Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mother Ship

The first EGA national seminar I was ever at was the one in 1983 in Philadelphia; hmmm, twenty-five years ago. I taught a Wednesday class in Hardanger and then the next day I went just to see the sights. I lived in Cherry Hill, NJ then and I had a toddler at my skirts. I really had no idea what the national seminar experience was about. It was at that seminar that I met Lisbeth Perrone. I still have her book of needlepoint patterns. She was sitting in a hallway outside the boutique unraveling a huge wad of metallic gold thread. We talked for a few minutes. She told me that she found the gold thread in a wastebasket and had been given permission to take it. She thought it a dreadful waste of materials.

Blackwork: Compleat and Unabridged
The sampler I taught at Louisville in 1998 for the 40th anniversary of EGA

The next national seminar I went to was in Parsippany, NJ when I received my rose for Teacher Certification. I took a class from Lynn Payette as I recall. It was there that I had Barbara Scott for my roommate. We have been good friends ever since. We had a third roommate who was from north Jersey. She was a kick. She had a car and took us away from the hotel for some of the meals. At that time I was living in Colorado again, I think. At any rate, I have taught at six EGA national seminars and I have been to nine with the one coming up being my tenth.

Going to seminar is like going up to the mother ship. It is one vast pleasure from the first to the last. It is a place where I belong. Where I am one of the group. It is a place where strangers are only good friends to whom I have not yet been introduced. We get as rowdy as a group of middle-aged ladies ever get. We stay up and talk; we stay up and stitch. We smile and learn. We become reacquainted with friends we see rarely.

I am going to the mother ship tomorrow, Friday the 29th. This blog will be in hiatus until I get back. So you will hear from me again on Sunday, September 7. Happy stitching until then.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pretty Pillowcases

I was introduced to a friend of a friend the other day and was asked what I did. As a lady of a certain age, I am rarely asked that any more because a lot of my contemporaries are retired or thinking hard about retiring. I am among the first wave of Baby Boomers, born in the year after WWII (which pretty much pinpoints my age no matter how coy I am about it). So this woman asked me what I did and I replied that I was an embroiderer. She looked at blankly for a minute and then said, "You do those pretty pillowcases?"

As a matter of fact, I have done pretty pillowcases in my life. I have not done anything that useful recently, but I have done pillowcases and dishtowels. Even now I occasionally receive hand-embroidered dish towels from my older sister and pillowcases from my good friend Carole. There are very few gifts I love more than those things.

St. Columba's Wreath

Something pretty, not a pillowcase;

oil pastel and acrylic paint on silk with silk and cotton threads

This woman whose name I have forgotten went on to say that she herself did not do embroidery, but she did do counted-cross stitch and a long time ago she did some needlepoint. So I started my normal about lecture about embroidery, counted-cross and needlepoint. I am pretty sure her eyes glazed in the first twenty seconds of this. Embroidery is the huge mother-category. Both needlepoint and counted-cross stitch are types of embroidery. In fact under embroidery are a bunch of categories of major techniques and both NP and C-CS fall under the major technique called counted work. Okay, now I see your eyes glazing.

Then this woman, a friend of a friend, asked me how I knew all this. This is an excellent question and easy to answer: because I have devoted more than half my life to the study and art of embroidery. Because I made it my life's work to be able to answer questions like how the various types of embroidery are categorized. Because someone has to know these things and to pass that knowledge on.

Unfortunately in this country it is impossible (or was the last time I checked) to get a college degree in embroidery. In France and England it is possible to go to certain schools to learn about the art and craft of embroidery. Here embroiderers have to be mostly self-taught. Fortunately there are the big national guilds, groups of like-minded people who come to together to foster just such studies. The Embroiderers' Guild of America is the one I belong to, but one can find The American Needlepoint Guild, The Smocking Guild, The Sewing Guild, weaving and spinning guilds, and several others. All of these offer study in their particular fields. Now a person in the US can study in City and Guilds, an English- and Canadian-based program for embroidery, so there are many choices. A person who has gone through City and Guilds or a person who has gone through all the stages offered by EGA and ANG has the equivalent of a BA or even an MA in embroidery. Serious stuff.

So when this woman asked me if I did those pretty pillowcases, I could say yes because I have a national teacher's certification in counted work from EGA that took almost two years of testing for me to achieve. I earned a Mastercraftsman Award in Color Theory from EGA that took two and a half years, a test with six major questions. And I have a Graduate Teacher's certification from EGA that took me five years to attain. There are only nine Graduate Teachers in all of EGA--I am the last one to so certify. In short I am a master of embroidery. I worked very hard to be that and I am very proud of it.

