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The Joy of Uninterrupted Studio Time! Guest Blogger Christina Fairley Erickson

April 15, 2022

The last couple years have been challenging to all of us… and creativity in the face of hardship can swing being either overwhelmingly daunting or highly inspirational at times. As students in Gail’s Level 4 Advanced Research for Design, we’ve had to work through numerous schedule adjustments, change to online classes during the lockdowns, and ride the rough waves of Covid surges. For me, it has also meant moving my 87 year-old mother into my home, after the isolation from the lockdowns slowly chipped away at her mental and physical health. So time and the energy to make my art has changed. Finding the time and space in my home to create amidst new demands can be formidable.

Therefore, it is with great joy (and a bit of relief) that I find myself back in Gail’s studio at class! There is nothing like the uninterrupted studio time, working in harmony with other students. To have table space to spread my work out (in short supply in my home!) allows me to progress my work and get energized and inspired.

Christina’s work in progress at Gail’s studio!

There is also the ease of having a high table to paint on and white walls to hang work on and be able to view it from across the room. It’s so helpful to see your work as it will look vertically, as well as from afar.

Working on painting and a piece on the wall at Gail’s La Conner studio.

Getting to glimpse what else has been going on in both in-person and online classes is always fun too. Gail had just put on a dyeing class, so the studio was festooned with luscious colored cloth and threads! Her extensive library usually drops a few treasures amongst her students to inspire us.

Gail is now offering two additional ways to work in the studio. You can work at an Open Studio day or a Mentoring day. The difference between the two days is that the Open studio gives you a dedicated workspace (and ability to socialize during the lunch break!) In contrast, the mentoring session adds a block of time where Gail will meet with you and discuss your art, helping you to breakthrough any inertia you’re struggling with.

I hope to see you at the next Open Studio day– it’s so great to be able to meet together again and I love getting so much more done in one day at Gail’s studio than I get done in weeks at home!

White-on-White Mountmellick Embroidery- Guest Blogger Christina Fairley Erickson

March 17, 2022

When planning my textile tour of Ireland in 2018, I included visiting Mountmellick to see the museum of Mountmellick embroidery. This embroidery style was developed between 1825-1840 by Johanna Carter, partly as a way to assist families to have some sort of income stream in the face of the recurrent famines, as well as financial problems due to the rise of industrialization.

Mountmellick Embroidery Sideboard Cloth with morning glory, dog roses, shamrocks, clover, passion flower, fuchsia, lilies, pansies, marsh marigold, peoniew, roses, forget-me-not, pimpernel, acorns, and oak leaves.

Mrs. Carter created a new bold style, inspired by the flora along the hedges and walls of Mountmellick and the banks of the Owenass river, which was unique elements include:

  • White cotton ground fabric (typically a white satin jean) contrasting with a more matte white cotton thread
  • Floral designs from nature in a fairly large scale
  • No use of openwork (although occasional eyelets appear on a fine ground)
  • Contrasts of smooth satin stitch against padded and knotted stitches.
  • Frequently finished with either buttonhole or knitted edgings with fringes.
Detail of stylized wheat sheaf on coverlet which includes triple feather, diamond filling, cable plait, seed stitches, Indian filling, and bullion knots.

The town of Mountmellick was founded in the 17th C. by Quakers (the Society of Friends), which has led to some speculation that this embroidery style was appealing due to it being bold and elegant, but without color, which would have been considered too worldly. The embroidery was taught to girls in school, allowing them to help bring in additional income to their families. The cottage industry faltered for about a decade around 1870, but rose again in 1880 when The Industrial Association in Mountmellick was started by Mrs. Millner ”to help provide a livelihood for ’distressed Irish gentlewomen’”.*

Child’s dress and cape c. 1890’s. Stitches include padded satin, feather, stem, Indian filling, and French knots. Bunches of grapes decorate the skirt, cape, collar and cuffs. Though the lace trimming blends nicely with the garment, it is not typical for Mountmellick.

In the 20th C., a notable gift of Mountmellick embroidery was received by President Kennedy during his 1963 visit to Ireland. The 10 by 9 foot tablecloth for the White House was decorated with floral and shamrock designs.

Pillow Sham patterned with vines, grapes, and oak leaves. The scalloped edge is finished with indented blanket stitch with fringing added on. Stem, Indian filling, Feather, and cable plait stitches and French knots are used.
Detail of Forget-me-nots from Sideboard cloth (top picture). Stitches on this piece: Bullion and French knots, Indian filling, blanket, feather, snail trail, stem, seed, satin, and cable plait.

