Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Trick or Treat! Jeff Kulick Serves Up His Take on Halloween

Scarlet Thread is excited to introduce another new designer to you: Jeff Kulick. We've been working with him for several months to bring his first chart to you, "Halloween Abstract." Recently, Jeff sat down and answered a barrage of questions we lobbed his way. I think you'll find his take on needlepoint refreshing and inspiring.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, e.g., what region of the US do you live in, what do you do, anything you'd like to share.

I grew up in the Midwest, but I've lived in the Washington, DC, area for more than 30 years. I teach at George Mason University, and I work with a number of publishers reviewing content of cases and books and preparing support materials for textbooks. I'm married with two grown sons and one granddaughter.

When did you start stitching, and what got you interested in it?

I had worked as a carpenter during and right after college, and I've enjoyed making things. I was hooking rugs and my wife was doing needlepoint. I worked with her on a piece and then started working on my own. That was several decades ago.

It's strange for someone who works in education, but I've never taken a class. I collect and read books and articles. I've got probably a couple dozen stitch books or more. When I need a break from the stitching I am doing, I browse through these to come up with new ideas or approaches.

It's also important to talk to other stitchers and the people in the needlepoint supply stores. I've also had the great good fortune to meet and become friends with a number of other designers. And talk to the finishers. Their advice is invaluable.

What do you like most about charted needlepoint? Do you do any other type of needlework?

I like seeing designs emerge, and I customize almost every piece I do — sometimes changing stitches and threads, almost always changing colors. I do work on painted canvasses, even finishing some.

I have tried crossstitch, blackwork, and others, but they don't interest me in the same way.

I start more charts and designs than I finish. I keep looking for new ideas and things to learn. Sometimes I abandon pieces when I think I've learned what I can. I can only recall one piece I was so angry at the poor quality of the instructions and design that I threw it away in disgust.

What was the first piece you designed, and what was your inspiration or motivation?

I began designing pieces soon after I began stitching. I started experimenting with stitches and colors, which I continue doing today.

Today, I often start with a simple design idea, an image, threads, or even a stitch. I also create designs to try new techniques.

What keeps you designing?

I'm also a really good cook. Almost twenty years ago, I realized in mid-March that I had not repeated a menu that year, and that began a challenge that continues today. We don't have the same menu more than once a year. We might have several different kinds of pizza, but not the same one in any given year. It's the same idea in designing and stitching. I recently did four color variations of the same design. It was another experiment and did win an award at Woodlawn, but I'm not doing that again.

If I start running out of ideas, I can always start finishing some of the projects I've started.

You've submitted a lot of finished pieces to needlework exhibitions, and won a number of ribbons, close to 50. How do you see such shows influencing or supporting the needle arts?

I was lucky in terms of exhibitions. The first piece I ever entered won a blue ribbon at Woodlawn, and I was hooked.

Not all the pieces I design or stitch are "competitive." Things that I submit are at a high level of stitching quality and special design. I think these competitions keep raising the bar. I have not gotten an award for each piece I have submitted.

The exhibitions show talent and trends. I learn about new designers and new techniques. I don't copy ideas, but I look at the ways other stitchers are handling challenges.

I don't think every piece should be entered, but I think every stitcher should accept the challenge of creating a piece that should be submitted. Stitching is very personal, and creating an exhibition piece is about stitching at the highest level one can.

You did some experimenting with more than just fiber in one of the designs you entered in the Woodlawn Needlework Exposition this year. Please talk a little about this piece, which we found fascinating.

Ah, that piece. Canvaswork is constrained by the up and down threads. I've played with a lot of designs to push that. One of my pieces that won a lot of recognition included a five-sided figure. That was a real challenge. Circles are a challenge. Curves are a challenge.

The next logical step for me was to look at the canvas ground and change it. I found the idea in New Canvaswork: Creative techniques in needlepoint, by Jill Carter. I found some specialty papers at my local art supply store and online. I then started pulling threads and thinking about specific design ideas. I finally selected a paper with grey, hair-like threads and a black and grey colorway. The design challenge was to find threads and shapes that looked complete but were open to show the paper.

The paper, by the way, was fused to 14-count canvas using iron-on fusing material.

I have been working on designs where some of the canvas shows through. I've also been thinking about designs that go beyond conventional threads.

It's a matter of playing with all these ideas until a good, strong design emerges. Just because you can do some things in needlework doesn't mean you should. It's got to have a unifying idea that pulls everything together. Details are wonderful, but they must support the overall design.

Do you see any particular challenges facing needleworkers today?

You mean besides finding the time to stitch and the money to finish them well?

Here's one: Supporting your needlepoint stores — online and physical stores. Both have roles to play.

I also think it is important to experiment. Right now there are problems with the supply of some wool threads. Wool has good points, but it's not the only thread to use.

What do you do with your needlework once it's been finished?

That depends. Some are framed, others end up as hangings, stockings, or pillows. Most of my completed pieces are simply put into a portfolio or stack. I don't have enough wall space — or the desire — to display all the pieces I've finished. I rotate pieces.

What are you working on now? Do you find yourself stitching other people's designs less often and spending more time doing your own thing?

I've got about ten active projects — some original. I find I'm attracted to experimenting with bargello techniques as a starting point. I also am extending the idea of "Halloween Abstract" to create abstracts for other holidays.

In general, I find myself going back to designs, ideas, and techniques from 20 or 30 years ago and experimenting with new threads and ideas.

And finally, what we're all dying to know: What's it like frequently to be the only guy in the room?

As part of the fraternity of male stitchers and designers, I'm sworn to secrecy.

"Halloween Abstract" is just the first of Jeff's designs that we'll be charting and distributing. So you'll want to keep an eye out for them in the next few months. Meanwhile, click on over to pick up the chart or the kit. And while you're at it, browse our new items.


  1. ANG's Black Eyed Susans chapter in Baltimore wants to do this project at our February 2014 chapter meeting. How can we purchase more charts? I have one I purchased. Thanks. Lisa Geyer neosmom@cablespeed.com