I haven't got time to retire or time to rest up. I have a world to teach about embroidery, its history, its place in history, its scope, and its art. And I have to get busy and stitch up something pretty even if it is not a pillowcase.

Monday, August 25, 2008


This morning I had to get in touch by email with the company who issued my airline tickets for my upcoming trip to Louisville, KY. It was very painful for me. I had changed computers and email companies, passwords and email address, none of which CheapTickets. com really wanted to hear about. I am pretty much a failure at the really high tech communication, so I called their toll-free number after I spent about fifteen minutes of trying to make their computer understand my computer. Everything turned out well after I called. But still it was a frustrating way to start a Monday morning.

Which led me to thinking about two things. The first was why embroidery was so alluring to me, both when I started and now. It is the simplicity of the thing. I need a threaded needle and a piece of fabric to work on. Everything else is extraneous. Not that things can't get more complex, but essentially I can do what I do with the most basic of equipment

I have just finished work on a piece that is stitched onto perforated paper. It took about twenty hours to complete this particular stitchery. Those twenty hours were pure bliss. I sit in my studio with a booktape or music playing and I am lost in a fugue which only hunger or a phone call can draw me out of. The pleasing monotony of the stitch. Who said that? I think Lisbeth Perrone. a Scandinavian designer.

Papaver Rubens

The 4th of my perforated paper series. A manipulated photo was transferred onto the perf paper for background, then I stitched the poppies and stems over the top of it. This is ungraphed without even an outline, just a clear vision of what I wanted to portray.

And the second thing? Going to Louisville. For its 50th anniversary The Embroiderers Guild of America is holding the 2008 national seminar at national headquarters in Louisville. Going to a national seminar is pure pleasure, in fact I am hard put to think of anything I would rather do this August. Going to national seminar at headquarters is is like a glimpse of paradise to me. I will be surrounded by friends; and indeed, my best two friends will be my roommates--Ann Erdmann and Carole Rinard. I will see the culmination of two years of work in the opening and reception for the 19th National EGA Exhibit. I have a prize-winning piece in the exhibit myself which is the dollop of whipped cream on the cherry sundae. I will be surrounded by friends, acquaintances, comrades of my own three decades of membership. I will take classes to expand my own horizons in the areas of judging and needlework. What could be more satisfying for a stitcher?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

C-CS, Poppy and Rose

Embroidery is the overarching name for a ground decorated with an eyed and threaded needle. How that decoration is done, what it turns out looking like, and what the ground is determines which category of embroidery the work is being done in. For instance, both needlepoint and counted-cross stitch are types of embroidery, as are needle lace, white work, and needle tatting.
The type of embroidery that most commonly draws people to doing the stuff is counted-cross stitch. I think it is fair to say that counted-cross stitch is a world-wide phenomenon in the grand tradition of Berlin work, another world-wide phenomenon that swept out of Germany and England in the third quarter of the nineteenth century.
Counted-cross stitch is easy to do, fun to do, fairly inexpensive in its beginning stages, and there are I would guess millions of designs available to the stitcher. Counted cross-stitch to you uninitiated out there is done on fabric that is woven evenly with large spaces between the threads. Patterns are drawn up on grids which enable the embroiderer to stitch one grid at a time on the fabric. The results can be very simplistic or wonderfully complex. depending on the complexity of the gridded or graphed pattern.
As silly as it seems, I find it very difficult to stitch following such a graphed pattern. I am dyslexic and the dyslexia seems to worsen as I gain birthdays. But with the aid of a camera and a computer program, I can make the graphed patterns for counted-cross stitch for other people to do. A friend of mine, July Rose, has stitched some of my counted-cross stitch patterns with beautiful results.
The first of the cross-stitch embroideries shown here is called Pueblo. It was originally a picture I took in Santa Fe. I digitized the raw photo, cropped it, removed some elements that were extraneous to the theme, and then recolored it. I put it though one of my software programs that graph out the results. I think this makes a very handsome cross-stitch, very complex and interesting to the eye and brain.
Blue Pool was taken at a famous spring in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The waters are deep, cold, very clear, so very blue. There are large fish in it, as well as divers in scuba gear.
The last cross stitch shown is Golden Poppies from a photograph I took here at the house one late spring day. It is by far the simplest of the cross-stitches. it took many hours of manipulations to simplify so much and get the colors just as I wanted them. Those of you who are cross-stitchers will see that Golden Poppies is more nearly like commercial patterns available everywhere, while the other two are are not at all in that vein.
designed by SKW and stitched by July Rose
Blue Pool
designed by SKW and stitched by Judy Rose.

