There is a young embroiderer in Canada determined to master all possible embroidery techniques – she shares her discoveries and efforts on her blog but I thought a little interview would tell us a lot about this passionate embroiderer.
At the end of the article, find many references of books, teachers and embroidery courses!
Photos – © Dima Santina – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
Where are you from? Any special things in your childhood that could have been at the root of this passion?
I am Lebanese and my family immigrated to Canada when I was very young. I was around 13 years old the first time I ever stitched anything. There used to be a sewing store at one of the local malls and I kept eyeing the cross stitch kits. After lots of begging, my Mom finally relented and got me a kit to try. She showed me the basics and away I went. I really enjoyed stitching and still have the piece today. It has many mistakes, but we all start somewhere. Except for that one kit I didn’t have any other experience with embroidery in my childhood. It was never something my mother encouraged as I have poor eyesight.
Later on, I learned that I inherited the stitching bug from my grandmother. It skipped a generation as neither my mom nor my aunt ever learned, despite many efforts on my grandmother’s part to teach them.
We didn’t grow up near my grandmother, she lived an ocean away, and we lost her during my college years. She never saw me grow up and learn this skill that she enjoyed enough to want to pass on, and I feel like I missed the opportunity to learn from her.
Fast forward many years, I had just graduated from University and landed my first job. My brain was so used to being busy from studying, homework, etc. that I was having a hard time sleeping and getting my mind to unwind. I remembered how much I enjoyed stitching and decided to purchase my second kit. That was 2010 and I never looked back.
What is embroidery to you? How much time do you spend on it?
I have a degree in Software Engineering. I started off as a developer but am now more on the management side of things. Most of my stitching time is on the weekend, depending on my day I will spend 30 min to an hour during the evening to stitch. During the weekdays it will be something counted as it helps me relax, I leave the more complicated projects for the weekend.
I kind of approach embroidery the same way I would tackle my own work. I set myself a goal at the beginning of the weekend, and then “execute them”. Some weekends are more productive than others, and that’s okay.
Embroidery started off as a hobby to help me relax but it’s more like an obsession now, I look for it everywhere. I really enjoy learning different techniques and improving my skills. You’d be surprised at how easily skills transfer between techniques.
How do you choose your pieces?
Early on I bought many cross-stitch patterns, I was always attracted to complex designs like Teresa Wentzler’s. Over the past few years, as I’ve learned different techniques, I’ve grown more selective of the kits I buy. It was very hard for me to attend classes as I worked full time, so kits and books were the best way for me to learn and build up my stash. Today, every piece is chosen to either teach me something new, improve on a technique or try a new material. I do still occasionally buy a kit just because it’s pretty. I have to be very careful though, as otherwise I’d spend all my money! There are so many beautiful pieces out there.
What is the EGA?
The EGA is the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. The equivalent in Canada would be the EAC, Embroiderers’ Association of Canada. Both are dedicated to the study, preservation and promotion of needle arts. You can be a member at large (international members are accepted) or join a local chapter/guild. It’s a very large network of stitchers, designers, teachers of all skill levels, and you get to meet people from all over the country. They offer classes and there is a national seminar held each year, and the guilds take turns hosting it. There are other benefits, but for me, the most important one was the opportunity to learn from other experienced members. I had a project at work that required some travel (before COVID) and I found I was able to meet members of the EAC in every province I visited. I found when stitchers meet, we are not strangers to each other and quick to become friends.
What are your plans with embroidery? Will you teach it someday?
Right now, I am enjoying learning and mastering the techniques. I think I would like to teach someday. In North America, many classes are design based. The teacher creates a design and then teaches it. I’d much prefer teaching techniques. I would like to design my own pieces one day, but more as a way to improve my design skills. I am very uncomfortable picking colors and need to work on that. I’m also going through the Japanese Embroidery Center curriculum, so maybe I will teach that one day.
For now, I’m happy to mentor my friend’s daughters and to share my love of embroidery on social media, answering questions and mentoring stitchers who are just starting.
Why have you chosen to share this journey through a blog?
When I started cross stitching in 2010, I spent a lot of time reading other stitchers blogs and forum posts. It was really research, for me to learn from the experience of other stitchers.
About a year later, I decided to start my own blog to document my stitching journey. I write the content I’d like to see on the internet if I was searching for information on patterns, kits or techniques. I’m on Instagram now, but you can’t give the same level of detail as you can on a blog so I keep maintaining it. I try to post at least once a week. It’s really a journal and if it helps someone, then even better!
What do you mean by « project to kit » on your blog?