I’ve found two good references for Mountmellick embroidery, if you’d like to learn more or try it out. “Mountmellick Work: Irish White Embroidery” by Jane Houston-Almqvist has the history, pictures of original pieces, an extensive collection of pattern work sheets, and diagrams of 70 stitches used in this style. “Beginner’s Guide to Mountmellick Embroidery” by Pat Trott has very clear directions on 13 stitches and how to do the knitted/fringed trim, and a few patterns.

I hope you’ll enjoy the understated elegance of this embroidery style and hopefully add the Mountmellick museum to your future travel plans, if heading to Ireland! Happy St Patricks Day!
*Houston-Almqvist, p 13.

Threads Of Life by Clare Hunter: Guest Blogger- Kim Zrust

August 28, 2021

One of the many benefits of taking classes with Gail, either online or at her studio, is not only her lovely and effective teachings in color theory, embroidery techniques, design elements, fabric manipulation, and the history of needlework, but also the connections that bring the sharing of tools, resources, and mostly what I love are the book recommendations.  

A fellow student in Gail’s class mentioned this book, “Threads Of Life by Clare Hunter – A History of the World Through the Eye of the Needle”, and I immediately got on the Wait List at my local library. I was not disappointed. The book is rich in the history of needlework covering many centuries and continents throughout the body of research. Clare also provides a strong aspect of “memoir” to the historical genre as she shares many of her own personal stories as they relate to the history of needlework. 

There are 16 chapters, along with a lovely, brief ending page. Each chapter heading has an intriguing title: Connection, Protect, Art, Value, Loss, to name a few.  The very last page of the book is titled: Images, which lists the websites for many of the subjects and textiles covered as there are no images or illustrations in this book. 

I admit that, as I was reading the book, I longed to see the subject images she presented as her writing is beautiful and eloquent and vivid. Even though I was disappointed that I couldn’t see them, I did go to the Internet to find many of the works and even more rich history with each story. I found the lack of illustrations did not detract from the value and beauty of reading this book. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. 

I told Gail that she should make this a required reading for her students as there is so much historical value behind the act of picking up a needle and thread for the sake of art or craft, and learning about those that did it before us completely out of necessity. Clare leads the reader through the many ways needlework heals and provides comfort to people and communities from all levels of life. She approaches the historical aspect with personal stories of empathy and tenderness honoring all the sewers over the ages.  

If you choose to read this book, take your time as you move through Clare’s version of the history of needlework. Born and raised in Scotland, many of her warm and sympathetic stories come through her roots there, as well as her long career in fiber art. 

An inspiring and illuminating work that shines the light on all the sewers through time, both lost and found, and how deeply they have touched lives throughout history. 

Students Talk About the Little Hand Stitch Book!

April 13, 2021

Our Little Hand Stitch Book has been a favorite of our students for over 20 years. Students learn different hand embroidery stitches and put it all together on their own hand-dyed/painted fabric in a lovely book format that they can refer to for years to come. We’ve recently offered this class online and have had such a great response, we’ll be starting it again on May 27. Here’s what our students are saying!

Magic Chain Stitch by Christina Fairley Erickson

“The stitch book class is a place for beginners to experienced stitchers to explore color and stitch while making a small book.  The class is very well organized and directions for both applying color to the felt backgrounds and making the stitches  are clear and easy to follow.  Gail offers in-depth videos and presentations on both historical and contemporary stitch.  Her high quality in person classes easily moved to the online format during this pandemic.  Gail is supportive and sets a warm atmosphere for everyone in the class.  There is so much joy in this class.”

Miriam R.

Chain Stitch by Joanne Rieger

“Initially hand stitch never appealed to me.  It took time!!  I preferred machine stitch in my quilting and garment making. When the brochure came out for the hand stitch class it was the amazing color in the stitching and dying of the felt that did it for me!  I couldn’t resist.   I love color and the richness of the colors was what pulled me in I’m learning so much! Gail’s love and enthusiasm for the art of stitching is clear.  Also her love for the history of stitch makes me want to visit the museums she takes us to on GoToMeeting (a video-conferencing Zoom alternative).  

There is such a rich history of the practical use of stitches to sew and repair garments, as well as stitch used for creating beautiful things out of beautiful threads and yarns.  

This class has opened a whole new world of possibilities for me in stitch.  I won’t dye bored!!  In more ways than one!  I’m having fun!

I love that Gail has translated all that creativity  from the well equipped Gail Harker Creative Studies Center to the virtual world.   We  are still enjoying the wonderful world of creativity.”

Sharon J.