Golden Poppies

designed by SKW and stitched by Judy Rose

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Ballerina Doll and Madame Alexander

Yesterday I was shopping for fabric to line a tote bag I want to make to carry a framed embroidery. In the cutting table line in front of me was a woman who was buying fabric for her seven-year-old granddaughter whose favorite show was about making clothes for models.

She and I got to talking while waiting for the one clerk to make her way through that long line of women. Her name was Sheila and she had been taught to sew by her mother in the late 50s and 60s. Her mother was an uptight individual who made Sheila take out every wobbly seam and poochy dart a small child makes. Consequently Sheila learned to hate sewing and refused to do it. Now her granddaughter was in love with fabrics and the idea of creating clothes, and Sheila herself was having sort of a renaissance in sewing. She had a machine and she wanted to help her granddaughter work on this dream.

When I was a child I had a similar experience. My mother was hopeless with sewing and so I was sent to my grandmother to learn to sew. I loved my grandmother and she loved me, but this learning to sew was a real ordeal. On top of all this, my grandmother's best friends, Lillian, had a granddaughter named Pam who was within three weeks of my age. Pam was the apex and epitome, not to mention the paradigm, of the Good Grandchild. I labored over making doll clothes for my ballerina doll with pointy toes. Pam made dozens of outfits for her Madame Alexander doll. My doll clothes were grimy and crooked. Hers were perfect in every way. Now I liked Pam. We played together a lot when I was a child. She had a killer doll house that her grandfather had made her. But I really got tired of hearing about Pam and her sewing skills.

So my grandmother gave up on me and the sewing machine and started me on embroidery. I did two pillowcases over the course of two summers; one was a kitten drinking out of a pool and the other was a rose with stem and a leaf. I still have the kitten, though the pillowcase which I used for years wore out. I carefully cut away the embroidery while my mother used the rest as a rag. I don't know what happened to the rose. But the deal was that I was not good at any of this when I was seven to twelve years old. I was good at running and making forts, and playing make-believe. I was a reader and a game-player.

In junior high and high school I had to take home economics. So I learned to make an apron, then a skirt and blouse. I still was not brilliant at it. I was captain of the girls' soccer team and the basketball team. I was taking Latin, creative writing, and advanced English. My lowest grades were in home ecs. and typing.

Some people come to their passion early in life and some come late. My good friend Carole Rinard came early to it and majored in home ec. and textiles through two degrees in college. Needless to say, with all those years of experience behind her, embroidery is now child's play to her. She is a tremendous stitcher. I came to it later. As I said in an earlier post, I was thirty when the passion for embroidery struck me like a bolt from the blue.

Sheila is doing the right thing for her granddaughter. She said she was going to gently guide her and not force her to rip and redo till perfection reigns. Sheila also said that she was becoming interested in sewing herself, now that she had more time and an excuse to come back to it. She asked did I know of any quilting groups in the area. Sheila and her granddaughter are going to be just fine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Flowers and Standing Stones

The term mixed media has changed for me over the course of three decades. In the late 70s I barely knew the words, but the early 80's mixed media to me meant that I used two of the counted works in the same piece. Astounding to me who was quite a purist and, of course, quite wrong. I knew that samplers were not mixed media.

When we moved back to Colorado from living in England for two years, I immediately joined both Colorado Chapter and Foothills Chapter of EGA. At the first meeting of Foothills I had a marvelous awakening. We did marbling on fabric. It wasn't the first time I had worked on a painted ground. In the late 70s Lynn Payette came to the Creative Needlework Chapter in southern New Jersey to teach us dyeing with Kennebunkport dyes--a real eye-opener to a neophyte stitcher. It was the marbling that tore off the cover of my mind. It was essentially from that point that I started doing mixed media.

Mixed media is doing any two or more art media together. For instance when I print out one of my photographs and then stitch over it, that is mixed media. Or when I paint a background and then stitch over it, that is mixed media. Embroidery isn't universally considered an art unfortunately. So in the New Mexico State Fair, I have enter mixed media pieces in the professional category of fine arts in order to compete. A pure embroidery, no matter how artful or transcendent, would be eligible.

In Castlerig, one of my most recent sojourns into mixed media, I have mottled the backgound fabric with acrylic paint. Then I cut out copper strips from a thin sheet and I stained the copper with alcohol-based ink. After layering on netting, I couched the copper down. Then I went in with several different threads and started doing French knots, dozens and dozens of French knots.

