry. Vickie Howell of YarnYAY! subscription box fame put to me like this: "Rising tides lift all boats" and I got to see this in action. If I make a great kit, then a shop has a great kit to sell, they get known in their local area as being a great place to find great things, then their local area full of other small businesses gets known as a great area to shop and visit (oh, and some of those folks in their shops want more great Avlea and they come to the website and that in turn helps me design more things for more shops. Circle of life, baby!). When we all work together, we all benefit. I was so thrilled/amazed/blown away/inspired/ALL the words by this! I've long held that generosity begets generosity, but here I was seeing it in ACTION and it was simply the best part of being at H+H. Partnerships: you could have knocked me over with a feather when one of the reps for Herrschners came to my booth and wanted to discuss partnering together on an exclusive design! Shops asked if they could have exclusive colorways (why not?) and then on the final day, I met Vickie Howell of YarnYAY! and I'm now working on a mini-kit project for her September box. Personally, I find these partnerships really creatively inspiring because they come with limitations such as price point, kit weight, etc and I like working within new constraints. That might sound weird, but I grow as a designer when I've got to design a pattern with a specific number of stitches or a certain yardage of floss and I have to work in combinations or ways that are new to me--this is REALLY good as a designer to be stretched in these ways. So, I'm looking forward to how these new partnerships will help me grow as a designer. Embroidery hoop kits: honestly, I was concerned my embroidery hoop kits had had their day, but, to my great surprise, they were the most popular thing at my booth. I think a lot of folks find counted thread a bit intimidating (sigh..it's EASY--just watch the video!), but they know what to expect with an embroidery hoop kit. There was so much interest that I've begun work on two new designs, one aimed at a beginner who wants a "sophisticated and classy" kit (one shop owner lamented: "Do you know how hard it is for a 50-year-old woman who wants to get back into embroidery and the only beginner kits have baby elephants?!"), and the other a bit more complex like my other designs. Oh, and I'm going to be switching out the bamboo hoops in my kits for better-quality beechwood (and best of all, it won't raise the price more than a couple of dollars!). These are just the highlights as I know everything I learned and saw and experienced at H+H will continue to inform my work for months to come. I'll continue to post more info as projects begin and get underway, so watch for those upcoming posts! With so much gratitude for this amazing industry, Krista
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kristamwest
Jun 07, 2022
In Tips & Tricks
I'll be releasing designs with the Appleton's Crewel Wools alongside my regular DMC kits, but for those of you who want to use the Appleton's Crewel Wools for existing Avlea designs, here's a list of the designs I think will work best. The crewel wool is a bit different than DMC as it entirely "fills" the stitch area, which creates less stitch definition but way more texture (think: velvet). So, I've discovered that the designs that work best with Appleton's are those with a more openwork design and less solid fill stitch areas. Aegean Octagon--this would look fabulous worked as a square cushion cover with the Appleton's Astra Balkan Diamond-and-Arrow--either large square version or BitKit version Baltic Scroll BitKit Salerno Tile--this would also look fabulous worked as a square cushion cover Celestial Peacocks Cycladean Scrolls Delphian Cornflower--this one is on my list to offer in both DMC and Appleton's, so if you're interested in sample stitching it, please let me know! Melianthus Border Roman Poppy Star of Skyros--the square version would be a beautiful cushion cover
Designs best for Appleton's Crewel Wools content media
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kristamwest
May 26, 2022
In Notes from the Workshop
The last few weeks have been really busy with wrapping up the bathroom remodel. I've still got to make curtains (see the fabric I chose in my IG post) and find towels I like (sigh...), but it's really come together and I honestly think this is one of the greatest transformations in the house yet, and that's saying something! We were able to keep the original 100-year-old tub and we used historically-accurate arabesque and penny tile with gray grout. Very excited to finally have the bathroom back! I'll post more pics when I've got the curtains done and the artwork hung (we have a seascape that will go above the tub). The bathroom project got me thinking about embroidered borders for curtains, so I'm beginning work on a design that will feature 3-4 borders that would be particulary good for curtains. I want to make this a really "beefy" pattern, so I want at least 3 borders, each of which will have a very different feel. Finishing: I've gotten through most of the finishing I needed to do and that really creatively "unstuck" me! I got Astra hemmed and photographed (OK, it did take me 3 separate tries to get the light right!), the new Byzantine Band Sampler framed (see below; I liked it so much that I