Monday, June 28, 2010

Meet Paula Driscoll

Not long ago, Paula found Ram in the Thicket and has been using my wool to make some of her lovely primitive items. She has a style that I really like, and it's a true pleasure to see my wool used in her pieces. Paula has her own website, Folk and Formal, and the name describes her style pretty well. I will let her tell you more about herself, though. I have invited her to write a post, by way of introduction. Take it away, Paula!

Good day, wool lovers!

I’m Paula Driscoll — married for 38 years to my high-school sweetheart, mother of three grown daughters, and soon to be a grandmother. I have a new online business with two of my daughters featuring primitive smalls and our hand-crafted folk art ~ Folk and Formal.

Paula and daughters Erin and Barclay

I do almost all of the sewing and hand-stitching for our business. I like to work with many fabrics—cotton, linen, velveteen, upholstery tapestries. And I like to do many kinds of hand stitching—cross stitch, needlepunch, embroidery, sashiko. But I LOVE to appliqué wool!

I love wool! It’s warm and it’s cool. It can be machine washed and dried. Once fulled, its cut edges won’t fray (no edges to turn under while stitching). A needle and thread just glides through it (no sore fingers). It is a joy to work with.

My style is folky primitive, but with my own spin. I call it “modern primitive”. I stitch folk art patterns using a limited color palette that almost always includes one dominant color, plus black and cream and neutrals for variety. My favorite pattern designers include Maggie Bonanomi, Jan Patek, Lori Brechlin, Kindred Spirits, Blackbird Designs, Karen Kahle, and Janet Bolton. As I continue to work with wool, I’ve learned a few things that may be helpful to those of you who stitch wool.

Figure out what works for you and how you want to spend your time. I don’t dye my own wool anymore—too frustrating and time-consuming. That’s how I found Susan at Ram in the Thicket. She has any color I want, in any size I need and is delightful to work with!

Don’t be afraid to re-style or re-size a pattern to suit your project. Or you could design your own pattern--think copy machine for enlarging and reducing, light box (or sunny window) for tracing, or your own motifs sketched out and traced onto quilting template plastic. Or be brave and free-hand cut your wool motifs!

In addition to basic sewing supplies, I could not work without my OTT Light, tailor’s chalk and long-arm stapler. The OTT Light brings everything into focus for my middle-aged eyes. The tailor’s chalk marks the pattern templates (I make my templates out of quilter’s plastic) onto wool easily and safely. The long-arm stapler is for basting. And believe me, staple basting changed everything for me—no more hand-basting, no more pins, no more glue. Just arrange the design on the background fabric and staple away and start stitching. (And don’t forget a staple remover to pull those staples out after your project is all stitched down.)


It’s been my pleasure to talk to you here on Susan’s blog. If anyone wants to discuss wool appliqué, primitive antiques, or decorating in the modern primitive style, please contact me at Happy stitching!

Below I have added a number of pictures showing Paula's distinctive style. And isn't her description "modern primitive" the best? As you may have read here before, putting a name to your style and otherwise defining it are so important, and Paula has done this in spades. In particular, I love the "Baltimore Album-style" feel to the quilt she has pictured. It inspires me to create my own quilt for my bed, in fact her pieces are the kind that can easily inspire a color scheme or motif for an entire room. The fact that she starts with a neutral background, then adds simple elements using a very limited color palette gives her items a very appealing signature look, and one that I personally appreciate a lot! And I love that she works with many different fabrics, such as velveteen and linen, to put a new twist on primitive. From the looks of the offerings below, I am sensing that it is very, very advantageous to be related to Paula!

Settler's Pride Quilt: 106" x 48" A Maggie Bonamoni pattern. I re-worked this pattern as a "foot-of-the-bed" quilt for our king-sized bed, using 18" squares (and creating the fish weather-vane for the tenth square) and an all-around 6" border. It is all hand-dyed wools and completely hand stitched in creams, greens, tans and grays on blacks.



Brown Vine and Flower Bolster: 36" x 14" Adapted from a Maggie Bonanomi design. This pillow is mixed cream wools (with a little gray and tan for interest) stitched onto hand-dyed nut brown wool. Black threads were used for all applique stitching, but the running stitches outlining the entire design are done in cream crochet thread. Backing is envelope style done in a brown print flannel. The insert is down and feather.

Oh! Happy Day Pillow: 15" square Tiered panel, hand-appliqued wool and free-hand cross-stitched linen panel tied over a pillow sewn from an antique cotton drapery panel filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender.

Cream Roses Pillow: 22" square Adapted from a Karen Kahle hooked rug pattern, mixed cream and green wool on black backgrounds, lots of running stitches for detail and "movement," the backing is envelope style in black and green print flannel with a down and feather pillow insert.

Erin's Pillow: Adapted from a Maggie Bonanomi design. This is a large lumbar pillow done in cream wools on a pine green velveteen panel with grosgrain ties over a satin pillow filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender (and weighs a ton!). It is personalized with a "fancy" E on the urn and the bee (her favorite motif).

Jordan's Bumper Pad (Jordan is my granddaughter-to-be!) Cream and cocoa wools on raspberry pink velveteen.