Castlerig, by the way, was inspired by the stone circle of Castlerig on the edge of the Lake District in England. The last time I was there someone had left an offering of flowers at the base of the biggest upright stone. This is my homage to the flowers and the stone.

14" X 20"
mixed media

detail from Castlerig

the couching and French knots.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Sacred Stitch and Carnegie Hall

Earlier this week I was sitting and stitching with a group of friends. One of my friends, Addy, was learning some particularly finicky whitework fillings. She looked up from her work that she had been swearing at (I stitch with a rough group of women!) and said that her teacher had told them to use a doodle cloth to learn the stitches before putting them into the sampler. But Addy said that she never did doodle cloths and rarely practiced.

I should have been shocked and amazed at this statement, but I am not. I have known a lot of stitchers who do not practice on a doodle cloth, but who go right to the good piece. And confessorily, I have been known to do it myself. On the other hand, I have a dozen notebooks and a couple of storage bins that are filled with bits and pieces of practice pieces. I like to practice and to get it right. I don't want to take the moral high ground here, but I think even the most accomplished star of embroidery must practice.

So I asked Addy why she didn't work first on a doodle cloth. She said that she didn't want to waste any of her work. That she put a lot of effort into the stitches and she didn't like to see any trashed at the end. I didn't explain to her about my dozen notebooks and my two storage bins, because I know what she is talking about. When I started out in this medium, I wanted everything I did to count. I wanted everything I did to be perfect the first time. Amazingly, a lot of the stuff I did looked pretty good, so I was happy.

Then I started to be ambitious and decided to go for teacher certification in counted work from EGA. It was rough and at one point the certification committee asked me if I didn't want to quit and try again when I was more experienced. Well, no, I didn't want to quit, I knew I could do whatever they required of me. So a great lady, Rosemary Cornelius, stepped in and offered to help me out. Part of the problem was that I was living in Sandy, Utah at the time and was quite isolated from the certification committee who lived no further west than Philadelphia. The only access I had to them was by telephone and correspondence.

So Rosemary started mentoring me. She sent me a dozen small stitched examples on a dozen different fabrics to show me what was what. It was then I realized that even the best needlewomen practiced; that even I should practice. I made it through certification within two years (at that time, that was as long as it could take) and my work started to attract attention. The one good thing about not being in the pocket of the East Coast was that my work was fundamentally different.

So why The Sacred Stitch? I have learned that not everything that comes from my needle is a world statement and has to be saved. Even if things look good at first glance doesn't mean it can't be improved with practice. Now when I do mixed media embroidery for exhibit and for sale, the stitches aren't the calm, pristine things to be looked at and admired. The stitches are the building blocks of the whole piece. The stitches aren't as important as the finished whole. I can make a dozen perfect dove's eyes and then paint over them or melt nylon over them. But I do know how to make perfect dove's eyes because I practiced.

A man in the back of a limo had his driver stop on a street corner in New York. He rolled down his window and asked a passerby how to get to Carnegie Hall. The man looked at the limo and thought for a few seconds and then said, "Practice, practice, practice."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Desnudo and Grotesque

Persimmons and Teapot
colored pencil sketch
17 December 2007

When I decided to be a professional embroidery teacher and designer in the early 80s, I tried to equip myself with the tools I needed to be effective. I studied every type of embroidery I could with the best teachers I knew of. I looked at those teacher's written instructions; I learned how to use a computer and word processing software; and I practiced illustrating stitch diagrams. This served me for a long time and I was more successful as a teacher than I had ever expected to be.

All along not only was I stitching pieces for teaching, but I was also stitching pieces for my own enjoyment and explorations. I would enter the odd piece into art shows. It was while I was living in England, teaching there and also taking classes there, that I realized that I needed something more than what I was doing in order to really move ahead. It was around this time that I thought I could be an artist. I started studying design theory. Now I had already had an Individual Correspondence Course in design from EGA by Ann Harris and an ICC in color from Wilana Bristow, so I had some experience. But I really started to study design theory (color theory is just a part of design theory). The best way to study design is to teach it. Things were going pretty well. I was teaching a lot of color and design in and out of EGA. I was learning tremendous things about my own work and how to improve it. But I needed more.