hung it up next to my cutting table). I sewed the new BitBag sample (using one of the borders from the Byzantine Band Sampler) and will do a how-to video sometime in the next month or so and release those along with the Byzantine Band Sampler. Then, the tour de force: I finished the Byzantine Beasts Quiet book! It looks so sweet and I'm really happy with it. I was on a sewing roll, so I even made my granddaughter two little summer dresses. I felt like a Finishing Rock Star! I finally got some time this past week to design. I love owning a small business, but I found myself just kind of burned out on admin and all the "responsible person"-type stuff and knew I needed a few long design days where I can go down the rabbit hole of folk embroidery (my family puts food in front of me so I remember to eat because I will literally design for 10-plus hours if allowed!). I started on Tuesday, got some more design work done last night (including the vintage piece shown below), and am planning on spending all day tomorrow on design. I've struggled with keeping all my design work organized in a "big picture" way, but I just found some inexpensive room dividers with fabric panels that I'm going to set up in the workshop as a Design Wall so I can see everything I've got in process. As I'm designing, I'm finding myself drawn to larger designs right now--larger squares, more intricate designs, more outlining, etc. In the early days of Avlea, I did a lot of smaller kits just to get folk embroidery out there in the world, but I'm inspired now to go into the world of folk embroidery in a deeper way especially as it seems I'm not the only one who really enjoys these old, complex patterns. The vintage table square below completely captivated me--it's got these stylized roses/peonies in each corner and then this simple little border and the whole effect is so airy and graceful. I thought about changing up the palette to something more modern, but I really like the original color palette and will probably stick with it because it really works (3787 brown-grey, 355 terra cotta, 806 wedgwood blue, & 3347 fern green). Appleton's update: I'm almost done with the Santorini Stars cushion cover in the Appleton's crewel wools and I'm completely charmed by this wool! It gives a very different effect than DMC floss and has greater loft, fill, and a softer yet saturated color feel. It's especially great for cushion covers as it gives them an almost velvet feel which is really cozy. My first order just arrived and I'm so excited! I should have them on the website in about a week or so as I'll be offering Appleton's in kits and as individual skeins for $2/each (each skein has 27m/29yds, single ply; in other words, you do not separate it like DMC). I did about lose my mind doing the math, though (euros to dollar, metres to yards, single strand compared to DMC 6-strand--So. Much. Math!) Ukrainian embroidery: I just acquired a beautiful Ukrainian icon scarf (kind of like a table runner with an embroidered design at either end; these are draped over icons in Ukrainan homes). While the color palette is extremely 1970s (the orange is blinding!), the design is really gorgeous and I'll be making it into a large border (similar to Corinthian Bridal Shawl) that can be used as a cushion cover, double-ended table runner/icon scarf, or as a table runner with the design worked horizontally. I've had more folks asking about Ukrainian designs and I think this will be a gorgeous one. H+H Show: Pamela and I spent this morning getting packed for the H+H Americas trade show in a few weeks to make sure I could fit everything in my suitcase. It was kinda hilarious--we'd add a few more samples, weigh the suitcase (46.8 lbs), add a few more props (49.4 lbs; yikes, we're almost at 50 and I have visions of the airport guy making me plop it on the ground and unload it right there at the United counter!) and then I realized I could actually ship a box to the hotel where I'm staying--big sigh of relief! For those of you who are wondering, the H+H Americas show is a huge "soft crafts industry" trade show and it normally happens in Cologne, Germany, but they decided to hold one here in the US this June in Chicago. It's a place for designers like me to show our stuff to shop owners looking to carry independent designers' work (think yarn shops, needlework shops, bookstores, etc.). While the best way to support Avlea is by buying direct at the website, I've also worked to grow Avlea's wholesale clients so that folks all around the US can see Avlea kits in person in their favorite yarn or fabric shop. The H+H show is a big deal for me because 1) it's expensive, 2) it's intimidating (all those fiber-y people seeing my stuff!), and 3) there's a fear of failure (what if no one likes my designs?!). Kinda like a high school prom. I'm nervous but also really excited about this big step forward for Avlea. In the middle of all of this, I'll be taking a few days off next week to do the touch-up painting around the newly installed windows to weather-proof them before next fall. I always find myself refreshed from a totally different project like painting because I can mull over designs, design names, color palettes, and all that good stuff in the back of my mind while I work at something completely different than stitching. But as soon as that is done, I'm back to my hoop and itching to get at these new designs!
