With a love for stitching happy things, fiber art by Catherine Redford is sure to keep you smiling. She does a bit of everything: embroidery, appliqué, crazy quilting, modern quilting, beading, English Paper Piecing (EPP) and more. But her recent work treats us to whimsical butterflies, appliquéd in wool and embellished with hand embroidery in colorful perle cotton. She encourages her students to begin with her designs, then make them their own.
How did you get started designing embroidery and appliqué? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
I always made things. As a child I loved cutting paper snowflakes. Then I remember having to pick up all the tiny cut outs off the floor!
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I was stitching with a needle and thread by the age of 7 or 8. Needlework classes in 4th and 5th grade were fun times where we learnt basic embroidery stitches while working on practical projects. I had finished a completely hand stitched skirt before I was 11.
During my teens, I covered my jeans in embroidery using a single strand of sewing machine thread. I didn’t have any design books or patterns so I made my own!
So, always a maker. I would certainly have considered myself an artist at elementary school – the hesitation came in later years.
What led you to butterflies as a subject for embroidery and appliqué?
I love stitching happy things; butterflies are in that genre? The huge variety of shapes and colors provide infinite inspiration.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My designs are based on real insects. The simple line drawings can be traced back to particular species but that’s where the realism ends. I make no attempt to reproduce true colors or designs in the stitching.
What is your favorite technique for transferring your embroidery designs to fabric?
I use colored fabrics for stitching. So this makes it a little more complicated to transfer the designs. When I can use a light box, I do. Otherwise, I use chalk transfer paper. I make permanent lines with a very fine tipped black or silver tip marker. These lines have to be covered with stitches, however. I draw details with a mechanical chalk pencil as I go.
Hoop? Or no hoop? Why?
I don’t use a hoop. When I stitch on good quality quilting fabrics, I can keep the work completely flexible as I sew. The dimensional stitches that I enjoy stitching are awkward to embroider if I can’t bend the fabric. Hoops are helpful if stitchers have problems keeping their stitches even and relaxed but I have never had an issue with the tension pulling my embroidery so tight that it won’t press flat.
Which are your favorite embroidery stitches and how do you use them?
I always start with chain stitch. It’s a wonderful versatile stitch that is seen in embroidery around the world. I make my outlines in chain stitch and sometimes use it as a dense filler stitch. Fly stitch, in its various forms makes for some super details. Simple running stitch can also be used effectively in many designs.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Butterfly Stitches: Hand Embroidery & Wool Appliqué Designs?
Take the designs and make them your own!
I provide detailed pictures and lists of the stitches I used for each of my butterflies, but I hope that readers will mix and match and make something that is inspired by the book but not identical.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
When I see something inspiring, I think I need to do that. I have an initial idea, but usually work things out as I go.
Do you have a mentor?
Many people have inspired me along the way, my 4th grade embroidery teacher, my junior high art teacher… I took lots of classes when I started quilting. Gloria Loughman and Phil Beaver encouraged me to leave my four walls and expand my teaching range. Jane Sassaman always inspires me to try harder, Pokey Bolton gave me confidence to follow my dream… Vivika DeNegre provided a path… and so many others!
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a lovely sunny sewing room upstairs in our home, as well as a dedicated Zoom studio on the first floor. But every room has evidence of my stitching. Right now the dining room is a packing station, there are embroidery threads on the sofa in the family room and I am typing at the kitchen table.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
I like to keep everything visible so I am reminded what I have. Regular tidying sessions help me find treasures and inspires future projects.
What are your must-have supplies for your embroidery projects?
Good quality materials and notions are very important. I like Tulip needles for making the best stitches!
Do you have a preferred type of embroidery thread? Perle, six strand? What’s your preferred fiber content?
I use 8 weight cotton perle thread almost exclusively for the work I am doing at the moment. I love the thread from House Of Embroidery, a small dye house in South Africa. The colors are dyed in small batches and produced according to Fair Trade practices. So it’s a win-win situation all the way around.
I do also use threads from Wonderfil, especially when I need large quantities of the same color. They are factory produced but super quality.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I like podcasts and Radio 4 which is a BBC radio station. Sometimes I listen to music but really, I like the sound of someone talking. I have a very eclectic range of podcasts lined up in my library, from very educational and thought provoking to inane and totally frivolous!
How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one creative project at a time?
I always have several projects on the go. I like to be able to leave them to mature while I think of what to do next. For me, working from beginning to end on one project makes more projects that I’m not entirely satisfied with. I have taken advantage of this extended period of time at home to work on several series where I have been able to work through an idea and try multiple solutions to come up with something I am entirely satisfied with.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
If I put a binding or facing on my piece that signifies I am done! I have lots of unbound pieces right now.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity is an innate property of being human. How we choose to exercise that creativity is up to us. My husband is a computer programmer, and that is totally creative. Artistic skills are what we work on.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Natural talents or leanings are just the starting point, then practice improves our abilities and skills. I am very fortunate to have had time and resources to be able to practice a lot! My fourth-grade teacher used to quote St. Jerome,
“Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better best.”
That’s your own best not the best… Remember, perfection is over-rated!
Interview with Catherine Redford posted December 2020
Browse through more embroidery projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.