Mixed Fabric Rust Pillow: 15" pillow Hand-appliqued wool panel sewn with tapestry, velveteen, homespun. This pillow has an envelope back with a separate cotton pillow insert filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender.

Mixed Fabric Gold Pillow: 15" pillow Hand-appliqued wool panel sewn with tapestry, velveteen, homespun. This pillow has an envelope back with a separate cotton pillow insert filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender.

Wedding Pillow: 18" square Adapted from a Blackbird Designs pattern. This pillow was a wedding gift for a special couple. It is chocolate velveteen with wool appliques. Their cream initial is centered on the red heart with green vines and cream flowers. More vining flowers surround the heart and their names and wedding day were back-stitched at the corners. This pillow is filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender and finished with 2 red hearts on the back.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Meet Ted Stickles

This is the first of a series of posts that I will write to introduce my readers to fellow rug hookers, wool quilters, wool applique enthusiasts, and other wool artists of all kinds, who are clients of Ram in the Thicket.

May I start out by saying that I love my particular clientele. Of all the businesses I could have chosen, mine is populated with clients who are generally older, wiser, congenial and just a joy to deal with. No spoiled, whiny, demanding brats among them! Many love to chit-chat (as I do, obviously) and I enjoy them thoroughly. So it seems only natural to introduce them to you, especially when I see the beautiful work they do.

So it is with pleasure that I introduce Ted Stickles, who became a client within my first year of business (brave soul). Ted is originally from San Mateo California, which is just south of San Francisco, and he lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He went to Indiana University on a swimming scholarship where he broke and held several American and World Records for three years in the individual medley. While in high school he had also set a record for swimming across (under) the Golden Gate Bridge. He started at Louisiana State University in 1972 as a swimming coach, and he coached for eight years. For his last 25 years there, he was the Event Management Director, running all athletic events in all sports -- about 140 to 150 a year. He retired in 2003 but has continued to help out at LSU, running football and baseball events.

I even came across an entry for Ted in Wikipedia! A celebrity in our midst.


His daughter, Loree, got him started hooking rugs. She couldn't talk him into it, so she gave him the makings of a small rug for Christmas one year and, of course, he had to at least try it. Since then, he has made 75-100 pieces -- many small ones, just to hang on walls; and some for different seasons to hang up. He doesn't have enough room for them all, so he duplicates some designs and gives them away, which he enjoys. Many of those are about 18" X 18" and he finishes them for hanging on a wall. Most designs are from some kind of pattern, and he designs some through inspiration from other images, generally using burlap, and a number 3 or 4 cut. Ted will say that he doesn't consider what he does 'fancy', he just enjoys doing it.

Ted finds it hard to just sit; so he hooks and reads (about 125 books a year), does some yard work, works a bit at LSU, and he especially enjoys taking care of his grandkids. It all keeps him busy.

So enjoy the gallery below, and give us your comments!














As of July 2011, here is the latest from Ted. I really enjoy his simple straightforward style, and how he creates rugs with meaning for others, often giving them as gifts. A rug truly is a labor of love. Could you ever be repaid 'hourly' for all the time you would put into a rug? Never. When giving them away, you receive payment in the form of gratitude and a closer relationship.

Ted has made two of these, and donated one for a fundraiser to his high school alma mater, whose mascot is the Knights.



Circle is made of Mardi Gras colors.



Thursday, June 3, 2010

Watch a Pattern Happen from Idea to Finished Piece

In the previous post, I told the story of my visit with my aunt Jean. We sat the entire week doing wool crafting, and it was glorious. No housework, no phone calls, nothing but fun. Aaaahhhhh! I can't wait to go back.

While there, my creative juices were flowing. We talked about doing small projects to get her going in the craft of wool applique. My idea for my own 'small' project was to create a coaster in applique, and then from this idea (since one always needs a set of coasters) came the idea to create a set, each with a different subject, for Christmas. From this came the notion of a series based on the 12 days of Christmas. Twelve coasters is nice, right? Well, if you have read about my preferences in motif, you know that trees, birds, fruits, antique motifs, etc. are what I like. Can you guess which image I picked out to start with? Verse one, naturally, a Partridge in a Pear Tree! No mystery there. So I created this coaster in a day or so while sitting and chatting with Auntie.


Along the way, I decided that I didn't want to make a whole series like this, but I really liked the partridge theme, so I decided to make another larger project with that motif, and perhaps one that could be enjoyed year-round--not too Christmas-y, just a bird in a tree, with a medieval flavor.

So that is the genesis of the project you will watch happen now. Nothing very complicated -- a popular idea, one often used, and in many art forms, certainly nothing new or unique, something I knew would work well in applique, with leaves, and animal and fruit -- all simple outlines -- and one that took into account my personal taste. I emphasize this, so that you can imagine allowing the same thought process to guide you in creating your own pattern ideas.