Thurs, May 26, 2022 content media
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kristamwest
May 03, 2022
In Notes from the Workshop
Time for another workshop update! I've been a little more scattered the last two weeks as we have been in the middle of two big house renovation projects--finishing the main bath and starting the kitchen remodel (I'll share pics as soon as we get just a smidge farther, but the short story is penny tile floors, arabesque tile backsplash, and Benjamin Moore's Aegean Teal or Stratton Blue, and thankfully, oh so thankfully, a new gas range that actually works). I thought I was going to have to set down my stitching in order to help with the sanding work, but my husband--normally an extremely easy-going individual--has absolutely put his foot down about me using the sander again after my hand injury of two years ago. I threw a mini-tizzy about it because I really wanted to help, but he held his ground and I finally saw reason and am now helping from the sidelines (read: acting as general contractor and bossing everyone about). Which, means I have more design and stitching time than I thought I was going to--woohoo! Here's what I'm up to: Yesterday, I did the "tech check" with the EGA (Embroiderer's Guild of America) team for my upcoming virtual lecture on May 15th. The lecture will be on Greek Orthodox vestments (for those new here, I have worked for 26 years as a specialty tailor to Greek Orthodox churches making custom-tailored vestments and paraments and that's how I got introduced to Greek folk embroidery). Their team was so fabulous that I'm getting really excited about the lecture--it's such an honor to get to hang out with the EGA! Byzantine Beasts quiet book (pic below)--well, this baby is really coming together! I finished the sample stitching (wow, do little animals stitch fast! after doing the 20K+ Cycladean Scrolls, I felt like I flew through these little guys) and now I'm just mentally puzzling over the construction method and figuring out which kind of interfacing I'm going to use. It's an interesting process--if I was going to sit down and sew this, it would only take me a few minutes because I would figure out stuff on the fly, but as soon as I have to write up pattern instructions, the whole process takes a LOT longer because I have to think through what an amateur seamstress might or might not know, what needs to be explained, what needs to be sketched, etc. I like the mental puzzle of it, it just takes a lot more time than you would think. Byzantine Band Sampler--I finished up the final outer border a couple of weeks ago and am waiting for the frame to arrive. I'll photograph it in the frame, then take it apart and rework it into a wall hanging to be able to photograph it in that variation. I'm never quite sure which kind of finishings stitchers like to see, so I try to do as many as I can with a single embroidery. Even I'm not sure how I would display this in my home--I think I want to have it as a wall hanging in my upstairs hallway, but then I might like it in the frame--who knows? New releases--since it's the beg of the month, I just released Cycladean Scrolls and Latvian Berries. Super happy with both of those! I never tire of those Greek island embroidered cushion borders and feel like I could happily work all of them for years and years. On my upcoming trip to Greece, I'm hoping to see more of these. Linen--The third color of the 30ct Greek linen arrived on Monday and I just got it up on the website--we're calling it "Parchment" (by "we", I mean Pamela and I--we just look at the fabric and make up names!). It looks almost identical to Legacy Mariner's Map and even has the same blue selvedge stripe, so it may be made in the same mill. I love this color--it has that tea-dyed warmth that feels aged and vintage-y. Riga Diamonds--Cindy Russell just sent me her simply stunning version of Riga Diamonds and I am hoping for a sunny day so I can photograph it in the living room with maximum light. She worked it as a table runner and it really sings in this format. Plus, she worked her super-amazing drawn thread hemming magic and it looks so luxe (true confession--I aspire to work drawn thread hem as well as Cindy!!). Wool, anyone? OK, this one is pretty interesting: Appleton's, the company that developed crewel wools for William Morris, reached out to me about using their wools in some of my designs (do you all know how I feel about William Morris?! his textile designs were some of my very first textile inspiration when I was in my early 20s and when I found out he was inspired by visiting a museum exhibition of Greek folk embroidery, it just felt so full circle!). I was intrigued--I love wool and have used it for decades in my tailoring work, but I've never done crewel work or needlepoint and I wasn't sure it was something you could do with cross stitch. Well, they sent me samples and I. Am. In. Love. Oh my word--the wool just works up so gorgeous on the Mikini 26ct (I'll be sharing pics on IG soon when I get a smidge more done). The texture is really interesting--the wool has more loft than DMC floss, so it fills in the stitch and sits a bit "taller", which creates more textural contrast between the stitches and the fabric, resulting in this look that's not quite cross stitch and not quite needlepoint. So, then I thought "Wait...I'm kinda late to the cross stitch world, surely someone else must be working cross stitch with crewel wools?", but after checking with a number of embroiderers I know (incluing the entire EGA tech team!), it seems like we haven't thought to combine these two media before. Can I just say that my Textile Nerd heart is overflowing??!! So, stay tuned for some Avlea kits coming up with Appleton's Wools--I've got some cushion cover designs for the fall that I think will be fabulous in this new pairing. And, now that I'm thinking of that Appleton's wool, I'm off to keep stitching the sample. I'll be back in a couple of weeks with more updates!