Stem Stitch with Open Chain Stitch by Cynthia LeRouge

“I am a “graduate” of many of Gail’s courses over the past twenty-plus years of classes with Gail.  I have done many samples of stitches and these are all neatly mounted on card and filed in course binders sitting on my bookshelves.  However, I never look at them!  The appeal for me of working this “Little Stitch Book” is the  tactile sense of my very own fabric book – in such a colourful array- of stitches and stitch combinations on the hand-dyed felt.   This was a chance to experiment again with dye-painting background fabric and to play with threads of all sorts. And, of course, to meet up with other students of Gail’s.”

Barbara G.

If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about or signing up for our Little Hand Stitch Book Online class, Click Here!

Detached Chain Stitch by Kim Zrust
Chain Stitch Rainbow by Christa Knudson
Various Chain Stitches by Jackie Anderson

Visiting the Ros Tapestry… Guest Blogger: Christina Fairley Erickson

March 17, 2021

Looking back at our trip tracing my Irish roots in 2018, I have to say one of the highlights of our trip was seeing the Ros Tapestry. I found out about this wonderful exhibit from a friend and fellow fiber artist, Maura Donegan. It’s located in New Ros, near Waterford and tells the story of the Norman arrival in SE Ireland. There are 15 embroidered panels, each measuring 6 ft. x 4.5 ft, showing the way of life in Ireland in the 13th century.

Panel 1 – The Celts: in an island fastness

While it may look as though the panel has been made from applique, it is completely created of hand embroidery! The panels were made by over 150 volunteer embroiderers over the course of 15 years, with the volunteers coming from the regions which each panel’s story portrays in County Wexford and Kilkenny.

Detail of Panel 1 – depicting the coronation of an ancient Irish king

The tapestry, inspired by the famous Bayeux Tapestry in France, was conceived of by Reverend Paul Mooney of St. Mary’s Church in New Ross in 1998. A local artist, Ann Griffin Bernstorff, created the original designs.

Panel 11 – Gothic Glory: the building of the parish church of St. Mary’s

Each panel is richly filled with wool thread embroidery on a linen twill fabric. The stitches include seed stitch (mostly for filling in backgrounds), French and bullion knots for hair, satin stitch, and long and short stitch for people or animals to show movement and musculature. Each panel took between 3 and 8 years to complete. The 15th and final panel is still in process being stitched.

Panel 8 – Ex Voto Tintern Abbey
Detail: Panel 8 – Ex Voto Tintern Abbey

The Ros Tapestry is currently on loan to the OPW in Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny.  The exhibition will be available for public viewing when the Castle opens in March 2021. 

It is anticipated that the Ros Tapestry will return to New Ross in 2023, when Wexford County Council has developed the planned Norman Museum at the Quay in New Ross.

For those interested in doing an armchair visit, rather than heading to Ireland, they have created a very nice website at https://www.rostapestry.ie/ which you can learn more about this wonderful textile treasure!

Confidence and Peace with Fibers and My Machine…..Guest Blogger: Patricia Ross

March 15, 2021

Level 2 Studies in Design and Experimental Machine Stitch.

This level 2 Experimental Machine Stitch Class – Clover was one of the last to hold an exhibition before our world turned upside down with Covid 19. We have all had  time out, whether we thought we wanted it or not. I typically write a blog for each graduating class.  But for Clover, Level 2 Machine group, I got caught up working out new technology to host my classes online. So basically our blogs have been down for a while.  While looking through photos of this group’s artwork, I wanted to let others continue to see and appreciate it. Gail Harker  

I was not always joyful when using my machine, but this course did allow me to feel confidence and peace while experimenting with different fibers, fabrics, and techniques.  I was happy to discover I could get very ethereal effects with the various ways of stitching which Gail taught us.  I will now approach my machine with confidence knowing I can achieve the effects I wish to get.  Patricia Ross

25 Million Stitches Hits the Mark: Guest Blogger Christina Fairley Erickson

November 15, 2020

You may recall last Spring when our own Penny Peters contributed to this blog with pictures of her piece in process for the 25 Million Stitches project. This project was conceived to put a light on the plight of refugees worldwide- with the goal of having 1 stitch for every refugee… all 25 million. The entire project has over 2000 completed panels with over 2100 stitchers contributing. Penny’s piece inspired me to contact the project and contribute to it as well.

Christina’s two finished panels for the 25 Million Stitches Project

My first panel was started by looking a images of refugees in life boats and planning out the design. The linen for the panels was sent to me from the project, so all the panels could be the same size. I knew I wanted to address the issues of the danger faced by refugees fleeing over water, partially due to my dentist having had this experience as a child leaving Vietnam. Since I wanted to have the panel speak to a global experience, I made the scene generic, as though it could be anywhere. I also specifically left out the figures, other than the life vests, to represent both those escaping and those who were lost in the attempt to flee for a better life.