In the beginning, I didn't concern myself with all of the particulars, like size, what I would make, colors, shading, etc. I only thought about the basic idea, so as not to get ahead of myself and overwhelmed. I know from experience that the rest of the plan will come as I inch forward with the pattern, and begin work on the piece. And notice how I was willing to adjust my expectations as the idea evolved. Long ago, I would have stubbornly stuck to my first idea of a set of coasters, feeling that I should see it through. Now I am willing to discard ideas if I'm not 100% enthusiastic, and let my imagination go someplace new. I also used to form an idea immediately of what I wanted the piece to look like, but now I let the images I find guide me a lot more. And before, I would have started by sitting down to try to draw my pattern cold. But no more. I have learned the value of inspiration. Some may have the ability to draw completely out of their own imagination, and I wish I could do that. It's good that I can't though, because you will see that a nice piece can be produced by a person who cannot just sit down and draw something! Just remember, flexibility is key.

Here is what I have ended up with. The design is near completion, although I will undoubtedly tinker with it some more. Compare it to the 'inspirational' images below, and you can follow the evolution.


The very first thing I did when making the coaster was to get online and search images in Google, using 'partridge pear tree'. (Had I been home, I would also have consulted any art books that would help me.) I also tried using those terms along with 'antique' and 'traditional' to see if I got some more antique-looking images, which I prefer to modern style. I then tried to break away from the Christmas motif of many images I saw, by typing 'bird tree medieval' and 'bird woodcut', because I know that woodcuts were a common way of rendering images in medieval times. Here is an example:


Just in case you are not familiar with searching Google images, go to, and type search terms into the box, as you normally would to search the web. Up in the left-hand corner are other search options, and one of them is 'images'. If you click on that once your search terms are in the box, it will show you only images that it finds on the web, and not text websites. You may have to click 'search images' one more time next to the search box to get the full result. I was a long way into my internet career before I knew about this, so that's why I share it with you!

These searches produced a number of helpful images, which I dragged to my desktop to sort through later and pick the ones that would really help me. Here are some of them.


This first one gave me a good overall, medieval-style image to emulate, although my final rendition didn't really resemble it. It just set the mood for me.


After looking at the image above and others like it, I knew I wanted to make the partridge fill the piece, with leaves and pears all around, rather than make a larger piece with a smaller focal point, as in this image. It did give me the idea to make the piece as a medallion, however. I just used a compass to create the circle. I may put a band of wool around the outside edge. We'll see.


I liked the gracefulness of the turned head in the image above, so I borrowed that idea. I also borrowed the attitude (position) of the partridge from this picture. I debated about having him standing up, maybe with his tail in the air, or with his wings back, as in the woodcut, or roosting, as I finally drew him. I also played with putting feet in, but those seemed not quite right in the piece, maybe because it is stylized. In going for the stylized look, I have to discipline myself not to make it look too 'real', which is often my tendency. And as you can see, this stylized bird has no feet.

Even though I wasn't going for realism, I felt I should consult a photo of a real partridge to help me. Good thing, because . . . .


I found that what I thought was a 'partridge' was actually a quail! The photo above shows a partridge, which isn't nearly as cute as a quail. I like the little bobbly thing on the head of a quail, but I tried putting one on my partridge, even though it didn't really belong, and I didn't like it in this piece. So I will save that for a little piece with quails in it -- maybe a mama quail and her babies marching along in a line. I knew that for a stylized piece I should keep some important elements of the partridge form. I noted how the tail tends to be pointy and turn down, and I reproduced this in the coaster and the medallion. His body is nice and fat, almost humped over on the top, with a smallish round head and fairly stout beak. But beyond this, I let my imagination take over more. Notice, for instance, that I don't have the black stripe going through the eye and down along the side of the head on either piece. I tried several ways to incorporate this on the coaster, but he kept looking like the Hamburglar, so I decided to take some artistic license and leave it out. I think the stripe doesn't translate well into wool -- it may be better for photo and paint, where the line can be softened. I also tried putting it in with embroidery, and I really didn't like that.

On the coaster, I limited the amount of feathers I put on the body, and I will limit the amount of wool feathers and markings I put on the body for the medallion, and rely more on embroidery. See also how I borrowed the bit of striped feathers on the neck of the real partridge and turned them into gold running stitch all the way down the breast of my partridge? I could have done many things there, but that is what I decided in the end. On the wings, I gave a tip of the hat to the real bird's striped feathers in the medallion, but abandoned them altogether on the smaller coaster -- it got too busy. I suggested his wing, and the transition from body color to breast color, using simple lines on the body. I will plan the ornamentation of the body with embroidery when I get there. This is the idea of stylizing something -- picking up a feature on the 'real' thing you are stylizing and play with it a little, keeping it recognizable for the viewer, but taking it someplace new.

For the pears, I had given myself a drawing lesson in pears and other fruit many years back, when painting a fruit garland on the floor at the top of the stairs in our house. So that is an easy thing for me to draw now. I like to make some squatter and some more long and slender. See how putting a little 'X' (as the blossom end of the fruit) near the bottom of the pear gives it more dimension, as if you are looking up at it in the tree? If I remove the 'X' it looks like we are looking at a straight profile of the fruit. I had researched pear leaves also for my previous project. These are somewhat long and tend to curl around a little, so I used that to gracefully frame the pears. Getting the leaves how I liked them was actually the hardest part of the drawing.