Have you ever had anyone tell you that as an artist or even as a designer, you need to know how to draw? People kept telling me this. But, really, I didn't need to know how to do that. I was a needlework designer and that doesn't need drawing. After all, look at my blackwork--done without formal training in drawing. Grotesque was done without a drawing or a graph. He was named after all the sculpture on buildings in England and France called gargoyles. A grotesque is a gargoyle without a waterspout.

Blackwork with silk thread on 32 count linen
stitched freehand

In September of 1996 I finally did what my mentors told me I would have to do: I enrolled in a beginning drawing class at my local community college in Littleton, Colorado. I was the oldest one in class including the instructor. I went to every class, I did all the assignments, and I learned. The nineteen-year-olds were all more experienced with the art of the pencil than I was, but I was certainly the most motivated. I came out a new person. Drawing doesn't so much teach a person how to use a pencil, it teaches a person how to SEE. I learned about shadows and edges, one-, two-, and three-point perspective. I learned how to draw the least little detail for authenticity in the drawing. The last class was a live model class and drawing the nude was a special treat. Out of this class meeting came Desnudo. Something I DREW.

Blackwork in silk thread on 28 count linen
from a live model

And so I am telling you now that in order to be a good artist, no matter how talented you might be on your own, you have to learn to draw. Since December 1996 when I left the class, I have been drawing. Certainly not every day, but there have been months when it has been just that. I draw as a treat and my drawings are a body of work apart from my needlework. I do colored pencil drawings, like the one here.

Because of my drawing, I have a lot more confidence in my work. I have a lot more authority in my teaching design and color theory. Learning to draw was such a gift that I gave myself--opening up a side of me that I didn't know existed. So--Learn To Draw!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Perforated Paper and Photographs

Bouquet Salpicon
counted work (in this case essentially blackwork patterns)
on perforated paper with a photographic transfer

The photograph that is the transfer beneath
Cattleya Maxima

Cattleya Maxima

The photograph that is the base of Bouquet Salpicon.
Originally this was a pile of autumn leaves I photographed one November outside our local library branch.

My newest body of work within mixed media embroidery is non-traditional counted work on photo-transferred perforated paper. It is not as difficult as it sounds. I take one of my original photographs and either print it directly on perforated paper or print it on transfer paper and then iron it onto perforated paper.

I know that some people shy away from stitching on paper because they consider it only a temporary surface, but I have seen perforated samplers in the LDS Church Museum in Salt Lake City that were done around 1870. Good enough for me.

I rarely make a graph or even much of a sketch when I work on an original piece. Because of my dyslexia which is getting stronger as I age, I have a hard time following intricate patterns. So what I do is get a firm idea of what I want the finished piece to look like and then start stitching until that piece is done. Sometimes it looks like my original idea and sometimes it looks better.

I use Impressions, a silk/wool blend of light yarn on perforated paper. Rarely I will use #12 perle coton; and in one recent piece I used Laura Perin's hand-dyed threads to great effect.

The pieces so far have all had flower subjects, a poinsettia-looking flower (Bouquet Salpicon which is now at the sales gallery at EGA national headquarters); an orchid (Cattleya Maxima from the collection of Ron and Sue Cosner). An unnamed and unphotographed third piece. The fourth piece I will start later this morning, having printed the transfer paper, but not yet pressed the transfer onto the perforated paper.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Judge and Juror

I enter a lot of art shows and exhibits and have done so for many years. In the beginning, in New Jersey in the early 80s, I can remember how wounded I was when I was rejected from shows. It was not easy. Though I do remember one in which my work was accepted. The piece in question was a five foot in diameter round art quilt. It was (and still is for that matter) called The Tree of Knowledge Was a Cherry. It had a naked Adam and Eve standing under a tree with very large cherries on it. Now this quilt had already hung in a show in Morristown, NJ and had gotten some plaudits. It eventually went on to hang at the EGA 1983 National Seminar Education Exhibit. But back to the rejection part of this tale. My work was selected to hang at a church-sponsored exhibit, not only the quilt, but several other things. At the last minute I was informed that the quilt couldn't hang because of its unorthodox and controversial subject--the very subject that got it in in the first place! So I completely withdrew from the show. I was miffed. And I still am.

The deal is that the judges jury your work in one instant in one day. The day can be bright or rainy. The judge could have spilled coffee all over herself driving in or could have asked her husband for a divorce that morning. That judge is human and is affected by human happenings. So it doesn't pay to become too upset about one rejection. Presumably there there will be a next time, unless you are suicidal. I still get rejections. I entered three very good pieces, in my estimation, into the 19th National EGA Exhibit in May of this year. Two were utterly turned down. They are good pieces and one is already in another gallery. But one did get in--and it won two prizes.