Tuesday May 3, 2022  content media
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kristamwest
Apr 21, 2022
In Notes from the Workshop
I wrote this article for Taproot Magazine Aug 2021 issue. It is also available as a free PDF in the Free Charts section of the website if you want to print a copy. A Stitch in Time Saves Your Mind—Handcraft as a Wellness Practice By Krista M West Many of us have discovered the joy and wonder of making something with our own two hands. We delight in the cheerful click of knitting needles or the swish of thread going through fabric, the satisfaction of wearing a handmade sweater or watching our children play in lovingly stitched garments. The vibrant hues of embroidery floss or the sturdy softness of linen draws us into the fascinating world of making, and its quality to be creatively engaging and yet eminently practical inspires us to continue building our skills and knowledge as we create beautiful things for ourselves, our homes, and our loved ones. Whether it’s knitting, quilting, cross stitch, embroidery, or crocheting, we find simple pleasure and contentment in these ancient skills and we relish taking time out of our busy lives to work at our chosen handcraft. And while the sensory delight and solid satisfaction of making can seem like reason enough to devote time and effort to these crafts, new research is uncovering an exciting connection between handcraft and well-being, making handcraft not only an enjoyable leisure activity or simple pastime, but an authentic and powerful wellness practice to rejuvenate our minds, bring health to our bodies, and strengthen us against the stresses of life’s rough patches. While we might be aware that handcraft lowers our heart rate—haven’t many of us experienced that sweet sense of calm when we sit down to knit or embroider?—a veritable symphony of positive effects are being played out in our minds and bodies when we engage in handcraft. Making things with our hands requires focus as we attend to the stitch or pattern, problem solving as we figure out how many stitches are in this repeat or how far we work that section, and cognitive engagement as we hone our skill and plan a project from beginning to end. All of this is heady work and triggers engagement in about 60% of our brains, resulting in the release of powerful neurotransmitters like dopamine (responsible for feelings of pleasure, happiness, and reward) and serotonin (associated with mood regulation and feelings of wellbeing and calm). This cascade of positive neurochemicals can help alleviate symptoms associated with certain health concerns such as hypertension, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. And in some of the newest research, handcraft even appears to slow cellular aging and reduce the sensation of pain. Throughout the human experience, we have innately gravitated towards repetitive activities such as handcraft to soothe our bodies and ground our minds, giving us a restorative respite from our daily lives, and a means of making beautiful things. The problem solving and concentration required to knit a sweater or embroider a table runner helps create a healthy brain by developing and strengthening neural pathways. It is these new and stronger pathways that help us relax, stave off dementia, prevent cognitive decline, help process trauma, and calm ruminating or racing thoughts. This idea of using our “hands and our headpieces” as a means of healing and rejuvenation has opened the door to handcraft being used as an effective therapy in the mental health community. As early as World War I, soldiers suffering from shellshock were given needlepoint and knitting to assist their recovery and the last century has seen the medical and scientific communities look to knitting, embroidery, and quilting as a means of healing minds and bodies. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, PTSD, and addiction have all been shown to improve when handcraft is used as part of the therapeutic treatment. And it isn’t just the repetitive act of making things that is powerful—the experience of making something can help sufferers of addiction create not only a scarf or a pillow, but a new identity as someone who can set goals and accomplish them, a person who can bring something positive and beautiful and radiant into the world. In addition to these positive effects on our minds, handcraft can have even deeper and more profound effects on our overall well-being by providing a sense of meaning, purpose, and identity, both individually and communally. We become “makers,” members of a passionately committed tribe that transcends divisions such as race, culture, age, and even time: as a designer of Mediterranean folk embroidery, I delve into