I played with two ideas for filling in the leaves and fruit -- I could make them more realistic, as in the image below, with leaves laying over the fruit, and fruit attached to branches, or I could make it more stylized, with less realism in the scene, and therefore less overlap in the leaves and fruit. At first I intended to make the elements more realistic, but as I sketched and worked with the drawing, in the end I picked a happy medium, I think, with just a little overlap to soften the stylized rendering.

This choice between 'realistic' and 'stylized' will often be part of your design process, and you may also want to give it consideration when adopting your 'style'. Do you want to specialize in realistic or stylized pieces? If drawing is not your forte, stylized images may be better, and as you can see they needn't look so stylized as to lose all realism. When drawing stylized images, you can often get away with less detail, mistakes in proportion may be less important, and color choices more flexible. Another option is to specialize in designs rather than images. I plan to do a fair amount of rustic design work as part of my own style, and it is often easier to draw designs. Architectural elements are an excellent source for inspiration.


This image also gave me some inspiration for color and shading, yet to be executed. I am thinking about trying shibori (resist) dyeing for the background, to suggest shadows and leaves, and I will use yellow wool for the pears, and dip-dye it with a whisper of orangey-red on the fat part for the blush on the fruit, and a hint of green elsewhere. I plan to embroider the partridge with gold thread to make him really stand out and look festive, and even more stylized -- maybe like a cloisonne bird. I will heavily embroider the suggested wing, at the top of his back. I also intend to do the leaves and background in several different motifs -- maybe summer and fall color combinations, with more greens in the summer one, and more burnished golds and russets in the fall one. So I'll be making more than one of these.

A Gift Given Back

I spent a week in Las Vegas recently with my 83-year-old aunt, who has been like a mother to me, since my own died 10 years ago. She has been an avid handworker for years, doing all kinds of crafts, and she introduced me to many of them in my early years, and although she is not my mother, she certainly was the mother of my desire to craft! And I was the daughter she didn't have -- she had three boys, so teaching them her crafts wasn't in the cards. Her niece, however, was always anxious to see what she had going while visiting! We spent many enjoyable hours crafting as I grew up, and when I was a young adult. In fact, that has always been a part of our relationship.

Her favorite craft of all has been Brazilian embroidery, and in fact she taught it for quite a while. Her needlework hangs all over her walls, but when you look closely at each piece, the dates on them read '84, '92, '87 etc. She laid her stitchery down about 15 years ago, due to health problems, and just never picked it up again. Then last year, her middle son, and in many ways her favorite, died suddenly at 53. She has been in a depression ever since.

My visit in February was very special. I brought with me all kinds of beautiful hand dyed wool from my huge collection (inventory, really) and I introduced her to penny rugs. Her eyeballs were like two ping pong balls on the end of her nose! She LOVED it and that's all we did the entire week. She worked on a candle mat penny rug, with Brazilian flowers in the middle of each penny. So pretty! I designed and produced a little piece, of a partridge in a pear tree. She couldn't take her eyes off that picture all week, and she just kept saying how lovely it was. So I snuck out with my uncle and got a frame and mat and left it out for her to find in the morning, and keep. She cried. Then she hugged me, and she cried more, telling me how much it meant to her for me to come and bring a spark back into her life. I cried, too!


Since I have returned home, we have been in touch and I've sent her more wool. She called a few weeks ago and said that they have bought her a scooter, so that she can get out more now. She has trouble walking due to diabetes, and has been pretty housebound for a long time. But now she has brightened up so much that she wants to hit the mall! It was wonderful to hear what a chain reaction of joy I had started, simply bringing some wool with me and spending some time with her.

I hope to go back out soon. It means so much to me that I could give back to my aunt something she had given to me long ago, when she showed me her crafts and helped me learn how to do them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

You CAN Draw Your Own Patterns!

When talking about the wool arts, I often hear from others how they regret that they are not artistic or that they can't draw well enough to make their own patterns. I wonder how often a person who feels this way may not ever try to make a pattern, because they 'know' from past experience that they won't be able to do it. Well, in this entry, I would like to encourage those who see themselves as non-artistic, by helping them form a new definition of 'artistic' or 'creative', and by providing some pointers for making simple patterns that might be used for applique or hooking.

First, here is a definition of 'creative' that I learned some time ago, and I related to it so much that I have always remembered it. Here it is:

"Creativity is the art of not revealing your source."

So simple, yet so profound. Thinking in theoretical terms, it would be very difficult for the human mind to form creative ideas in a vacuum -- with no one else and nothing around him but white walls, ceiling and floor. We draw ideas from everything we see, hear and touch. Yes, we may make them 'unique' by human standards, but in their simplest form, our creative ideas come from external stimuli, often in the natural world, and as art and ideas have developed, from the work of others that we see, touch, or hear, and appreciate. In a sense, today's artists are standing on the shoulders of giants in the arts, those who have gone before us and contributed their tiny part to the giant historical world of the arts.

