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Carrickmacross Lace – Guest Blogger Christina Fairley Erickson

November 8, 2019

Prior to traveling to Ireland, I researched where I might find interesting Irish stitchwork. I discovered that Ireland has many different styles of lace, including Carrickmacross lace, Irish Crochet lace, Kenmare lace, Limerick lace, and Youghal lace.  

Lace making techniques include needle lace (hand made with a needle & thread), machine- made lace, bobbin lace made by manipulating bobbins of thread on a pillow.  Irish Carrickmacross is handmade using an ornate appliqué technique. Most famously in recent years, Carrickmacross  lace was used in Kate Middleton’s wedding  to Prince William.

I found the Lace Gallery of Carrickmacross, a cooperative of 15 lace workers founded in 1984 in the small town, about 60 miles northwest of Dublin, still keeping the tradition alive. The gallery exhibits vintage wedding veils and christening gowns and sells smaller items, as well as taking commissions.

Detail of stitching


The history of this lace making technique goes back to the 1820’s Margaret Grey Porter, the wife of a local rector, hoped to help young women make an income.  Mrs Porter had collected samples of Italian lace during their honeymoon. She copied the samples and used them to teach the local women with the assistance of her maid. The Italian influence quickly evolved into a distinct style of Carrickmacross lace. Characteristic motifs include flowers, leaves, hearts, bows and Celtic designs, as well as pops — small raised circles dotted around the larger pattern.

The lace, crafted in farmhouses, became popular with Queen Victoria and fashionable aristocrats of the day. During the famine years in the mid-1840’s, a lace school was set up by the managers of the Bath and Shirley estates at Carrickmacross as a means of helping their starving tenants, and the lace became known and found sales.  During the Great Famine of 1845-1849, local lacemakers were credited with keeping many families alive.

After the worst of the famine years, through the last half of the 19th century, the lacemaking declined. Then in the 1890’s, the Sisters of St Louis founded their own lace school to revive the craft, and this was quite profitable for several years. Although the outbreak of the 1914–18 war marked the virtual end of commercial production of hand-made lace in Europe, the lace school kept the technique alive throughout the 20th century. In 1984 the St Louis Sisters assisted in the formation of The Carrickmacross Lace Co-operative, which maintains the tradition to this day.

Although the convent closed in 1988, the area’s tradition lives on with the cooperative where lace makers use the exact same techniques as 200 years ago.

Christina with one of the Carrickmacross Co-op’s talented lace makers, looking at an antique wedding veil

The process of making Carrickmacross lace starts with laying a paper pattern onto a layer of organdy and  a base layer of cotton net (similar to tulle, but much softer and pliable).  A lightweight soft white muslin (sheer enough to see a pattern underneath) is appliquéd onto the net.   Designs are outlined with an appliqué technique, holding a cotton thread in place on the patterns and sewing tiny, close stitches across it, through the entire paper-fabric sandwich. Additional embroidery stitches create edgings, patterns and cutwork. Carrickmacross makers fill in the outlines using 15 different stitches .

The final step is to carefully cut away the paper pattern and any unwanted organdy, revealing the design on the net.

One of my favorite pieces shares the Irish motto “Cead Mile Failte” or a ‘Hundred Thousand Welcomes’.  Everywhere we traveled on the Emerald Isle, we were greeted warmly, and treated with such kindness and hospitality, including Carrickmacross, extending to us such warmth that the saying seems endeared upon the hearts of the Irish people.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at this lovely lace, the Lace Gallery in Carrickmacross has kits available online at:

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Grand Opening – Good Friends, Gratitude and Goldwork- Guest Blogger Christina Fairley Erickson

September 28, 2019

Special Note from Gail:

Gail Harker with some of the volunteers and guest artists-in-residence from the 2019 Grand Opening event.

Gail Harker with some of the volunteers and guest artists-in-residence from the 2019 Grand Opening event.

I’m so thankful for the support of everyone who helped with or attended our Grand Opening earlier this month.  The single thing that stood out to me during the 2 day event was the overwhelming atmosphere of camaraderie and kinship of students and friends. So many past and present students put in an appearance. Some of these people were with me at the beginning (1994) in N. America.  Some were new to the center and excited to be part of a new art adventure.  All part of a continuing growing force of textile/embroidery artists who have committed their time, enthusiasm and effort into excellence.  Please enjoy the comments from our guest blogger!

