Saturday, September 25, 2010

Talking With Debbie Rowley of DebBee's Designs

I met Debbie Rowley about five years ago, at the Charlotte Market, in preparation for opening Scarlet Thread in Vienna, Virginia. I was taken by her canvaswork ornaments and purchased a bunch, not realizing what they were. I've learned a lot since then.

Every year I look forward to going to TNNA's Columbus NeedleArts Market to see just what Debbie's been up to and take in the beauty of all her stitched models. This year, Dawn and I warned Debbie that we wanted to interview her for It's a Stitchy Thing, and we finally followed through in time for the release of her latest designs at the St. Charles Needlecraft Market, opening today. I think you're going to enjoy learning how she comes up with her amazing needlepoint designs.

We’ve long admired your charted canvas designs. As you know, we regularly feature your charts as well as complete kits for them on our Web site, scarletthread.com. When did you first start designing needlepoint?

I started changing things about other designs probably 15 years ago. About 12 years ago I started making up my own designs, primarily ornaments for exchange with my friends. Then 8 years ago I started DebBee’s Designs. 

You focus primarily on charted needlepoint designs. What do you like most about charted canvaswork?

I like the variety of threads and stitches that can be used on canvas. Fabric just can’t accommodate the ribbons and heavier textures, because the holes are too small and the fabric not stiff enough to support highly textured threads and stitches. Canvas is a wonderful medium to play with what’s possible with a needle and thread. I’ve chosen to focus on charted canvas rather than painted canvas because it’s generally less expensive than painted and allows the stitcher to change colors to suit his/her own tastes.

Could you describe your design process?

It’s different depending on the project. Some designs pretty much pop into my head, complete, and I just have to get them into the computer. Other designs fight me, and I have starts and stops, and struggles to make a complete design. Sometimes I start designing one thing and it turns into something else. Mostly a design starts with an idea, then I sit down at the computer and make it into a design. I never start with needle and thread; when I sit down to stitch I have a computer printout, much like the graph in one of my finished charts. After I have the design mostly worked out, I may tweak as I stitch, but it’s fairly complete from the computer. I design everything in black and white. When I have the design completed, I go to the needlework shop and pull every texture of thread in the colors I think I may want to use, including beads. I may or may not use them, but I want them ready to hand. I usually start the color scheme based on an overdyed thread, or a combination that appeals to me, and choose colors from there.
 

Fun Stuff
You're releasing two new designs in St. Charles, Fun Stuff and American Beauty. What was your inspiration for them?

Fun Stuff was inspired by another design, Hot Stuff. So many stitchers have had fun playing with Hot Stuff, changing the colors and enjoying the stitching, that I decided to try again. There may be a third design like this, in a different overall shape, but we’ll see where inspiration takes me! I took some stitches that I haven’t done before (Jean Hilton’s infinity stitch, interlocking Jessicas, etc.) and incorporated them, plus some interesting patterns of satin stitches. There are a couple of stitches that I “made up,” at least couldn’t find in any of my stitch reference books. I’ve taught Fun Stuff prerelease to 18 stitchers at two different shops, and 5 have already completed it! Of course, most everyone has done different colors, and I’ve loved seeing how the different color schemes have turned out.

American Beauty was inspired by two things: this year’s American Needlepoint Guild Quest challenge for the annual exhibit and an exhibit I viewed in San Jose, CA, of works by artist Chuck Close. The Quest challenge was defined as “Manipulated Mosaics”; I knew this would be the theme when I visited the San Jose Art Museum on a trip in December and happened to see an exhibit of Chuck Close’s work. He works in mosaics as an artist, creating amazing portraits with blobs of paper, thumbprints, and other things. I was struck by how much his mosaics looked like needlepoint stitches and decided to give it a try. My husband said he was watching me look at the artwork, and he could see the “wheels turning” as I examined the portraits, trying to figure out how to interpret with my needle what I was seeing.

American Beauty
I have entered American Beauty into the exhibit, and I hope the seminar attendees like it. I haven’t done many representational designs, so this is quite a departure from the abstract for me. I selected stitches that covered 4 x 4 canvas threads and used all overdyed cotton flosses, a different floss for each stitch. There are eight threads and eight stitches in the design. In essence, I used the stitches like mosaic tiles. Interestingly enough, I did not use mosaic stitch!

Scarlet Thread already has orders for American Beauty in the original as well as other colorways. Do you plan to offer other, similar mosaic designs?

If American Beauty is well-received, then I do plan to see what else I can treat the same way. I have several other flowers in mind (morning glory, sunflower, lily) but I’ve also been thinking of other things as well. 

What changes have you noticed in the field of needlepoint today?

I have noticed more experimentation with needlepoint. Using threads in new ways, applying other things to canvas. Especially at the ANG seminar, there are several classes that take an innovative approach to needlepoint. I don’t see these innovations filtering down to shops yet, but they will. 

Have you noticed an increase in folks stitching charted designs? If so, why do you think that is?

I have seen an increase in charted canvas stitchers. I think it’s due to a couple of things. For stitchers who want a break from making x’s, counted canvas offers something new.  For stitchers who are having trouble seeing the holes in fabric, canvas is easier to see, especially 13 ct. Plus, canvas really allows the stitcher to play with different textures of threads, more interesting than floss. 

What challenges do stitchers face today in stitching these complex designs? The right answer is finding all the materials they need in one place … gee, who would offer that?

And what a great service! The other challenge is finding the confidence to branch out into something new, especially for those who can’t take a class. So I work really hard on my instructions, as if I’m sitting next to the stitcher, so that someone who has never done canvas before can pick up one of my charts and complete the project. 

Glitz & Glamour: Tourmaline
Do you still have time to stitch for your own personal pleasure? What are you stitching right now?

I haven’t stitched anything for “pleasure” in such a long time. When I stitch another designer’s project, it’s because I took a class (like at ANG Seminar), or it’s part of our Needle Arts Mystery Retreat that I teach with three other teachers. In fact, I had to hire a stitcher to stitch my grandchildren’s Christmas stockings!

Right now I’m working on a design for Canvas Countess, a retreat I’m doing in February in Branson, MO; a design for a publication next year; and my part of the design for the Needle Arts Mystery Retreat next July. I also have to stitch an ornament for exchange with my ANG chapter. It will be an original design as well and probably will show up in the Just Cross Stitch Ornament issue next year.

Thank you, Debbie, for sharing your design process and insights.

Debbie also has added another new design to her Glitz & Glamour series, Tourmaline (Watermelon), which differs from the rest by not being monochromatic. Could this be the direction for future designs in the series? Let's hope so, because this is stunning!

We've got our order in for all three of these new designs and will be kitting them up. We expect to receive everything within a week to 10 days, so keep an eye out to see when they arrive in the Catalog.

Sara Leigh

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