The earliest human beings developed rudimentary art forms based on what they experienced around them in nature. They might have made small whistles built to emulate the sound of a bird; woven mats from the long fibers or strap-like leaves of plants; cloth dyed using ingredients made from the bright colors seen in plants and other materials. Others coming after them built on those ideas, adding new ideas formed from their own awareness of their surroundings, and so on. As cultures formed, some ideas crossed the barriers between these cultures, out of necessity. All cultures have clothing, drinking and eating vessels, textiles for everyday use, such as bedding and linens. All cultures certainly have buildings and transportation equipment. But beyond that, the ornamentation of all these necessities becomes quite diverse. Historically, cultures have developed collective 'styles' that are identifiable. Asian, Egyptian, Greek, European, and Hispanic art all have their own distinctive style.

And this helps to prove my point -- ideas were built upon, but remained similar, across many artisans in a culture, rather than radically different styles of ornamentation developing from different people in one culture. In any cultural art exhibit, one can see where they were sharing ideas, altering them somewhat, while keeping them similar. There are certainly exceptions to this, to be sure, but in general we see small universes of ideas being shared within cultures, and these ideas might not be present at all in other cultures. Only when there was commerce or other communication between cultures was there an exchange of ideas that might lead to the adoption of a style into one culture from another.

In today's world, there is an ongoing and increasing trend to blend artistic styles from many sources, with the advent of easy transportation around the globe, and the mixing of ideas through modern communications, such as the internet. This is especially true in the U.S., which has been a melting pot of ideas for a couple of centuries. Now we are all borrowing ideas from each other, and adding to them or twisting them to make them our own. This is creating an explosion of styles and ideas that is really pretty amazing, and enjoyable to witness. But we are still taking ideas from others, altering them and making them our own. In many ways, what the great thinker Solomon said is true, way back in the days of the Bible, "There is nothing new under the sun."

So lest you think that 'creativity' means 'creating' something entirely new and unique, I hope you see my first point. This is important, because it puts you in the ballgame. Anyone, to some degree, can look at an idea, change it around a little and produce something new. It's not as hard as you might think, so please start considering yourself able to do this, even to a small degree. This is a skill that you can cultivate, with a little effort.

Personally, I don't consider myself to be particularly creative, although those who know me will tell you that I am very creative. I can't say I have ever produced something truly unique from anything else--something completely new that has never been done before. Some variation of everything I have ever done is already out there. But by simply borrowing ideas from what I have seen, adjusting the color, or the proportions or perhaps the media used, I have made it my own. Others see the results of this, and pronounce me 'Creative'. I just smile and say, 'Thanks', and I don't generally reveal my source! There are some traits and skills, however, that the 'creative' person may have that others don't, and I will discuss how to cultivate those traits now.

Step One The most important thing that 'creative' people have that other less 'creative' people may not have is a passion for the beauty found in art of all kinds, particularly painting and textile art. I have this passion, so I have spent time practicing reproducing the things I enjoy seeing, reading about them, and trying my hand at manipulating ideas I have taken from others. Here is an important principle to keep in mind:

A passion for learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge is the main requirement for doing so.

Notice that I say passion, not talent. Talent is very overrated in my opinion. Even great artists, like Rembrandt or da Vinci, became accomplished in their art because they worked at it. Granted, having some natural ability is certainly a help, but it is not that ability that makes someone accomplished, nor is it the only criteria for becoming accomplished. The passion that fuels the effort to learn and grow is far more important, and it is passion that can make a person with mediocre natural ability able to excel beyond the person with great natural ability. The passion I have makes me work hard at learning the thing I have a passion for, and that work will make me better at it, regardless of my natural ability.

Naturally, there are some limitations to this. For instance, at my current age, it is unlikely that any amount of passion is going to make me a brilliant gymnast. (Can I get an 'amen' to that, all you 50-somethings?) Just getting out of bed some days can be dangerous business for me. Likewise, we all have our mental limitations that may prevent us from being the brilliant scientist that would find the cure for cancer. So I'm not going to tell you that 'you can do anything if you put your mind to it', because that's not strictly true. But we aren't talking about gymnastics or medical science here. All we want to do is manage some simple sketches that will make our particular art even more enjoyable. Honestly, this is well within the mental and physical grasp of most women, with effort and persistence drawn from a keen interest in making it happen.

Now, there is nothing wrong with saying that you just aren't interested enough in something, even drawing patterns for your wool art, to learn how to do it. So the first decision you must make is whether or not you care enough to learn. If the answer is 'no', then there is no harm in that, and it is perfectly fine to continue as you have, perhaps feeling better for having said, 'I just don't care enough about it to learn', rather than, 'I'm really not very creative.' Do you see the difference? The first statement puts you more in control of what goes on with your creative endeavors, while the second attitude may leave you feeling intimidated and unable to accomplish what you want because of a 'lack of talent'. And the first statement, in the end, is probably truer than the second statement. So if you just aren't 'feelin' the love', carry on as before, but by all means, change the conversation that goes on in your own head, and that you have with others about yourself. Don't continue to believe that you just don't have talent.