textile traditions that are not from my culture or my customs (or even my century!), yet I find a deep sense of purpose in sharing my area of knowledge with the greater maker community, and of helping keep these textile traditions alive and flourishing. The experience of delving into one’s chosen handcraft and building increasing levels of skill is yet another aspect of wellbeing: having a sense of mastery in a chosen area has been shown in studies to have a positive effect on a person’s sense of wellbeing. In a study from Finland that focused on women handcrafters aged 19-84, this sense of mastery and skilled knowledge helped them navigate life events with more confidence, from the pressures of new motherhood, to changing jobs, moving cities, and experiencing divorce or the death of a loved one. Their handcraft was not only a constant source of comfort and self-protection during difficult times, but a means of proving to themselves they could do hard things. Because they had challenged themselves to learn lace knitting or pick up a difficult embroidery stitch, they had practice at setting goals and attaining skills and this experience transferred from their hoops and needles to their daily lives, allowing them to face challenges with greater agency and empowerment. This is one of the truly inspiring things about handcraft—that it can restore and rejuvenate us through all stages of our lives, whether its the sleep-deprivation of new motherhood or taking a new job or a pandemic. In my own life, I have stitched my way through grief and joy, stress and contentment, transition and calm, and my handcraft practice has grounded and comforted me. No matter where I found myself in the last five decades—from the angst of adolescence to the merry chaos of menopause--my embroidery hoop and knitting needles have been a reliable constant in an inconstant world. If these physical and cognitive benefits weren’t an exciting enough reason to pick up some knitting needles or grab an embroidery hoop, working with our hands has an equally potent effect on our psychological state. The soothing, repetitive movements of handcraft activate our brains in the same way meditation does and this knowledge has been a part of human experience for the better part of 2000 years. As early as the 4th century, accounts are told of Christian monastics in Egypt weaving baskets while they pray, and for centuries, Tibetan monks have made colored sand mandalas as part of their traditional meditative practice. We derive comfort from our handcraft, in part, because working with our hands is a type of active rest which can open the door to the experience of flow, of being immersed in creative activity in a way that loosens our perception of time, frees our minds from daily cares, and opens ourselves to thinking deeply about our lives. As we’re caught up in the soothing click of knitting needles or the soft swish of floss going through linen, the part of our minds given to planning, decision making, and similar executive functions quiets, and the brain system associated with deeper, interior thinking activates. Having our handcraft as a time to let our thoughts wander allows us to set aside external concerns and engage with our interior selves. As we lose ourselves in the soothing rhythm of our stitching, our hands guide us to this world of flow. And, for those who find sitting still difficult, handcraft can provide access to the benefits of meditative practice through calming repetition and focus on the softness of the cotton or the smoothness of an embroidery hoop or the precision of the needle making stitches. In a lovely paradox, handcraft not only facilitates this connection with our innermost selves but also draws us outwards by encouraging us to aesthetically connect with the world around us through our appreciation of the materials we use to create. When we make things by hand, we start noticing things like color and texture in nature and we are more attuned to their effects on our well-being—participants in one study reported that the bright colors of their quilting fabrics lifted their mood and another study showed that a handcraft session left the maker in a better, lighter, and more positive frame of mind. So whether you pick up your knitting because you just love yarn or you embroider as a respite from your busy life, each and every time you pick up a needle or hoop or thread, you are crafting not only a beautiful handmade textile or garment. You are creating a good life, a life full of health, vitality, rejuvenation, restoration, introspection, and engagement with the beauty all around us, stitch by stich, project by project. A life of wellness and delight through the work of your own two hands. Now, go make something!
