Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been drawn to beautiful embroidery, amazed how someone could make such intricate designs with a needle. I watched my grandmother, Flo, embellish dress collars, pinafores, and my doll clothes. I was hooked. Inspired.

Needlework has been a very enjoyable and satisfying hobby for me over the years. A wonderful vehicle of self-expression. It’s also allowed me to create gifts for friends, which I really love doing. A couple of years ago, embroidered kitchen towels were my fall project for holiday gifts. Lots of fun and appreciated by the recipients. Simple materials and simple designs. I could sit and do projects like these day in and day out.

Towel for the canning enthusiast

Sometimes, however, a beautifully handmade object inspires me to experiment, learn something new, maybe up my game. I first noticed ribbon embroidery at my niece’s wedding in 1996. My sister-in-law made the wedding gown accented with ribbon flowers. WHOA. Beautiful, and beautifully done. But it was 2013 before I began to think about experimenting with ribbon.

When my Aunt Jane passed away, her son gave me a coat and bonnet that our grandmother, Isabelle, made for his mother around 1920. Amazing hand work. But it was the bonnet’s ribbon embroidery that really spoke to me.

The ribbon work resembles a giant dahlia bloom. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was her inspiration as she loved flowers and gardening. The 3-inch pale blue ribbon flowers are placed on the sides of the bonnet, and the bonnet ties are also of pale blue ribbon. This “by mother for daughter” creation is very dear to me. It’s on display in my office on a child’s dress form. I look at it every day! Her work inspires me. Still, it took me six years to make learning how to embroider with ribbon a reality.

I love needlepoint and wondered if I could combine it with ribbon embroidery. I found a painted canvas on eBay that was priced super reasonably and featured a simple floral design – simple enough to try a few ribbon embroidery stitches.

After filling in the background with basic basket weave stitches using a silk & wool thread, I started working with the silk ribbons I’d purchased at Annie & Company in New York City last November. I hadn’t been sure of what I needed – or even wanted – in the way of ribbon color or width, but they were extremely helpful in their counsel. After quite a bit of trial and error, and lots of “how to” information in ribbon embroidery books by Ann Cox, I’ve landed on a look I like. It’s more tedious than I expected, but after all, I’m a rookie! I’ve joined the Embroiderer’s Guild of America Louisville Chapter, and look forward to more new challenges!

Nature’s forms, textures and colors have a way of inspiring creativity in writers, photographers, painters, and definitely the needle worker. Like the flower that may have inspired Isabelle’s bonnet ribbon embroidery, my niece Phoebe has found embroidery inspiration in lush green mosses on a North Carolina hike. She’s experimenting with form and texture, and her first assemblage sample is lovely. Where some have chosen wool, linen, or felt for a background of moss embroidery, her choice of an ecru velvet really elevates the look. Rich!

“Sheer artistry.” That’s how I feel about embroidery that is so exquisite, so far above my skill level. I know I will never tackle this degree of technical execution but will drool over the work forever. This is how I felt when I first saw “Straw Hat with Cherries.”

The piece belongs to my friend Hilary, who has it framed and hanging in her hallway. It was probably stitched in the second half of the 1800s by an unidentified family member from Southern Indiana. What a treasure! Not only are the cherries and leaves wonderfully stitched, but the detail and texture of the straw hat are amazing. Whoever the woman was, she was an artist.

Side note from Hilary: “Lesson learned – document history and provenance of family memorabilia.” So very true! What seems “common” today may well be a treasured keepsake tomorrow. Honor the person from the past by noting and remembering their who, what, when and where.

Speaking of needlework artists, I stumbled across a Pinterest board of Thomas Sjølander of Sjølander Embroidery. He is an artist who embellishes period styled clothing for couture, film and theatre costumes with digitized embroidery that looks like authentic handwork. AMAZING. Beyond comprehension, actually. This is the work of the truly inspired! Take a look and enjoy.

Inspired to create. Creations that inspire. To me, embroidery – simple or simply stunning – is something I simply enjoy. Whether it’s hanging on a wall, decorating a garment, or covering a pillow, or whether it’s at home, in a movie, or in a museum textile collection, it’s beautiful, and a joy to behold.

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One thing that makes my journey unique is that all of my interests are driven by a joyful and genuine curiosity. I delight in finding less expensive ways to make something or creative ways to enjoy something longer. Finding and creating joy - and sharing it - is core to who I am.