If you feel that you do have enough interest to try to learn, focus on cultivating your passion, and don't worry about this nebulous thing called 'talent'. Get the passion! It is difficult to say sometimes what creates a passion for something in a person's heart. Something will just grab you, and you can't understand it -- all you know is that you love it. And it's probably true that it's hard to generate passion where none of this 'natural, unexplainable' passion exists. But I do believe with the proper stimulation, it's possible for some to develop a passion, by just trying something new. I never would have guessed that dyeing wool would become my passion, had I not tried it. Who knows? If you try some of the things I suggest below, and have some success, the drawing part of your wool art may become your passion! You will never know unless you give it a try.

So begin by telling yourself that you can draw something that would turn into a lovely piece, a rug, or wall hanging, or chair cushion. Try to imagine what you could do with a new-found skill, that would allow you to create your very own one-of-a-kind works -- anything you want -- rather than having to rely on what you can find in patterns. Let me tell you, that is a very empowering attitude and one that can really change your whole art career. Let yourself dream big, but agree with yourself to start heading toward your dream with little steps, designed to encourage you along the way -- small achievable projects, one at a time. If you truly can internalize the things I'm suggesting, that will also help you get the passion. And above all, stop telling yourself that you can't.

Step Two It's a huge world out there, with an infinite number of ideas, and it can be overwhelming. Bring it into proportion for yourself by learning to identify those themes and motifs that you like and finding sources to borrow ideas -- fantastically easy in this modern age. This step will also help you build your passion, as you take ownership of 'your own style'. After all, if you are going to become an artist of sorts, it would be a good idea to know in what direction you would like to head. We've all seen works by more renowned artists, and they generally have a particular style, or preferred subject matter, even if they do dabble in other styles as well. It's the very rare person who excels in many disciplines. Most specialize in one, or at most, a few things. Think of Thomas Kincaid, or Anne Geddes, or Taylor Swift (for Pete's sake, if I hear one more song about being a teenager in love, I'll have to kill someone). These and many others found a style and worked it until it was very good. For me, (as you will read elsewhere on this blog) medieval or other antique and rustic motifs, animals and birds, simple human figures, soft, heathery primitive colors, leaves and trees, fruit, and textures of all kinds are a few of the motifs and styles that have always grabbed my attention and caused me to surreptitiously rip out a page from a magazine in the doctor's office, or confiscate one of my kids' cameras to snap a picture. (They hate it when I do that.) I am in the beginning stages myself of formalizing these preferences into a style that I plan to work at, develop, refine, and make my personal style. You will see it emerge in the next few years in my own work.

It's also overwhelming to think of having to learn to become 'an artist' in order to draw the things you want to draw. You may imagine having to take a lot of classes, or having to learn a whole new art form to feed your wool arts. But if you narrow down your style, then you might be able to imagine just focusing on learning to draw barnyard animals, or trees, or human faces, or buildings, etc. This might seem much more manageable to you. Developing your own style will help you to narrow down the options in the big world of the arts to those that you can actually fathom being able to do, and specialize in.

So spend some thoughtful time to develop ideas of what your own style is. Perhaps start by making a list of those themes and motifs that you like. Think about your own style and color preference. Do you like modern, with bright colors and abstract motif? Or do you prefer cute country teddy bears, pumpkins, and frogs in primitive style and color? Landscapes? Human figures? Personal themes that have meaning for you? Dark, brooding colors? Identify a small universe of colors that you like to use, perhaps 100 or so colors, light and dark. You could go to your local sewing store, and collect all the colors in embroidery floss that you like. There are so many thousands of colors out there. Narrowing your choices down to those that you really love will help you in the early stages. Keep the colors simple the first few small projects you do -- give yourself every chance for success by using colors that you love. To choose some subject matter that you like, look through all kinds of media -- books, magazines, architectural elements on your tour of that old estate, snap photos of real life objects, and the web is the most amazing resource imaginable. Maybe you could build a scrapbook of color swatches, pictures, textures and lists of things that you like, to keep you grounded in developing your style. Something you can return to when you find yourself wandering or drifting in your design process. Naturally you can depart from it whenever you want, but if you concentrate on this more narrow definition of your style in the early stages, it will sharpen your focus, and nurture your passion for what you do. And in repeating the use of similar themes and color combinations, you will become more practiced, more quickly. You can always branch out later, but for now, I would suggest keeping things as simple as you can, while you learn.

Step Three
is to become better at looking at something and deciding whether it would make good subject matter for the media in which you work. For instance, in wool applique, one can only put in so much detail without it looking too busy, so I force myself to look for simpler forms and less detail, because I do appreciate a certain amount of detail put into a work -- it signifies time and care spent. I start with simple, and then I find ways, here and there to add a little detail, often with embroidery. Other subjects may look better rendered as a rug. I have learned over time what subjects will look good in my particular art form.

If you have an idea of the motifs that you like, when you see something that rings the bell for you, try to get a photo, or other rendering. I have even taken rubbings from objects when I was without a camera, just to get the shape and general idea to work from. Or, better yet, if you have a teenager with you, they will inevitably have their cellphone and can take a picture for you, and email it to you, all of which can be accomplished in about 10 seconds for a 16-year-old!

