It was such a wonderful surprise to get a phone call at Needlepoint.Com last week from Abigail Cecile, the newest canvas designer being represented by Fleur de Paris! I had been following her on Instagram ever since January Market earlier this year when her pieces debuted. Just like Lycette Designs and Tess and Thorn, Abby is part of a new young generation of designers taking the needlepoint industry by storm. She is a recent graduate of the Royal School of Needlework in the UK and her work puts a beautiful, fresh spin on a more traditional style of design. She is insanely talented- I know you all are going to love her work as much as I do!
First of all, tell us about yourself Abby! Where did you grow up, and how did that experience lead you to where you are today?
I grew up on a small hobby farm in the middle of Michigan. My childhood was full of freedom, adventure, and creativity, especially creativity. My parents indulged my love for arts and crafts with materials, tools, classes and books. I learned weaving, wool felting, fiber dying, photography, screen printing – whatever sparked my interest. By the time I graduated from high school, I knew that I wanted to make beautiful things for the rest of my life. Soon after, I discovered the Royal School of Needlework and the next thing I knew, I was on a plane to London to learn hand embroidery in a palace.
How did you end up at the Royal School of Needlework?
At a library book sale I discovered an old embroidery book by Erica Wilson. She writes about her education at a school called “The Royal School of Needlework.” I was fascinated. To me the idea of a school dedicated to hand embroidery was magical! I found that not only was the school still around but it was esteemed and well known in the UK. It seemed perfect and I enrolled a few months later. Everything just fell into place!
What was your first experience with needlepoint?
I stitched my first piece while studying Canvaswork at the Royal School of Needlework. It was a folk art rendition of my childhood home worked in cotton and wools. Out of all the needlework I’ve created it’s still my favorite piece.
How did you end up designing needlepoint canvases, and what is your process like?
A fellow student at the RSN painted canvases and ever since then I wanted to try painting one myself. When I finally got around to it, I had no idea what I was doing. Amazingly, my next door neighbor Valerie McAleenan also attended the RSN, used to own a needlepoint store, and is an incredibly talented and knowledgeable teacher and stitcher. I showed her my first canvas, she corrected my mistakes, and then mentored me through building my first collection.
I’ve found that creativity begets more creativity, so I usually have an idea lurking in the back of my mind. I’ll start with a loose sketch to get an idea of the composition. Then I’ll make detailed drawings (typically keeping elements separate), scan them into Adobe Illustrator, and arrange and resize until I’m happy with the final design.
Next I’ll create the color scheme. I use craft acrylics when painting a canvas and have a chip for each color. I’ll play with the chips until I find a scheme I like. Usually I’ll work with some kind of color inspiration (such as a piece of stationary, illustration, or work of art). Painting a canvas is time consuming, but it can be relaxing, too! I’ll listen to an audiobook or podcast while I work.
What inspires you?
I’m very inspired by historic needlework and design. It can be so beautiful, even though created hundreds of years ago. Most (though not all) of my work is rooted in that history–especially the history of folk art and Jacobean crewelwork. But I’m twenty five, so I’m also very aware of trends in color and theme. Since I draw inspiration from both the historic and the modern, I hope my designs appeal to modern women and millennials. At the same time I hope they are truly beautiful and have longevity.
When you’re not painting and designing embroidery patterns, how do you like to spend your time?
I used to sew and quilt a lot, but I’ve been trying to get away from hobbies that involve even more stitching! I love to cook, especially Mediterranean food. It’s creative but in a completely different way from needlework. I also love to read. Though you can’t tell from my blog or social media, I really enjoy camping, folk and bluegrass concerts, and general adventuring with my family.