I transferred the design on with pencil and started out with stitching the hills in the distance with a running stitch.
Next, I started filling in the life jackets & innertubes with satin and straight stitch, the boats with running stitch and the water with back stitch and running stitch.
Full Panel for 25 Million Stitches Project by Christina Fairley Erickson
The second panel was designed to have the feel of water and to stagger the words between the waves

I chose a font I liked for the panel and designed this second piece around the wording “Rivers of Tears; Oceans of Misery; Seas of Sorrow”. I used a simple running stitch for the wave pattern, then did a satin stitch over the backstitched outline of the letters . I then added detached chain stitches to look like tears. The project asked for participants to mark their name and home city/state or country as the final part for each panel, which I chose to do in stitching.

Second panel for 25 Million Stitches Project by Christina Fairley Erickson

If you’re interested in seeing more about the project, you can watch a wonderful presentation put on by the Surface Design Association with the SDA President Astrid Bennett and 25 Million Stitches project founder, Jennifer Kim Sohn discussing the project on YouTube. Both Penny’s panel and my lifeboat panel are shown within the video!

You can also see an artist’s rendition of what the exhibition will look like when it opens at the Verge Center for the Arts in Sacramento here.

I Learned to Do Impossible Things in the Machine Embroidery Class: Guest Blogger: Alana Koehler

May 28, 2020

Level 2 Studies in Design and Experimental Machine Stitch – Class ID: Clover, Blog 4

During my my time in the machine embroidery class, l learned to do IMPOSSIBLE things (have you ever listened to the Ted Radio Hour?) – among them artfully burning fabric, putting very thick thread into the bobbin and the necessary adjustments to my machine, and printing photos onto cloth and stitching on them.

I made a serious effort to widen my color palette, moving more into yellow/orange and gray from my usual blue and purple. My main theme has been trees and my relationship with special ones.

I appreciate Gail’s in depth approach to both the artistic and technical aspects of machine stitching, as well as the camaraderie and talent of my classmates. I hope to continue my studies at the Center.

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Getting My Mojo Back with Machine Stitch….Guest Blogger: Laura Elmore

April 21, 2020

Level 2 Studies in Design and Experimental Machine Stitch (Class ID: Clover) Blog 3

Before I ever heard of Gail Harker, I was a painter who’d lost her mojo and was dabbling with quilts designed by others while waiting to find it. At some point during that mojo-less period, I saw a show featuring the work of Gail’s students. Needless to say, I was blown away and began to formulate a picture of where my own art could go in some far-off future time.  A year or two passed before I ended up signing up for the first of a series of workshops, leading up to the current machine stitch 2 class I have just completed.  It has been a wonderful journey of learning exciting new techniques, generating ideas and gaining confidence and joy – getting my mojo back!

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25 Million Stitches – The Last Stitch….Guest Blogger: Penny Peters

April 14, 2020

 Refugees for 25 Million Stitches Project

At the very beginning of winter’s short, dark days I was inspired to join a community project called 25 Million Stitches (https://www.25millionstitches.com/ ).  Each of the 25 million stitches represents one of the 25 million refugees in the world this year.  I signed up on the website and was sent a numbered piece of fabric that measures 15” X 32” with instructions that the 15” height couldn’t be changed, but the length could be shortened.  When I looked at the fabric, I instantly saw a long line of refugees fleeing violence, drought, grinding poverty, etc.  For a few days I thought about what subject matter I might like to stitch, but since the vision of the line of refugees refused to leave my mind, I settled on that.  Since I have little practice drawing human bodies, I looked up photos of refugees online, and drew separate forms from the photos.  I scaled them to size, placed them together in a line that filled the full length of the fabric, and traced them onto the fabric.  I used two strands of floss for the main stitching, and one strand for outlining.  I have now finished stitching the figures in grayed colors, and have begun working on the ground and stormy sky.  The dark days of winter flew by, and now I welcome the longer brighter days!  My piece is due to the 25 Million Stitches Project by the end of April, and all of the pieces will be exhibited at the Verge Center for the Arts, 625 S Street, Sacramento, CA, June 5-August 15, 2020.

April 14, 2020 – My 25 Million Stitches piece is now complete, and ready to be mailed. Since you last viewed it, I have added a brooding sky which begins dark and heavy, getting lighter as the refugees move toward the right-hand side.  My intention for the transformation of the sky is to signal a ray of hope after all the gloom and doom.  My intention with the ground beneath the refugees’ feet is that it should look like a precarious path to longed-for safety and a better life, but no guarantees.  I used a single strand of embroidery floss for the ground and sky.  I stitched most evenings from mid-January to the end of March.  It has been a heartfelt project for me.  I will mail it off to the 25 Million Stitches community project this week. Penny Peters

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