So back to the beginning. Rejection is hard to take. In the early days I was glum for days and couldn't get the rejections out of my mind. At this time I was also starting out as a new teacher of embroidery. I was getting some rejections there too. I remembered to try to not take it so personally. But it was hard. Nowadays? I hardly remember half an hour later that I was rejected. I have a fleeting feeling of sadness and then I am on to the next thing. A piece utterly rejected from one show can be the grand prize winner of the next. You just need confidence in yourself and in your work. To that end, never stop learning the craft and never stop experimenting.

The difference between judging and jurying? To be juried into a show is the first stage. A judge (sometimes called a juror) decides whether your work will fit into the current show. The award is just to get in in the first place. Then from the juried pieces the judging occurs. Not all shows have both judging and jurying, but some do. The judging is for the awards, like first and second place, or the jurors' awards.

I rarely enter exhibits where there is no jurying. It doesn't matter to me whether or not it is judged. A non-juried show does my resume no good. My prize pieces do not look their best if low quality, poorly done stuff is hanging right next to them. I like prizes and fancy ribbons as much as the next gal, but I much prefer just to get into a prestigious show.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Wednesday and the Art

An artist support group is an essential part of my doing art. A support group meets regularly with its main purpose being to nourish the artist within. For several years, from early 2002 until the end of 2007, my main support was Wednesday Group. We met nearly every week of the year at members' houses. We sat and talked, stitched, sometimes did explorations into new techniques, took in galleries, had guests over, and did drawings. There were three stalwart members, Emily Holcomb, Karen Schueler, and myself, though there were also several other people who came and went over the years. The three of us were already professional artists with varying degrees of experience. From the beginning we planned shows that two or all three of us participated in. We encouraged one another; we taught one another; and sometimes we learned together. Twice Karen and I went on two-night retreats to her brother's vacation home in Taos in art retreat. We painted, drew, dyed, and printed. The objective of Wednesday Group was not to learn the stitching, but to learn the art and techniques that support the stitching.

During the course of the several years we were together, we were in some group shows together. The three of us were in the Margaret Parshall Gallery for its debut exhibit at EGA's National Headquarters in Louisville. We each had about twenty pieces in the show. Karen and I showed at Marigold Arts on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Emily and I showed at the Westside Unitarian Church in Rio Rancho, NM. There were more shows when all three of us also belonged to Silk Painters of New Mexico and we also were in the State Fair several times.

In August of last year, Karen Schueler and her husband moved away from Albuquerque to Delaware. It is now obvious that Karen was the beating heart of Wednesday Group. Emily drifted away, no longer a member of EGA. Kathleen Weston, a later member, and I tried to keep it going, but were unable over the course of several months to hold onto a viable group, so we declared it over early this year.

At the same time that Wednesday Group was meeting weekly, the Emily, Karen and I also belonged to Sandia Mountains Chapter (Rocky Mountain Region of the EGA). In the chapter there is an interest group, first called Stitches Plus and more recently called The Art of Embroidery, that meets about nine times a ear, basically September through May. It is a group of 5 to 7 people who are interested in studying the same sort of art techniques that Wednesday Group supported. In The A of E, however, we actively study the ways and techniques. The more experienced of us do two-hour lessons for the group trading off every month. We studied altered books one year, with the end project of an altered book original to each one of us. The next year we studied bookbinding and where we actually made whole books. Very exciting. A sewn-binding book is itself technically an embroidery. We have made paper for embroidery, we have done potato printing, have studied classic design theory. In short we are striving to learn the art behind the stitches.

The Art of Embroidery starts up another year of study and experimentation this September. We plan on doing some drawing, some deeper design theory study, and some experimenting with layering. Thank goodness for A of E.

And Wednesday Group is going to meet one last time--its last hurrah. Karen is back in town for the Silk Painters International conference. Four or five of us are meeting here at my house to say goodbye to a great group. To say that I miss our meetings is to say a tornado is a zephyr.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Laeta Acus
A folded book with six pages of text and six small samplers.

Receiving an award is like getting a Hershey's Kiss after eating your favorite dinner. A sweet, delicious ending to a good delicious meal.

At the end of this month I go the the Embroiderers' Guild of America national seminar in Louisville, KY. When I made plans to go to this seminar a year ago this time, I knew I was going to receive an award for completing Mastercraftsman Color. This is a pretty big deal. Mastercraftsman in whatever category takes at least two and a half years to complete. There are a lot of different, twitchy little hoops to jump through along the way. The six parts to this long test have to be completed to the satisfaction of three judges. If the person is still coherent after these hard years she gets an award at national seminar and gets to call herself a master of embroidery. All well and good.