I really should clean up that section. That list is mainly just cross stitch patterns that I purchased when I was doing only cross stitch. Cross stitch can be bought as kits, but there are many more out there that only come with the pattern/instruction but no materials. Project to kit means I have the pattern but need to purchase the fabric and threads.
In embroidery equivalent, it’s like having the instructions in Inspirations magazine but needing to either purchase the kit or source the materials yourself. Sourcing materials is very time consuming, but sometimes it’s worth doing as you can save some money. It also allows you to make changes to the design if you want to and not be stuck with materials you will not use.
You speak French right? – do you do any French patterns? Can you tell if there is a difference with Anglo-Saxon patterns?
I do speak French. Living in Canada I learned the language in school and use it everyday for work. I have stitched a few pieces by a French designer Helene LeBerre. She has a lovely color palette, and her designs are so light and delicate.
By studying work by French embroiderers, I noticed that they don’t limit themselves to specific embroidery materials, like DMC, Anchor… They will pick threads based on the colors or textures and what they want their design to convey. It’s very artistic but I think it would make it hard to produce kits. And in fact, kits are not very common and if there are any, it’s for a limited run.
For the instructions, and this is not just for French but European designs in general, I noticed they are not very detailed. They are not step by step like in North America, they expect the stitcher to have a basic understanding of embroidery. They don’t hold your hand, but give you the liberty to make your own choices, be it the stitch used or the threads.
I will admit the first time I looked at a set of instructions in Giuliana Ricama, it scared me. It wasn’t the language that worried me, but the fact that for the first time, I needed to make creative decisions, on the stitches and the colors I wanted to use in the piece. I found that this freedom allows you to create a piece that will fit better in your home.
So, you love learning new techniques. Tell us more about this aspect…
I enjoy any technique that is counted as my brain is just programmed that way. My first love is whitework, closely followed by Japanese embroidery and bead embroidery. You don’t have to worry about colors in whitework, I love the complexity of Japanese embroidery and working with silk, and who doesn’t love a little sparkle!
I was surprised by how much I ended up loving goldwork. I always planned to learn it one day and then Alison Cole came up with a beautiful butterfly in white and gold that I couldn’t pass on. I’ve since embroidered multiple pieces and can’t stop.
Right now I’m very interested in traditional Korean techniques. I would like to one day learn how to embroider with a luneville hook. I’d also like to master needlepainting. It’s a technique that I have always admired but really struggle with, as it’s so random.
Counted canvas embroidery is not a favorite. It is very popular in North America and there are many amazing designers. I just don’t enjoy stitching on the canvas, it is very rigid and rough. So far I have stitched three designs. I don’t plan on doing more in future, but I always keep the door open for that one piece that will tempt me.
What is your collaboration with French Needle?
I met Lisa Dugua, the owner of the French Needle, when they had their very first trip to Paris in 2016. It was an amazing trip and if you are looking for a needlework tour, I highly recommend it. We’ve kept in touch since. Her shop sells embroidery material and kits, as well as hand crafted items from France and other parts of Europe. They have also started including items from Japan. I’ve always been attracted to the pieces she sold in her shop as my tastes have always been closer to European styles. So, when she approached me to do collaborations, I was open to it.
Lisa will send me a kit or design, it’s usually a surprise, and then I get to share my stitching experience on Instagram, while promoting the designer to a new audience. As I had mentioned, European instructions are not very detailed. It’s really given me an opportunity to grow and step out of my comfort zone; to basically play with the design and see what happens. So far it has been fantastic, I’m really enjoying working on the different pieces that Lisa sends me.
What is a TUSAL?
You are probably already familiar with SAL, Stitch-Along. TUSAL stands for Totally Useless Stitch-Along. It was something another blogger came up with, where every full moon, stitchers would share a picture of their ORT (odd random threads) jar. The blogger has since moved on, but I still enjoy doing it. It allows me to reflect on what I did over the month by just looking at what is in the jar. I have bags of threads that go all the way back to 2011 and they get fuller with every year. I want to do something with them one day, maybe an ornament to represent the year, but I haven’t done anything so far.
Any books, teacher, pattern, IG or Pinterest (etc.) accounts you could recommend?
That’s like asking me for my favorite child! I’m not sure if you noticed by the number of books I’ve shared on Instagram, I have quite a large library that is always growing. Even before I started this hobby I loved to buy books. It would take multiple blog posts to share them all. To list a few, I’d have to go by technique:
Goldwork: Mary Brown or Hazel Everett’s books on goldwork are excellent. You can round them off with Alison Cole’s Goldwork Masterclass and her Little Book of Hints & Tips.