Well, it’s official!  The new Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts location was formally opened with a fabulous two-day event starting with the Mayor of La Conner, Ramon Hayes, joining Gail with a ribbon cutting ceremony in front of a sizable crowd of well-wishers.

Gail cutting the ribbon on the new venue with the Mayor.

With brightly colored as well as elegant Goldwork gracing the studio walls and tables, visitors feasted their eyes on the results of working as a student of Gails!  We had an incredible turn-out of friends, former and current students, family, community members, and even some walk-ins from off the street.

June Steegstra displaying her machine stitched artwork.

Visitors pouring over student sketchbooks and samples of their work/

The days were filled with artists demonstrating different techniques in art, design, hand and machine stitch.  Visitors were able to watch, ask questions and learn about the execution of numerous methods of art and stitch.

Penny Peters explaining about the many different styles of hand Goldwork embroidery.

Penny Peters explaining about the many different styles of hand Goldwork embroidery.

Gloria Shelton showing her hand stitching from Level 1 and her Goldwork embroidery.

Gloria Shelton showing her hand stitching from Level 1 and her Goldwork embroidery.

Marilyn Olsen demonstrated contemporary darning and kantha stitching techniques.

Marilyn Olsen demonstrating contemporary darning and kantha stitching techniques.

Susan Sasnett shares her experience and whimsical creatures.

Susan Sasnett shares her experience and whimsical creatures.

Christina Fairley Erickson demonstrating machine Goldwork stitching.

Christina Fairley Erickson demonstrating machine Goldwork stitching.

Barbara Fox describing her Level 3 Advanced Experimental Stitch work with trees and the forest floor.

Barbara Fox describing her Level 3 Advanced Experimental Stitch work with trees and the forest floor.

Tesi Vaara displaying and sharing Level 3 Art & Design.

Tesi Vaara displaying and sharing Level 3 Art & Design.

Nancy Drake exhibiting hand beading.

Nancy Drake exhibiting hand beading.

Jill Taylor shows her mastery of Goldwork embroidery.

Jill Taylor shows her mastery of Goldwork embroidery.

More to come soon on our great event!

Exhibitions and Artists-in-Residence at our Grand Opening

August 28, 2019

We hope you’ve put the Grand Opening of our new venue on your calendar for Friday September 13 and Saturday September 14!  We have lots of exciting events planned, as well as a spectacular display of artwork.  Here’s what you can look forward to!

Gold Work Embroidery by Patti Olds

Goldwork Gallery – a special exhibit of samples, artwork, and sketchbooks from Patti Olds, Moira Kloster, Gloria Shelton, Christina Fairley Erickson, Jill Taylor and Penny Peters.

Level 2 Studies in Design and Experimental Stitch Exhibition:  Maureen Goldsmith and Sheila Asdal’s coursework including artwork and sample books will be shown.

Gift Bags!  To the first 20 new guests each day!

Door Prize Drawing – Free Non-Mentored Online Color Course will be given as a Door Prize to one lucky winner!  Drawing to be held at 4 pm on Saturday.



Artists-in Residence

We will be hosting the following Artists-in Residence during our Grand Opening who will be working on the projects listed for you to watch and ask questions:

Friday September 13

Jill Taylor–Goldwork by Hand

Penny Peters – Hand Stitched Samples

Tesi Vaara – Art and Design

Christina Fairley Erickson – Goldwork by Machine

Machine Stitch Master June Steegstra will be displaying and talking about her work on Friday 9/13 from noon – 3 pm


Saturday September 14

Susan Sasnett – Hand Stitching

Marilyn Olsen (10:30 am – 1 pm) – Contemporary Darning

Nancy Drake (1 – 3 pm) – Beading

Barbara Fox – Manipulated Fabric & Hand Stitching

Penny Peters – Goldwork by Hand

Christina Fairley Erickson – Goldwork by Machine

Gloria Shelton – Woven Paper Designs & Goldwork

Also With Work on Display:

Sheila Asdal will be displaying Level 2 Studies and Design & Stitch

Moira Kloster’s Goldwork will be on display

Maureen Goldsmith will be displaying Level 2 Studies in Design & Stitch

Barbara Gilbert


A Little Bead Book Sampler

July 16, 2019

Recently, I travelled to Victoria, B.C. to teach at the yearly Seminar of the Victoria Embroiderers Guild in Canada. The students created a luxurious sampler bead book.  I embarked the ferry in Anacortes, Wa. with 18 sets of hand painted fabric book pages and the same number of custom dyed skeins of pearl cotton threads.  We arrived in Victoria a few hours later to check into our classroom and get it set up. My special Angel – Iris helped me with everything to arranging the room to bringing in extra supplies.    Our students flew and drove from all parts of Canada and U.S.  It was so much fun to meet up with past and new American and Canadian students and teachers.  At the end of 4 days each person created 6 tiny fabric pages using over 20 unique bead techniques on the pages with beads dripping off the edges. The spine was constructed using a composite stitch technique with the hand dyed threads.  It was wonderful to share these beautiful methods of stitch and bead application to create a small art object! I look forward to seeing photos of the finished items.  Here is another blog that feature beads. Gail Harker

Level 3 Studies in Art & Design Exhibition

June 30, 2019

Have a look at Ruth Lane’s summary of level 3 Art and Design at our center. There is a new class starting soon. Gail


I completed my course of Level 3 Studies in Art & Design at the Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts in March. Our class had an exhibit and I wanted to show you a portion of the exhibit. These photos included my work as well as work of my classmates with their permission. Hopefully, all of the photos are in the right orientation, sorry to my classmates if I made any errors.

Here we are after receiving our diplomas. From left to right, Ellen, Ruth, JP, Tesi and Gail.

Here is the new center in downtown La Conner, Washington. Our class had the first exhibit in this space.

Here is the set up of the entire space. We were just finishing up hanging all the artwork and getting everything cleaned up.

These are shots of one of the walls in the back where we had a variety of work hung…

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Studies in Art and Design has been a Game Changer for Me….Guest Blogger : Ellen Meents

June 18, 2019

Level 3 Studies in Art and Design – Exhibit – Class Name: Heliconia – Blog 5 and last in a series.

Studies in Art and Design has been a game changer for me.

One of the most beneficial things I learned was how to develop a concept beginning with design development then from there go on to decide on color, texture, and other techniques to complement and complete the design.

I learned to look at pictures from my travels or from nature to identify and develop lines I like, refining and allowing the process to change and evolve until I am happy with it.

A second take away for me was overcoming the dreaded “D” word.  I have always said I can not draw, I now say I can not draw (well), but rather than let this deter me I have learned there are ways to create art despite limited drawing skills.

Another huge area of growth for me was learning how to make use of my time.  Family, work, and necessary responsibilities can make it difficult to carve out time to be creative.  I like to create when I have a block of time to spend on the process.  This class forced me to re-evaluate and learn to use small increments of time versus no time to complete the necessary projects from class.  I also learned that it is ok to say yes to spending time taking care of myself when other responsibilities have left me with no energy to spare.

The past 2 ½ years have been full of growth and I look forward to continuing to use all that I have learned.  Remembering to look, always look, then look some more and the as Gail would say “let’s just have one more look”.

Read about new Level 3 Art and Design class to begin in Aug. 2019 – Class name Acacia.

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I Have So Many More Woods to Explore..Guest Blogger – Ruth Lane

June 2, 2019

Level 3 Studies in Art and Design – Exhibit- Class name: Heliconia –  Blog 4 – 2nd to Last in a Series

I have always been a literal and organized sort of person. I felt I needed to create artwork that was a perfect representation of what I could see, like a photograph. My goals when taking Level 3 Art and Design were to learn more about design principles, develop my own artistic voice and to learn how to be more abstract and “loosen up”.

The woodlands around my house have always inspired me daily no matter the season. While hiking in the woods, I now look much more closely at all the different colors, the variety of textures, the effect of light and shadow; finding beauty that is not at first glance obvious.