I made arrangements to come to this seminar, as I said, a year ago. But I was not alone in all this. My chapter and my region backed me up. To both of these entities I am eternally grateful. Sandia Mountains Chapter gave me a scholarship of $400 to attend. All they ask back is an hour if my time further down the road and that I go to one meeting at the national seminar, the general business meeting. Rocky Mountain Region gave me $250 in scholarship monies. All it wants in return is a write-up on the classes I am to take. I can't express enough how much I appreciate the generosity of chapter and region. Without those monies I could not have attended at all.

Meanwhile I have been on the 19th National EGA Exhibit committee. This is a tremendous effort to jury in fifty or sixty works of the best embroidered art in the country. It takes over two years to put together the exhibit. Along with the eight committee members, several other people have joined in to help, including three jurors, printers, advisers, etc. The culmination of this is the opening reception at national seminar for the exhibit. After it shows at EGA National Headquarters for three months, it travels around the country to museums and other venues for another two years. As I say, this is a tremendous undertaking.

I play a very small part in all of this as Awards Chairman for the 19th National Exhibit. But I also entered the show and was juried in with one piece of art, Laeta Acus. I was lucky to get in the show at all. Only half to a third of all work entered was accepted. Thirteen ribbons/prizes were given out by the jurors who went on to judge the show. There were two grand prizes, one for excellence in needlework and one for best contemporary needlework; three jurors' awards--the favorites of the each juror; and nine region awards--the best from nine of the thirteen regions within EGA.

Much to my astonishment and surprise, Laeta Acus won the Rocky Mountain Region Award. So at national I will be recognized as one of the prize winners. But the real Hershey's Kiss came yesterday in the mail. Laeta Acus won one of the Jurors' Awards too. I am thrilled, amazed, and very humbled.

Laeta Acus is a small folded book with twelve pages. All the odd-numbered pages are the story of a little girl, Laeta Acus, learning embroidery from her mother. She completes six samplers in six different counted techniques. The small samplers, all about 2.5" X 4", are on the even-numbered pages. By the way, Laeta Acus means happy needle in Latin.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Blackwork First

Blackwork with some counted patterns and some freely worked patterns

"Blackwork: Complete and Unabridged"

A teaching sampler with historic patterns and modern shading techniques.

This sampler was taught at he Embroiderers' Guild of America National Seminar

in Louisville, Ky in 1998.

People ask me what my favorite kind of embroidery is. I do and have done a lot of different techniques. But there is no doubt what my favorite is: blackwork.

When I first started doing embroidery that fateful September in 1976, I began with needlepoint. After I had done a couple pieces of needlepoint I started looking around at other types of needlework. I bought an interesting kit for $12 of The Three Kings. It said it was counted work. The threads were brightly-colored rayons. The outline of the kings were stamped on the evenweave cotton. The robes were done in pattern after counted pattern in complex shapes. I loved it. I didn't know for almost two years that I had been doing blackwork. I still have those three kings tucked in a fat notebook dedicated to blackwork past.

Blackwork is an old technique. No one knows how old. It seems to have origins in Spain and North Africa, but that may not be the only place of origin. Chaucer in The Miller's Tale in 1395 mentions blackwork when he describes Alisoun and what she wears.

There is a portrait of Queen Isabel of Spain done in 1494. She is wearing what to our modern eyes is blackwork on her cap and placket. Certainly when her daughter Princess Katherine of Aragon came to England to marry the crown prince of England, Prince Arthur, in 1501 she brought with her Spanish work embroidery, the same sort of embroidery we see on Queen Isabel's portrait.

A century later an inventory was done of Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe, (see Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd by Janet Arnold) and in it are described clothes done in blackwork and clothes done in Spanish work. Now we have little idea as to the differences. Now we call it all blackwork.

So what is Blackwork? My definition, which may not be the classic definition, is counted patterns that create shading and definition in a composition. That's it. How does an embroiderer create those defining patterns, what we also may call value in blackwork? Well, there are at least eight ways. That is a long explanation that will wait for another entry.

Blackwork is now considered a counted work because of the patterns, but classically, during the time of Elizabeth the First, patterning was only a part of blackwork. And it was not always counted. It was called blackwork because it was black silk threads stitched onto white linen., the same as Spanish work. Even then it was not always black, but also red, green, and blue. It was done with goldwork within it. Take a look at the inventories at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see it.

