Thirteen designers, twelve weeks, two countries and one brief; this is Our Common Thread.
Back in February 2019, Jenny Kleinschmidt and Brooke McGowan joined forces to bring together the innovative needlepoint designers they discovered on Instagram. They wanted to tear down the barriers between us by focusing on community over competition to help raise the profile of the craft and celebrate this group of talented designers by exhibiting projects for the wider community to stitch.
To this end, they invited eleven designers from all over the States and the UK whom they felt would bring something different to the group and I (Bobbin & Fred) was lucky enough to be one of them. Each member of Our Common Thread is at a different stage in our design careers and indeed our lives. While some have been designing for over 20 years, others are in the early stages of bringing their very first designs to market. What unites us is our love of hand stitch and our desire to shout about it, hoping to incite scores of enthusiastic newbies to get stitchy with it. Together, we span generations and even have Beth of Doolittle Stitchery and her daughter, Tess of Pewter & Pine, among our number to prove it.
Jenny and Brooke devised a brief for us each to work from and gave us twelve weeks to come up with a finished needlepoint design to exhibit online and add to our collections. The brief was Pantone’s Colour of the Year, Living Coral, and we were free to interpret this in any way we liked so long as our final design included the colour as a predominant feature.
We each took up the gauntlet with eager hands and set to work. A peak inside our sketchbooks shows how we each approached the brief from completely different angles and had different ways of working our ideas from conception to completion.
Emily Peacock admits she began the challenge by being too literal. Her initial sketches of coral were soon abandoned in favour of researching the creatures under the sea. The sample of Emily’s sketchbook above shows how a design can develop over the course of a page. In a recent interview, Emily explained how she puts everything through an Emily filter and adds scale and high colour to create drama and high impact , and the graphic effects of this can be seen in her final design, Celine.
Erica of Bad Bitch Needlepoint used the challenge to explore the pixelating of images, a process she’s been fascinated by since spying a cool, pixelated mural on the wall of a café in a magazine. The colour, Living Coral, was a big part of Erica’s research too. It brought to mind vibrant flowers that light up Manhattan’s apartments, storefronts and restaurant flower boxes and she created a design that she hoped would bring the colour to life.
Emma of The Makers Marks had a different approach again. Inspired by the time elements involved in Pantones and the effect they have on the wider design community, she developed a mood board of imagery she was inspired by and these elements became the basis of her design. Emma’s process shows how borrowed imagery can be developed into something very original. Comparing her research with her final design shows the leaps she took while designing her artwork.
We also used different methods to develop our Common Thread ideas from our research. Joanna of The Plum Stitchery made beautiful sketches of her motifs. She then placed these sketches underneath the needlepoint canvas and painted over the top of them. Joanna starts painting with one color of one element and confesses to never quite know how a design will look until it’s done.
Tess of Pewter & Pine marks out the basic design with a sharpie before painting over the top and adding colours and details. Tess revealed more of her process when I interviewed her and explains that you have to imagine things as a very pixelated image…not all ideas will transfer well. This happened to be the case with Tess’ first attempt when she found it wasn’t working. The setback must’ve been frustrating but it paid off, Tess’ final design evokes her grandparents’ sumptuously patterned rug with contemporary flair.
Marina of Marina’s Home sketched geometric shapes onto graph paper inspired by origami and Welsh blankets before she completed a series of stitch experiments. Marina wanted the effect of a strip of paper that had been folded, to make a square, and these experiments helped her play with the colours and explore the ways in which the shapes interact with each other . The knowledge she gained from these sample pieces helped her to refine her design, bringing you the very best version to stitch.
Anne of Anne Fisher Needlepoint sketches and paints directly onto the canvas. When a design is larger she does the details first, and when tackling smaller designs, she paints the outline first instead. The work in progress shot of Ms. Maho above shows how Anne painted the dark coral details before moving onto the outline. If you fancy giving this a go, Anne warns that you’ll go through a lot of brushes as the canvas is very hard on them.
Not all of us stitched our final designs but of those that did, our different approaches to stitching shone through. Tina of Tina Francis Tapestry celebrated her love of Bargello, an underused needlepoint stitch comprised of straight, upright stitches laid out mathematically to form motifs. Tina found by limiting her design to just three colours she was able to create an illusion that reminds her of sea washing over coral. Tina’s intensely coloured design breathes new life into this style of stitching, reinvigorating Bargello for newbies and experienced stitchers alike.
Brooke of Thorn Alexander got experimental with her hand painted canvas, playing with stitches of different sizes and shapes to create texture and add visual interest. Brooke sees needlepoint as a form of visual meditation, and constant source of therapy, helping her move through everything life throws at her. The way Brooke intuitively stitched her canvas makes it exciting to the eye and each stitch type almost seems to trace the thought or memory Brooke meditated over while sewing.
I chose to use speciality stitches to recreate repeat patterns I developed from the marks and shapes I found in images of living and fossilised coral. Jessica stitch, weaving and tent stitch all combine to create a Tudoresque lacelike design I then embellished with sparkly beads and glass pearls. I turned my stitchery into a choker but the stitch pattern would also look spectacular appliqued to the cuffs or the pocket line of a shirt.
With different approaches to research, design development and styles of stitching it’ll come as no surprise that Our Common Thread exhibition pieces were as different as they are gorgeous. From abstract art to wearable needlepoint, there really is something for everybody in Our Common Thread’s first online exhibition, Living Coral.
Beth of Doolittle Stitchery’s design was inspired by swirling sand and combines a myriad of colours. Coral is a bold color that works well with something cooling and calming and so Beth used turquoise, sage green and khaki to offset coral’s intensity. Beth plans to finish her canvas as a clutch and is sharing updates as she sews on Instagram.
Jenny of Jenny Henry Designs fused geometric patterns with elegant flamingos and pretty butterflies to create an opulent Art Deco infused collection of zip pouches. Jenny sees herself as the first stage in a long creative process whereby she designs the canvas for needlepointers to add their own spin. She hopes stitchers will experiment with the colours and stitches they use but above all else Jenny recommends to have fun, reminding us that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Ashleigh of Ash + Gin, uses needlepoint as a medium to create one off pieces of abstract art. Her exhibition piece was inspired by her memories of waking up early and catching every drop of a sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ashleigh brought her vibrant and unique style to her interpretation of the brief and created a meaningful piece of modern art for contemporary interiors.
Don’t just take my word for it, take a closer look at Our Common Thread’s online exhibition to see exactly how all of our designers turned their talent to the brief and came up with a breath-taking range of designs for you to stitch and admire.
If you’d like to learn more about our creative cohort, meet Anne, Jenny, Brooke, Emma, Emily, Tess and Joanna over on my blog, Sewing with Bobbin and Fred, where I interview them and get to the nitty gritty of life as a needlepoint designer. These interviews are jam-packed with top tips, stitchy resources, and their stories of how needlepoint came into their lives. Check them out to find out how needlepoint stole their hearts and continues to fuel their imagination and fan the flames of their passion for handstitch… you may even find your fingers itching to have a go.
Although our first design challenge is now complete, many of our exhibition designs are available as hand-painted canvases, kits or PDF charts for you to stitch. For more info on where to find them, check out each designer’s page. We’re hoping more designers will join us for our second design challenge beginning in October so we can bring you a bigger, better and more diverse exhibition.
Until then, follow us on Instagram for juicy updates, sneak peeks and tantalising teasers.