Collect your ideas in a folder or in your scrapbook, and ruminate on them, letting ideas form in your mind of how best to use them. You may like the shape of a tree in a picture, but would need to simplify it for your rug or wall hanging. Rendering a face may be more effective in a rug, than in applique, if you like to shade and provide a lot of detail. Or maybe you have a technique to make a face look good in applique, in which case a face may work well. A detailed landscape might be better done as a rug. I simple medallion design with few colors might be more interesting as an applique project, or part of a quilt. When looking at a photo that you have taken, work on your skill in deciding whether it might make good subject matter - you may have found the subject beautiful in person, but it may lose something in the translation to art. Often the real thing is so much better to you than a photo, because you recall the mood and atmosphere that you were experiencing when viewing the subject, and that may not carry over into a photo. Is there a focal point to the photo, or is it a landscape with little detail, albeit pretty? Do you have a photo of a beautiful sunset? Maybe you can add a black silhouette or two from somewhere else to create the focal point. Or your subject matter may have personal meaning to you -- in that case you have more latitude in making it work, in my opinion, and if it might not be the best subject for your piece, that is less important than the significance it has for you.

Talk with other experienced wool artists that you may know and get their input. Consult some books and magazines to see what subjects are generally used in particular arts, and which are used across many, and if so, are they altered? Perhaps given more detail in some forms? In particular, look for examples of motifs that you are considering for inclusion in your 'style'. Rug Hooking Magazine and other fiber magazines are also a great source of ideas for motifs that you can be certain will work. You may never, in fact, do anything with your ideas, so don't feel pressured to make everything happen. You are just giving yourself options. Occasionally, I go through my folder and discard those ideas that are no longer interesting.

Yes, this is a skill that can be cultivated, but I'm sorry to say that it is one that is often cultivated by making mistakes -- by getting most, or all, of the way through a project, only to see that it doesn't look as good rendered in paint or wool as it did in real life, or in a picture. If you are working on subject matter that has personal significance, again, this may not be an issue, but it is true that some things will make better subject matter than others, depending upon your media. Over time, your eye will become better, perhaps from having learned a hard lesson on a previous project. You will learn to pass over those images or models that you know will not work, and narrow your focus even further to those that you like and know will work.

Step Four is to develop your awareness of proportion. For instance, if you are preparing a photo to be used in a project, knowing where to crop it is important, to take best advantage of the subject matter, and create balance in the picture. Or perhaps it might be better to move the elements in the photo around to improve it for your purposes. When sketching a figure, it is important to be able to see that the head is too big relative to the body, or that the slope of the roof on the house in your sketch is much steeper than the one in the picture, and that is what is throwing it all off. Often just measuring the elements will help. If the head is 1" and the body is 4" long in the photo, then recognize that this proportion must be the same in your pattern -- the head should be 3" if the body is going to be 12". Or if the roof is too tall, measure its height at the peak as that relates to the width of the house in your model. When you bring that into alignment in your sketch, then everything else will work. Simple geometry is a wonderful tool that will help you to accurately mimic in your medium what you are seeing in your model, or photo. It's simple math, and it all comes into play when dealing with proportion. The good news is that if you had any geometry in school, you can, pretty easily, resurrect those skills. I use a lot of math in my own drawing. Learning how to position elements in a picture may be more difficult, but trust me, it's not beyond you! There are good books out there, and a book and a little practice may be all you need to get you on your way.

Step Five is to develop your sense of color and contrast. Narrowing your color universe will certainly help you in this, and there are other resources and books available to help you, as well as many magazine articles in RHM and others. But again, practice will ultimately be your greatest help. I also offer a tool on my hand dyed wool website that helps many of my customers. I have many, many colors, and I divide them up into primitive, country, modern, and vibrant colors. Selecting colors from one or two of those color families will help you in creating a project containing colors that are compatible with each other. I find that most customers do this, selecting from only one or two color families.


At some point in this process, you'll have to finally put your pencil on the paper and give 'being creative' a try. I won't go into a full-blown sketching lesson here. My intent is just to give you a push in the right direction. If you would truly like to cultivate some of these skills, start with some practice sketching, without the intent of turning the results into textile art. Just sketch. Or take one or two beginner's drawing classes, get a couple of good art books on sketching, or there may be some workshop on the subject at a rug camp--honestly, that is all you would need to give you the skills to make patterns for projects that you could really enjoy. There is no need to become Rembrandt. Learning to draw simple shapes and outlines, and learning how to place objects in your pattern are enough to get you going. Start with some small projects that will be easier, and will give you some success to encourage you. Honestly, giving yourself a little 'sketching class' may only take a few weeks of concentration, in between your other activities--in the evening, or during your lunch break, or on the weekends. This is not a big commitment, and one that will give you so much freedom in your art -- a big payback for a relatively small outlay of time and effort.

Here are some techniques that I use to make myself look 'creative'.

