To choose a design, I usually begin by reviewing my collection of photographs and sketches. Landscapes and gardens inspire me, especially those of the English countryside where I grew up and then farms and parklands of western New York where I live. The changing light and subtle colors of an autumn sky or the bright colors of a formal garden on a summer day constantly intrigue me.
Once I have decided on a design, I reduce it to a series of lines that serve as my background. I trace this layout onto a piece of blotting paper, which I cut with an exactor blade to make a stencil. Then, I clip the stencil onto a large piece of silk that has been stretched and placed on an easel. Using silk dyes and an airbrush, I begin to paint the background for my design. Sometimes I paint the dyes directly on the silk with a paintbrush, using a “resist” to trace divisions among the colors. Next, I remove the silk from the frame and iron it. This “sets” the background colors.
To begin stitching, I stretch the fabric tightly, backed by a piece of white cotton, in an embroidery hoop. Placing this circle of fabric beneath the needle of my sewing machine, I begin to embroider the design. The original sketch serves as the basis for my landscape, and I use two or three basic stitches with DMC embroidery threads to create a rich texture. To create a whipstitch, for example, I tighten the top tension and loosen the bottom spool tension. I often create a more “painterly” effect by using a different colored thread in the bottom spool. You can see this in the thatched roof of Cleeve Cottage.
To begin, I place the completed work over foam core, stretching it tightly with silk pins. The piece is now ready for matting and framing, which is also an important part of the creative process.