Nicole Vos van Avezathe is one of the powerhouses of the online stitching community. In addition to her blog, Follow the White Bunny, Nicole created and runs the &stitches website and ezine (with Carina Envoldsen-Harris) and used to blog for Feeling Stitchy. Chances are, if you’ve spent anytime in the online “sticherverse,” you’ve read a post written by or seen an embroidery collection curated by Nicole.
Beyond writing about the current embroidery scene, Nicole is a hugely talented artist and designer in her own right. The Rotterdam-based, self-taught stitcher designs and embroiders tiny animal portraits that evoke (to me) scenes from folklore and children’s literature.
Her work doesn’t look like anyone else’s. It has a painterly, clean aesthetic. Her animals have a rich emotional life and story that Nicole conveys with thread. I’d describe her as a painter in thread.
Fortunately, Nicole shares both her designs and techniques! Her patterns are available in her shop and she is about to launch an online embroidery course.
She is a trained medieval historian. She spent three years in Norway where started sewing (“curtains were needed!”) and first began embroidering. On a whim she started making patterns and opened an Etsy shop. She went on to contribute to books and magazines.
Over the years her focus has shifted somewhat from strictly pattern design to developing as an artist.
What follows in an interview that took place via email (between The Netherlands and North Carolina) in January 2014.
A lot of what I do is based on traditional techniques. I use my (still developing and expanding) embroidery skills to stitch (primarily) furry creatures. I like to explore different embroidery techniques and I especially enjoy making tiny animal portraits with a single thread and lots of fill stitching and shading.
All of my animals have a ‘history’. Bird the Squirrel is a Grey Squirrel from London who actually wants to be a Flying Squirrel. Some of the stuff I make might be slightly odd or off kilter as it suits me as a person but I never intend to shock or try and bring some sort of message across. That’s just not me! I like to make beautiful things.
Describe the first finished design or embroidered piece that you consider a success?
A success artistically? Every new piece is in it’s own way a success but I also often see things I can do better in future pieces. I think when I started doing the shading and the furry stitchings (like the tiny portraits) it felt right, it suited me. It was (and is) challenging but I also feel I have some talent for it, which makes it natural.
I think Bird the Squirrel is a success. I made up a silly sad story (about a bird food-stealing squirrel who speaks with a Cockney accent). Combined with an adequate technical outcome of the piece, it feels like I did the right thing.
To me, many of your designs have the quality of gorgeous, 19th century Children’s book illustrations, but they also have the clean lines and fresh feel of the 21st Century. Can you describe some of the sources of you designs?
I always think that whatever I make is like a selective sum of the many things I see and read and have experienced. I think part of the fresh and clean feel comes from being Dutch (we don’t like fussy things). And my stay in Norway enhanced that outlook. And yes I do like to see good Children’s book illustrations, especially from the 1960’s, so that probably left a mark too.
Less obvious is the inspiration I find in music. I’m sure it influences my work — although I can’t say that Tom Waits is directly responsible for a wistful looking bunny nor blame Morrissey for my choice of a particular palette.
Can you tell us a little about your design process? Do you keep a sketchbook? A clip file?
I have several sketchbooks! When I have an idea for a design, I do make a quick sketch. When the time comes that I think I’m going to use the idea, I’ll do some more sketching, but not much. The embroideries, especially the more recent ones, get mainly developed on the fabric and not beforehand on paper.
Your stitching, especially of your animal fur, genuinely looks like the marks of a drawing, complete with lovely, complicated shading. Is that a trial and error process or have you mapped out each stitch on paper before you start?
Usually I only have the outline transferred onto fabric and I just grab some flosses and start stitching! For the Bird the Squirrel embroidery, I had a sketch of Bird and a picture of a squirrel on my phone to remind me every now and then how the colours are distributed and how the fur looks.
And for the apple detail in my recent Hedgehog embroidery for example, I Googled a red and green apple looked at it for 10 seconds and then started stitching. So I do use some visual reference but mostly I make things up while I’m stitching.
Typically I’ll use about 8-10 different shades for stitching fur in a tiny portrait but I don’t know where the colours will go beforehand. I also don’t like the idea of knowing exactly beforehand how my piece will look like. Too much planning dampens my creativity and I’d like to leave room for those quirky ‘spur of the moment’ additions. I always see things I could have/ should have done differently in a project but I try not to dwell on it too long and just take the knowledge and experience on board and move on to a new project!
Can you tell us about any current projects or those coming up in the near future that you’re excited about?
This year there will be a few publications released that I contributed to and I’m looking forward to see some of my pattern and projects in print!
My main project right now is my upcoming online Embroidery class called ‘Furry Nice’ in which I will be passing along information on how I stitch my little furry creatures. The class starts in April and people can enroll here.
I so appreciate Nicole’s generosity as a artist and designer and now a teacher. I’d also strongly recommend that you follow her on Twitter, where she tweets about her creative life. It’s a wonderful view into her life as an artist, mother, designer, writer, business owner and stitcher.
Spend some quality time on Nicole’s blog, shop and flickr stream. I’m so looking forward to seeing her needle painting influence on her students’ work as it expands across the online stitching community.
Dank je wel , Nicole!