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By studying famous artists work, I have begun to realize that not every detail needs to be included. A tree can be suggested by a squiggle or a mass of color in a distant landscape. Other artists have shown me that trees and landscapes can be any color. This has been very freeing for me and I now can take “artistic license” in my compositions.

I have learned to take an idea that inspires me and create work where everything doesn’t need to be spelled out. I can leave a bit of ambiguity and mystery allowing the viewer to have their own interpretations. As a life long learner, my art journey is continuing, and I have so many more woods to explore. Thanks, Gail, for all that you do!  Ruth Lane

Read about new Level 3 Art and Design class to begin in Aug. 2019 – Class name Acacia.

Guest Blogger: JP MacConnell – Mastering Materials and Techniques comes with Practice and Repetition

May 2, 2019

Level 3 Studies in Art and Design – Exhibition – Class Name: Heliconia….Blog 3 in a Series

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I attended an exhibition of the Level 3 Art and Design at Gail’s Studio in August 2016, responding to an invitation sent out by Marilyn Olsen.  It was there that I was drawn in to the variety of media and the wonderful individuality of each student.

I had just returned from a 10-week

trip through Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark. The experience of being surrounded by the raw, remote and natural beauty stirred a new desire to express myself through art. I wanted to share some of what I saw, photographed and felt. This 8-session course taught me basic design principles and encouraged me to take some new risks. I began the process of expressing in a tangible way through multi-media.

Gail taught me to tame the little, worried voice inside that would demand, “Wait, what are you doing? What is going on here?” She taught me to replace it with relaxing thoughts of confidence and determination. To relax and think with my hands. As I loosen up and have fun with it, I see that the mastering of the materials and techniques comes with practice and repetition.

I learned that it is OK to be vulnerable, to ask for help, (even when it appears that the others know right away what to do after a demonstration and I am baffled). The issue is not to plead, “Just tell me what to do! Is this the right way to do it?” Gail would ask, “Well, does it please you? Loosen up, try another way and have fun with it.”

This practice allows me to slow down my mind and focus on one cut, one stitch or one brush stroke at a time.

Thank you, Gail, Ruth, Tesi and Ellen for your support, guidance, friendship and humor.

Allowing My Inner Child to Emerge…Guest Blogger: Tesi Vaara

April 18, 2019


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Level 3 Studies in Art and Design – Exhibition: Class name: Heliconia. Blog 2 in a series

On the first day of class in February 2017, Gail asked each of her Heliconia students what they expected to learn from the Level 3 Art and Design Course they were about to embark on. I was keen on studying the design principles and elements further and learning to become comfortable using them in the creation of my art quilts. Little did I know the adventure I was about to embark on!

We began learning about colors and value as well as tints and shades and complements using acrylic paints on paper. And we began our discipline of documenting our learnings in sketchbooks. We studied various artists and their methods. We learned how to color our own papers using acrylics, Procion dyes and various other media. Once we had a good supply of colored papers, we began learning how to use different mediums to add another layer to our papers—stamps and stencils made from scratch, various gels and pastes, inks, colored pencils, markers. We studied rocks and trees and practiced sketching them.

At the beginning of each 5-day session, we would review all the students’ work and learn more about the design elements and principals of each piece. Then we would learn a new method and process to continue to push us to develop our own designs over the next 3 months.

I feel that this course has given me a whole new way to view my environment and assist me in my creative adventures. I am comfortable trying new methods. I am not worried about “failing”. I’ve learned to trust my intuition and let go of my fears. For me, this course has pushed me to allow my inner child to emerge and learn and grow and play. And I’m happy to let her out!  Tesi Vaara

First Exhibition in New Studio

April 7, 2019

Level 3 Studies in Art and Design –  Exhibition  – Class name: Heliconia

This is the first exhibition we held in our new studio on 503 Morris St. in La Conner. Level 3 work focuses on the fundamentals of art and design learning a variety of techniques. The 4 students spent their last of 8 sessions organizing and placing their artwork on the walls. Sketchbooks were displayed and we changed the room from a work space to exhibition space. The students each gave a short presentation to 40 visitors of their artwork and working methods during the course. Here are a few photos I took of the exhibition on the weekend of March 23rd and 24th. Watch for more in the coming days as each student will be presenting their individual artwork. Gail Harker

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