A Stitch in Time Saves Your Mind content media
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kristamwest
Apr 14, 2022
In Ask
If you're wondering which is the "best" way to hoop up your embroidery while you're working, here's a quick guide of what I use along with where to find them. First, there's no "right" way to hoop up your work. You need to find a method that works for you and that method might change depending on several factors, such as: Where you are--sitting in your favorite comfy chair or in a crowded airline seat? How many hours you're going to stitch--a few minutes or a few hours? What's your budget--hoops are cheapest, but when is the right time to invest in a workstand? Here are the hooping methods I use with their pros and cons: Hardwood hoop--one of my favorite ways to stitch is the good 'ol 6" size hardwood hoop. I love how it feels in my hand and it's easy to quickly switch to a different section of the fabric. Great for your budget and great for stitching on the go--I never travel without mine. Very low-tech, but absolutely gets the job done! If I stitched 20-30 min/day, I'd only use a hardwood hoop. But, if you're going to stitch several hours a day, I'd recommend QSnaps and a Lowery workstand (below). You can buy a hardwood hoop for $8 on the Avlea website. QSnap--while I'm not a huge plastic lover, QSnaps are great for using with a workstand. QSnaps are plastic tubes that come with corner connectors and then another piece of plastic that "snaps" onto the plastic tube to hold your work in place. I love that they have interchangeable sizes, so you can take an 8x8" set and a 12x12" set, mix them up and have an 8x12" frame perfect for working larger designs, band samplers, etc. And, while I know I'm probably not supposed to, I do leave my work in the Qsnap overnight since I'm typically re-hooping at some point of my daily stitching session. They're not pretty, but they are practical, and I especially like the really great fabric tension you get with a QSnap--it makes it super easy to see the threads. QSnaps are available at Amazon. Workstand--when I developed trigger finger, I needed to put less strain on my hands without giving up stitching, so it was time to get a workstand. Workstands come in several styles--lap stands sit in your lap, workstands sit next to your chair, table stands sit on a table. After trying several styles of both lap and table stands and not loving any of them, I decided to go with the Cadillac of embroidery stands, the Lowery workstand. Lowery workstands are definitely not cheap (about $200), but they are worth absolutely every penny and I cannot recommend them highly enough if you're ready for a workstand. They are fabulous quality--my dad was a machinist and I can tell how well these are made--and they can hold either a hardwood hoop or a Qsnap, so they're really versatile. I use mine daily and love it! (True confession: my husband just made me buy a second one so I'm not lugging it back and forth around the house!) I can easily switch the stand to either my left or right side to switch stitching hands if one hand is getting fatigued. And, since the stand firmly holds my work, I can easily do two-handed stitching (pushing the needle up from the bottom of the work with the right hand and grabbing the needle from the top of the work with the left hand, or vice versa) which also prevents hand fatigue. I've had a lot of hand issues (and, I mean a lot: 5 episodes of trigger finger, 1 bone contusion, 9 cortisone injections, and 1 surgery) and my Lowery workstand has allowed me to continue experiencing the joy of stitching no matter what state my hands were in on any given day. Lowery workstands are available www.workstands.com
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kristamwest
Apr 12, 2022
In Notes from the Workshop
The last couple of weeks have been really busy here in the workshop, but some projects are beginning to wrap up and there is that delightful pause before new projects beckon so I thought I'd add a new category to The Courtyard called "Notes from the Workshop", in which I'll post from time to time on what's going on behind-the-scenes here at Avlea. Pamela, my friend, neighbor, and new workshop assistant, continues to change my life by her constant help and cheerful input (and, she's learning to figure out when I'm talking to myself and when I'm talking to her--hint: most of the time I'm talking to myself!). She's helping me get caught up on so many things and it's not only making making everything more efficient, it's freeing me up to focus on the creative side of things without having to cram design work into all the odd bits of time in my life (evenings, weekends, etc). I'm getting more down time and more time with my family and that is definitely having a positive effect on my creativity! I'm currently in the middle of the following projects: Byzantine Band Sampler (see photo below)--I finished the sample stitching and it just looked kinda meh, so I added a new outer border and now it sings! I'll be finishing it as a wall hanging, but I'm also playing around with making some smaller projects using some of the borders individually--first up is a new little drawstring bag for my eyeglasses (this will be the "re-invention" of the old BitBag kits that I offered in the very early days of Avlea). BitKit Grapevine--Rabbit Row Yarns in upstate NY (one of my lovely shop clients) asked if I could make a grapevine design for an event they have this fall, and I suddenly realized that no Mediterranean embroidery designer worth her salt would not have a grapevine