When borrowing ideas, shapes or proportion from images, one valuable tool I use is the photocopier, and I also have a 'Photoshop-type' program that I can scan images into and then manipulate. An all-in-one printer is ideal for both of these tasks. I find many images in catalogs, magazines and books that I know I can borrow from, and I drop them in my 'Creative Ideas in Wool' file. There are always one or two projects in that file calling out to me at an given time, until I relent, pull them out and do something with them. When the time comes to use one or two, I decide the size of my project, then the size of the objects I will put in it. I may make a very simple outline of the overall plan, just to get proportion. Then I will start to manipulate the images that I'm planning to use. First of all, the picture I am borrowing from is almost never the size I need it to be. So I will enlarge or reduce it on the photocopier. Simple math is all you need here. I just measure one dimension of the picture, say, the height. If the picture is 2 1/2" tall and I need it to be more like 3 1/2", I just divide 3 1/2 by 2 1/2 and get 1.4. I translate this for my printer into an enlargement of 140% and I have the size I need. Likewise, if I want to go from 3 1/2" to 2 1/2", I do the opposite -- divide 2 1/2 by 3 1/2, giving me .71 -- this translates into 71% for the printer.

Once I have an object the required size, I go to a window, (or a lightbox if you have one), and literally trace the parts of the object that I intend to emulate. It may be the general outline, or just the head that I am going to stick onto another body from somewhere else, etc. I use light sketchy strokes so that erasing the inevitable mistakes is easy. I always plan to do a lot of erasing and redrawing. I may want to adjust the actual shape a bit, so I experiment, sketching and erasing as needed. Sometimes I will trace several copies so that I can experiment as much as I want while still retaining clean copies of those that I liked. Do you see how much of what I do is measuring, copying and experimenting? I never sit down and draw a nice sketch out of the air, and you don't need to, either.

When I was younger, I expected to get it right the first time, and I would become frustrated if that didn't happen. Now I understand that it is a longer process for me, and one that often involves laying down the work for a time -- an afternoon, a day, a week, or even a month -- and coming back to it with fresh eyes. I find this invaluable, and some of my best changes come after having put it down for awhile. I even enjoy this process now -- working, stopping, ruminating and working again. I smile to myself sometimes while I am taking a break because I have come to understand that this period of doing nothing may, ironically, be the most productive part of the development process. (In fact, even the writing of this entry has been done using this technique, and the best editing that I do comes after I have left it for awhile, then returned and reread the whole thing to get the big picture. I move a lot of text around then. I rarely write a piece in one sitting.)

I keep my sketching light until I am seeing lines that I like, so that all my experimental lines can be easily erased if needed. As I get closer to seeing a finished product, I will darken the lines, and maybe even add a little shading to see what it would look like. So in this way I slowly finish my pattern. Then I put it down again and come back to it. If I still like it, then I know it's ready for use. If not, then I keep working. Now understand, at this point all I have are simple outlines of the elements in my designs. That's all I need to worry about for now. All the shading, color planning, and addition of those details that will give dimension, are in the future. Some may want to add shading or even color to further develop the idea, and you can, but it's not necessary at this stage if you are already working hard to get to this point. Remember that the outline, or a simple rendering of the pattern or motif is all you need to accomplish for now.

For those who have always used a pattern, it's the drawing that daunts them. For others who have relied on kits, the color selection may also be intimidating. So if this is true for you, take it a step at a time. Perhaps you could develop the pattern yourself, then get help with the color planning for your first few projects. Try to participate in that process as much as possible, and soon you will have the extra confidence needed to try the color planning yourself. And remember that working with colors that you have pre-selected as favorites in Step One, will greatly narrow down the options, making deciding easier for now. You can branch out later as you become more experienced.

Leonardo da Vinci said,

"Art is never finished, only abandoned."

I believe this is true. From one germ of an idea, through your pencil, and later, through your hook or needle, an infinite number of results are possible. At some point, you have to look at your work, be satisfied, and stop. This may sound strange to some, but I had to learn this. I always felt in my heart, when working on any project, that there was one perfect result that I was looking for, but I never knew what it was -- I only had a general idea. I found this very frustrating, and I would have a hard time feeling satisfied with the finished product. This quote helped me, seeing a great artist like da Vinci saying this about his own work. Now I can look at a finished piece and see it as one of many ways I could have done it, and enjoy the one option that I chose. (Da Vinci was, incidentally, one of those few who excelled in many disciplines. He truly was a genius.)

What if you hate the results of your first efforts? Excellent! Give them to that sister-in-law that bugs you. Or better yet, keep it, and the others that come after, so that you can track your progress as you improve. Or at least take pictures and put them in your scrapbook. The only way to truly appreciate where you end up as an artist is to compare your later works to the pieces you did at the beginning. Wouldn't it be fun to have a historical record of your journey from 'helpless non-artist' to 'accomplished artisan'? If nothing else, your children may enjoy having it someday.

And I would love to have your pictures, too, so please feel free to share any results you get, after reading this post. It would encourage me!

In the next few days, I'll write a post that will bring you along with me as I develop a pattern from idea to sketch, ready to transfer to wool. This is the project that has been calling out to me from my 'Wool' file for the past few months. You'll get to see all the cheating I do! Hooray!