Bead embroidery: The Art of Bead Embroidery by Margaret Lee or Yukiko Ogura’s Bead Embroidery (she has a second book in French that is more a project book. Beautiful designs but be careful when sourcing beads, the numbers are not all accurate). They both take embroidery stitches and transfer the techniques to include beads. Margaret Lee using traditional Japanese embroidery and Yukiko Ogura using what they call in Japan “French embroidery”, which is basically surface embroidery.
Whitework: It is a favorite technique of mine, I have many books on the subject, but here’s a few I recommend if you are starting out: Janice Love’s books Hardanger Basics and Beyond and Fundamentals Made Fancy. Between these two books you won’t need another on Hardanger.
Hisako Nishisu’s book Drawn Thread Embroidery. This is a favorite of mine as I learned drawn thread embroidery from this book when I was starting out and I still use it as a reference today. It’s only available in Japanese and French (Les jours à fils tirés), but don’t let that stop you. I love books from Japan and Korea. There are a lot of step-by-step pictures included. I think it comes from their teaching methods; students learn through watching their teachers rather than being told. Jenny Adin-Christie has an excellent booklet called the Fundamentals of Whitework techniques. It covers English style whitework which is not a counted technique.
Any book by Yvette Stanton. She has quite a few covering Hardanger, Sardinian knot embroidery, Portuguese whitework, just to name a few. They are very thorough and detailed, with projects to put what you learn in practice.
Blackwork: Blackwork Embroidery by Jen Goodwin
Japanese embroidery: Techniques of Japanese Embroidery by Shuji Tamura for those wanting to learn Traditional Japanese silk embroidery as taught by the JEC.
And also: Color Confidence by Trish Burr and Color Confident Stitching by Karen Barbe.
Subscription to a magazine like Inspirations or Giuliana Ricama is a great source for discovering designers and learning new techniques.
Becky Hogg – if you’re looking for a taste of goldwork and are starting out, Becky’s kits are a great jumping point. Her designs are really cute and quick to stitch. The instructions are detailed with hand drawn drawings that even a beginner can stitch on their own with a help from YouTube
Sarah Homfray – Sarah also has a beginner’s goldwork kit (including a starter kit with tools). To accompany the kit, she has a playlist of videos a beginner can follow along
Alison Cole – For intermediate and advanced stitchers Alison has beautiful kits and also teaches online. My very first goldwork piece “Pearl Butterfly” was a cyber class with Alison. This class will be starting again in April for those interested in signing up. She also sells goldwork supplies in her online shop.
Golden Hinde – If you’re ready to “graduate” and design your own pieces, you can get all your goldwork supplies from Sarah Rakestraw. They have a beautiful collection of materials, including colored purls and passing
Berlin Embroidery – Tanja Berlin is a goldwork supplier in Canada, and so much more.
Trish Burr – I mentioned her book on color, but Trish has a series of books on needle painting. She also has a series of videos and a few long-distance classes.
Tanja Berlin – Tanja not only has a shop but has also been offering online classes for years. Her needle painting classes are very popular and suitable for all levels.
Jen Goodwin – Jen offers kits in many techniques, but for those wanting to try their hand at blackwork, Jen’s Color wheel is lovely.
Japanese Embroidery Center
If you are interested in learning Japanese embroidery, the center has many certified teachers worldwide. Reach out to them for a list of teachers in your area. Classes are in person for phase 1, but some teachers have started teaching phase 2 and above students online
Bead embroidery – @merrilynwhittledesigns – Merrilyn has great kits for beginners to try out. My first foray into Japanese bead embroidery was a design of hers that was featured in Inspirations magazine called “Hana”
Margaret Lee – If you found you enjoy Japanese bead embroidery, Margaret has beautiful designs. Inspirations might still have kits of her newest design “Sen’nohana”. She stocks some kits in her online shop. She’s also known for Chinese silk embroidery and sells kits and materials.
Some instagrammers I follow: @yukari_iwashita, @irenagasha, @brodeuse_etsuko, @alinablasquez
I mainly learned from books, but did take classes with a few Canadian teachers: Barbara Kershaw (Punto antico, Schwalm), Jette Roy Finlay-Heath (Hedebo), Kathryn Drummond (Punto antico, Casalguidi)
Jenny Adin-Christie – if you want to spoil yourself, save up your money for Jenny’s beautiful kits and embroidery tools. These are heirloom pieces, some of the designs are based on items found in museums.
Thistle Threads – for the committed stitcher ready to go back to school, Tricia Nguyen offers an intense online course worthy of any university program. Classes are specialized in historical embroidery, the kind seen in museums. She actively collaborates with manufacturers to bring back to production the same materials that would have been used in the 17th century, so students have an authentic experience.