design, so I got right on that! In addition to the small BitKit, I'm also going to develop it into a larger square design, but that will be awhile until I get that one stitched :) Byzantine Beasts--I'm getting ready to kit up the Byzantine Beasts quiet book project that I'll be stitching for my granddaughter's birthday in the fall. I still need to play around with the construction method, but the design is coming along so well--there are playful dogs,a little duck family, sweet butterflies, a majestic peacock, and even a cheeky parrot! I'm going to try and release it as both a quiet book and as a wall hanging and still figuring out how to put that much info into one pattern since each of those finishings requires a totally different layout of the pattern. Stay tuned for how I figure this one out! H+H Americas show--I'll be displaying Avlea Folk Embroidery at this upcoming wholesale trade show for the soft crafts industry in June in an effort to gain more wholesale clients (for those of you have asked, purchasing your Avlea items through the website is the most beneficial to me, but I want to get the word out about folk embroidery and selling through small shops is a great way to do that) . I'm not really sure what to expect as I've never done this large of a trade show, but am trying to approach this opportunity with a sense of curiosity! The biggest challenge is coming up with a display that fits in my suitcase--the event is held at a big convention center and the fees for getting a box from the loading dock to the booth are rawwwther steep ($125 per load!) so I had to come up with something small and portable. After much deliberation, I've finally designed large-scale "wall hangings" that I'm making out of PVC pipe (did you know you can "paint" them gold with a Sharpie?!) that will have cotton backdrops on to which I'll pin all the sample embroideries. So, kind of like wall hangings upon wall hangings. Let's just hope it looks as good in person as it does in my mind! Taproot magazine--I've got a new article and project (Thracian Forest table runner) coming out in their May issue and I'm currently finishing up another article and project for their August issue. It's always a delight to work with Taproot--they're lovely people and so supportive of all kinds of handcraft. The new project is an article on repurposing fabric and so I came up with a project of an apron with embroidered pocket borders, which is, yet again, moving me in a direction to combine my sewing expertise with my stitching designs. I'm loving this sort of creative "cross-pollination" and am just starting to think about all sorts of little things you could make with folk embroidered borders and small motifs. Downtime--last, but certainly not least, one of the "projects" I'm working at is giving myself the downtime I need. As a small business owner and creative type, there's always another email, another project, another special request, another design, another inspiration, and while it keeps the work day interesting, it can lead to a overwhelming sense of "never being done" which, at least for me, robs creative flow. Learning to honor my need for downtime feels like a lesson I am constantly learning, unlearning, and re-learning, but I find that the busier I am, conversely, the more I need time to rest and refresh. So, moving forward I'm working to embrace a schedule that provides this much-needed regenerative time. I might be a smidge slower to answer emails, or a new design might take a bit longer to release, but know that I'll be working on everything with a greater sense of peace, joy, and intention.
Tuesday, April 12th content media
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kristamwest
Mar 07, 2022
In Ask
So, in my efforts to be as eco-friendly as possible, I've been researching a replacement for the clear plastic bags I use for the kits and patterns. I've found old-fashioned Glassine bags and was wondering what everyone thought--these protect from dust and humidity, but aren't plastic. They are more opaque than plastic, but you can still see the pattern through the glassine (though, not as crisply as plastic). They are curbside recycleable (I confirmed this!) yet durable enough if you want to keep a kit or pattern in your stash. Is this too weird, or would you all appreciate the eco-friendliness of this? I'd love to hear your feedback (and, I'm totally loving that I can just put a shout out to all of you so easily here at The Courtyard!).
Glassine bags for patterns & kits? content media
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kristamwest
Mar 07, 2022
In Stitch & Share
I should finish this one up today or tomorrow. I've really enjoyed this design and can't wait to release it. Not a great photo :)
Almost done! content media
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kristamwest
Mar 01, 2022
In Ask
What does everyone think of floss organizers? I'm working on some new needle minder designs (wait til you see them!) and I was thinking of offering floss organizers (also known as 'thread drops' or 'floss drops') with the same motifs. I can have them printed on paper or plastic, but I'm leaning towards heavy cardstock since it's more eco-friendly. As for shape, I'm considering an oval shape so they wouldn't snag on anything in a workbag. I'd love to hear what you think--great idea, maybe not, I'd love them, would never use them, etc! Bring on the feedback! Personally, I've been organizing my floss on a wooden ring, but I do find that the floss snags sometime on the wood and I've been considering using something like thread organizers.