Why is this embroidery my favorite? Because of its complexity, because of its versatility. Because of its elegance. And because, of all the embroidery techniques, it is the closest to graphic art. With blackwork I can draw on the fabric.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Stella Grace's Legacy

I heard it again yesterday. A woman was looking at some of my embroideries just in passing. She glanced at me, smiled, and said, "Just like my grandmother used to make." I beg your pardon; I cannot help but be a little insulted. I grit my teeth, show my canines in a smiling grimace, and for once keep my mouth shut.

I keep in mind that my work reminds other people of work they have seen in their dim pasts. My own grandmother, her sisters, and my great-grandmother were all stitchers. As far as I know none of them had the passion for embroidery that I do, but I have examples of work from all of them. It is this passing down of work and traditions that keeps the art of embroidery alive.

But embroidery has gone on from the time of my great grandmother. She was born just after the Civil War and she lived to hear Sputnik beeping across the heavens. She loved quilting, especially crazy patch. And, of course, a crazy quilt with stitching on it is considered an embroidery. My Great-Aunt Leona loved tatting. I have a few bits and pieces left from her shuttles. I even have a couple of her shuttles. Leona taught school in Ault, Colorado before she was married. This was at a time where only two years of college were needed for teaching. Tatting with a shuttle is not embroidery but knotting. However, tatting on a needle is an embroidery. I can show you how to do that.

My own grandmother, Stella Grace, did some needlepoint, some quilting, and some pillowcases. In fact it was when I spent summers with her in Holyoke, Colorado that I first did embroidery. I learned the stem stitch, the lazy daisy, and the French knot. It didn't stick at first. When I was twenty-nine and was accidentally shuttled into a needlepoint class, I had done very little thread and needle since those summers.

My own mother, a black sheep and a termagant from the word go, also did a bit of needlework as a child. I have two pieces that she did. One is a pillow top in orange and black. It was a kit in rayon or acetate from the early 30s. A house was printed on it and all she had to do was follow the outlines in stem stitch. The other is a small bag marked laundry, surely for small stuff like underwear. It is cotton with blue bias tape around the edges. It also was a kit, but a stamped cross-stitch one. I keep the treasures of my female line with my own embroideries with the idea of passing them down to my own grandchildren.

As for my own embroidery--some of it I will keep for the passing down, but I have way too much to expect children and grandchildren to store it peacefully all of their lives. So I like to sell it. Oh my embroidery is not like my mother's and grandmother's and my et cetera's. My embroideries sometimes hang in galleries and museums, not as old work or classic work, but as modern art. So you see, your grandmother's embroideries are not like my embroideries at all.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mixed Media, Mixed Bag

When I stumbled over embroidery as an art medium over thirty years ago, I was a dabbler. A neophyte dabbler. In one instant of clarity I could see myself doing embroidery for the rest of my life. For twenty years after that I studied pure embroidery. I studied the great classic techniques of blackwork, Hardanger, canvas work, needle lace, whitework, and others. To my good fortune I was very good at it. But then a lot of people were very good at it. And then, just doing the embroidery over and over again wasn't quite as satisfying, so I started looking for something beyond.

The things beyond were painted backgrounds, painted threads, dyeing in odd colors. And then layering came into my life. Layered fabrics, cut away fabrics. Embroidery on top of cut away, layered fabrics.

In the mid-90s I started doing mixed media Hardanger. The Hardanger itself I changed from symmetric, formal, and white to curvilinear, asymmetric, and glorious. My first mixed media body of work was done in Hardanger.

Coleus, Non-Traditional Hardanger

And then I met heat and destruction at an Embroiderers' Guild of America national seminar taught by Jean Littlejohn. Heat and destruction were perfect things to do battle with the old ideas about embroidery. No longer was the stitch sacred. No longer was the fabric sacred. The first body of my work to come out of heat and destruction was called Burnt Offerings. I did about twenty major and minor works within it.

The Paths Are Overgrown, From the Burnt Offerings Series

I moved to Albuquerque in 2001 and there joined other like-minded mixed media embroiderers and was inspired to work on another body called Star Fields which also had about twenty pieces in it. In Star Fields, I started adding beads to the mix.

Mizpah, From the Starfields Series

What I was after in all of this was quality of surface. Texture and contrast. Subtle color gradations.

And now I am working in my current body called the Holyoke Series, still heat and destruction, still embroidery and fiber, but with lighter, less cosmic motifs.

Palimpsest with Ribbons, from the Holyoke Series