Unravel Release Week: Embroidery Show & Tell
Good Morning Readers and happy Friday! We are capping off our Unravel release week shenanigans with a fun post from Amelia Loken on her journey with the craft of embroidery that features in her novel, from dabbler to full blown enthusiast.
Embroidery Show & Tell with Amelia Loken
I have enjoyed playing around with needle, thread, and cloth since I was little. I’ve been lucky to have good mentors then and to have the wide internet available now. If you check out my Pinterest page: @ameliamillion and look under “Skeincraft,” you’ll see I have over FIVE THOUSAND pinned photos and videos of embroidery and needlecraft. There’s a wide variety styles from many different cultures. I have basic stitches posted as well as tutorials and step-by-step instructions for new techniques I haven’t tried yet. You could say I’m a fan.
My mom was my first needlework teacher, sharing what she knew to me and my sister. I was in kindergarten. She found some iron-on transfers of a kitten doing laundry and other household chores. We watched with awe as the image of the kitten, the same indigo blue as the mimeographed worksheets my kindergarten teacher used, transferred from paper to cloth. They were absolutely the cutest thing ever and I could barely wait for my mom to get a hoop around it and thread my needle.
Reader, the result was not nearly as cute as the picture on the label. My mom assured me it was beautiful, but when it didn’t live up to expectations, I wasn’t as excited as I had been. I don’t remember ever finishing the tea towel and I don’t remember using them either.
The next memorable needlework project was engineered by my mom’s best friend when I was in middle school. Paula thought my mom deserved a pretty tablecloth, and how special it would be if it was embroidered by her two daughters. We picked out a length of cloth – bubble-gum pink – it was the 80s. We ironed on floral designs for the center and the edges. Paula had us spend a few afternoons and evenings at her house while we learned how to keep our backstitches straight and how to make lazy daisy petals.
It looked something like this:
When my mother’s birthday passed and it wasn’t complete, we decided it would make a great Mother’s Day gift. It wasn’t finished in May, but we gave it to her anyway with the promise that we’d finish it.
Reader, it never got finished. I do not know the fate of the pink tablecloth, half embroidered in crooked florals.
It was years before I made any true efforts towards embroidery. I was married and I wanted to make inexpensive Christmas ornaments. I settled into counted-cross-stitch first because that felt manageable. After a while, I tried my hand at more challenging projects, including this petit-point project where I made tiny ornaments commemorating the first few Christmases for our little family.
I never made it past those first few. Once the Christmas of 2003 came along, I had a third baby boy, my husband was in grad school, and I had an impressive case of post-partum depression.
Needlework was put away.
Life got busy as son number four and son number blessed our family. At that point, quilt making, scrapbooking, and later writing became my creative outlets.
When Marguerite’s story began unfolding in my mind, I wanted to take some of these “feminine” arts and make them the foundation of a magic system. Needlework, tatting, quilting, crochet, knitting, cooking, baking, herb-work, soap-making, charms and jewelry-making, all of those artistic outlets that women find themselves making. Either out of necessity, or out of love, or out of opportunity for a side-hustle.
In 2018, with Marguerite’s story a full book, I picked up textile arts again. I didn’t return to cross-stitch. I loved the hand-lettered trend and wanted to replicate it with thread. I made a few gifts and enjoyed the process.
I then turned to illustration. I have always loved the illustrations of Trina Schart Hyman, and her style has clear outlines that lend themselves well to what I thought of as “thread sketching.” I took her illustration of Wendy Darling darning the Lost Boys’ socks and turned it into an illustration of Marguerite in the opening scene of UNRAVEL. She’s trying so hard to keep her Skeincraft Gift bottled up, when it just wants to leak into every bit of cloth she touches.
After Sword and Silk offered me a publishing contract, I decided I wanted to do a more challenging piece of needle crafting. I found a design for oak leaves and acorns (a recurring motif in UNRAVEL) and embroider them on a jacket. The result was so satisfying. I was fully hooked.
During the editing process last year, I also had the task of finding pull quotes. This was absolutely, one of my favorite activities. I found some real gems. I started making embroidery designs with my favorites. I’ve only made two so far into finished embroidery pieces, but I LOVE THEM!
The first is from Marguerite’s perspective, describing Tys as “…wit and sunshine…”
The next is from Tys, as he compliments Marguerite, telling her she’s, “…braver than the stars…” In this one, I wanted to use the same font Celin Chen used for UNRAVEL’s book cover. I couldn’t find source material, other than the cover, so I sketched it out by hand, approximating what some letters would look like in that font.
I also decided to do a reverse of what I’d done before. Instead of filling in the letters, I would fill in the background and leave the letters as negative space. It turned out so gorgeous, but a word to the wise: It takes FOREVER. I went through four and a half audio books. Some were short. One I DNF’d and moved on.
I wanted a shorter project next, and I was dying to make a portrait each of Marguerite and Tys. The artists in my family (my sons) were fairly busy, so I scrounged around on Pinterest and cobbled together some images I found there. The face of one, hairstyle of another. Some were from sketches, some from photos. I put them together and got these images:
I splurged and didn’t use a tea-towel or regular cotton for my base fabric. I bought some hand-dyed linen, then traced the images onto the cloth using a light box (a sunny window). Then I started. It looks super complicated, but I’m just following the lines using a basic backstitch.
I hope to add more colors to both and make it more of a thread painting. (Google the term and bask in the glory of the gorgeousness.) But I don’t know if I’ll finish before this will be posted. Keep an eye on my Instagram, though. Once I’m done, I’m going to be sharing multiple times. They were also be hanging on the wall behind me when I had my virtual launch on Thursday, February 17th with Ayana Gray.
I’ve enjoyed my adventure in textile arts, in all the different forms I’ve sampled. I hope you enjoy reading Marguerite’s journey. Along the way, you’ll find tidbits of information about thread, cloth, dye, and various needle crafting techniques in the chapter headings. These are my nerdy nods to all the joy I’ve found along the way. Oh, and each one has a hint or two about what will happen in the next chapter. Enjoy!