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kristamwest
Jan 18, 2022
In Stitch & Share
Started a new design a couple of days ago. This is an octagon border design that I've had on my list for awhile for my living room pillow project--I started working it on linen and just didn't love the feel of it so set it aside. When the new 26ct Mikini came in last week, I decided to give it a try. The 26ct Mikini makes the stitches a smidge larger, but I love how they're taking up so much space on the fabric and I think the little bit of outlining is really going to pop. I'm also really falling in love with this fabric--it's so easy to see the threads and the color is the exact ivory/off-white color I've been searching for for a long time now. For my "pillow project" I'm embroidering 3 cushion covers that showcase 3 basic styles of folk embroidery--the band border (that was the Corinthian Bridal Shawl design), square border (this design), and allover (still figuring out this one but leaning towards a Naxos-style design). I love the old black-and-white photos showing Greek village homes with their stacks of embroidered cushions and want to recreate at least a little bit of that history in my living room!
Octagon border WIP content media
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kristamwest
Sep 19, 2021
In Tips & Tricks
As many of you who work with fabric know, fabric can pull oils from your hands leading to dry, cracked skin which can snag delicate fabrics and embroidery flosses. For years, my dry hands were something I thought I just had to put up with until I stumbled upon the most wonderful lotion bar recipe and it's kept my hands soft and snag-free ever since. Old-fashioned lotion "bars" are solid discs made of beeswax, coconut oil, and cocoa butter which you rub over your hands and then massage into your skin--the warmth of your skin softens the ingredients and allows them to soak into your skin quickly so they don't stain fabric. To make the lotion bars, I purchased inexpensive silicon mini soap molds and a few basic ingredients along with little 2 oz metal tins to store them in so I can keep one in my embroidery bag, one in my desk, and one in my car. A batch makes about 20 little lotion bars so I make it up every 6 months or so and keep the extras in a Mason jar. Lotion Bar Recipe 4 ounces coconut oil (available at Trader Joe's, Costco, or your favorite store) 6 ounces cocoa butter discs (available at Amazon) 4 ounces white beeswax (available at Amazon), grated or coarse-chopped 2 ounce metal tins (available at Mountain Rose Herbs) Place a 3 quart sauce pan on the stove and fill it with about 2 inches of water. Bring to a low simmer. Place a metal bowl on top of it to form a double boiler. Melt the coconut oil, cocoa butter, and beeswax until liquid. Pour into silicon soap molds and let harden. Store in a Mason jar or small 2 oz metal tins.
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kristamwest
Sep 19, 2021
In Vintage & Heirloom
Gorgeous runner I added to my personal embroidery collection awhile back. I love the use of backstitches to create little tendrils which soften the very geometric design and add this incredible layer of intricacy and fineness. The color palette is quite unique, too--looks like 918 copper, 469 avocado green, 598 turquoise, and a blue that I don't have in my floss cones.
Vintage runner from Athens content media
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kristamwest
Sep 10, 2021
In Stitch & Share
I've been working on a couple of new designs for Just CrossStitch magazine and wanted to share a quick pic of one of the designs. It's a little stylized sunflower design that I found in a vintage Greek embroidery booklet and I've wanted to do something with it for a really long time--it's been in my design folder for at least 2 years. I originally thought it would be great as a table runner, but when JCS asked me for some design submissions, I realized that a smaller version might just be the ticket! I can't show you the whole design until it launches next February, but it was so pretty I had to share at least a bit!
New little sunflower design content media
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kristamwest
Sep 10, 2021
In Stitch & Share
Hello and welcome to The Courtyard! I'm Krista West, designer and owner of Avlea Folk Embroidery. Historically, women in Greece would stitch in their courtyard, exchanging patterns, sharing their work in process, and teaching each other. Amid the vibrant plants and warming sunshine, they would share beautiful textile works of art and build strong community. I wanted to offer modern stitchers a virtual courtyard where we could continue these traditions of community and share our love of stitching. I'll be checking in often to see what's happening at The Courtyard and I look forward to seeing your photos and hearing about your projects!
Welcome to The Courtyard content media
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