Spotlight: Deborah Tirico, Needle Artist, Designer, Instructor and Author
Deborah Tirico layers fabric with stitches, creating vibrant, detailed designs that she stitches with precision. Her recent work with wool has a richness of depth and texture that invite the viewer in for a closer look. But Deborah isn’t afraid to add different fibers if that will enhance her appliqué and embroidery. When she teaches, Deborah shares signature techniques that make her work so successful.
Why textiles? Why appliqué? How did you get started?
A working graphic designer, I had a life change when the world of commercial art went digital in 1990. I found that quilting satisfied the handwork I had once done professionally and allowed for the creativity and precision I enjoyed in my work life. I took an evening course in quilting at the local high school and the rest is history.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Celebrate Wool Applique?
My books are visual guides, filled with techniques and methods I use in developing my creations. I hope my “how to” photos and descriptions help readers to celebrate their wool creations and expand on what they already know. The new book has lots of smaller projects which I hope will encourage readers to experiment with my techniques using their own stash.
What is the biggest difference between applique with wool versus cotton?
Wool applique is completely different from cotton in the way it’s worked, generally with a stab stitch or the infamous blanket stitch. The actual stitching method is opposite to the sewing methods in traditional applique, and for most appliquers this is a huge change. Adding dimension is my personal focus so I never use adhesive bond (which is often the norm) since it would flatten the shapes. In addition, I use matching wool threads, so they literally disappear on the edge of the appliqué pieces as opposed to the more primitive folk-art forms which tend to add definition to the edge.
What inspires your designs? Are there recurring themes in your work?
History and nature inspire me. My Baltimore album designs reflect a period in history when women stitched to express family accomplishments, life events and even politics. My latest work, Budapest 1932, is a design created by a young woman working on embroidery designs in Budapest.
Lady Bird’s Legacy is a study in Texas Wildflowers.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce? Do you pre-plan your entire endeavor?
I do a lot of planning before I begin, and sometimes I even start over in the middle, as in the case of my Clipper Ship, which is another project outlined extensively on my blog. I begin with sketches, research on Google and in my own library and then draft patterns. Then I use a digital Wacom tablet to draw after making pencil sketches which I scan and use as templates for my patterns. Then I choose fabric, thread and embellishments and develop a color palette. From there I execute the placement guide, embroidery guide and begin to create shapes and applique.
Techniques? What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My slanted needle technique creates dimension in wool appliqué, and this is my signature technique. Students are continuously amazed when they can create a sculptural look to their creations merely by slanting their needles. I outline this process in all my books, and I spend a good amount of time teaching it. I also use layering and trapunto techniques to create dimension in my work. The dragon Hou Long is a perfect example of this technique.
How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one project at a time?
I always have a few projects going at once since they are in various stages of development, and often I am waiting for supplies or information on one or more projects. Coming from an advertising background I am used to having a few “plates in the air.”
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I keep a good library of embroidery, applique, design and quilting books plus a rather large stash of fabrics and threads. When visiting shops during my travels I generally invest in palates of threads and fabrics that appeal to me so I have them on hand for future work. I also keep good patterns records and lots of computerized records of my work.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I am a technology person and love to use my computer to draw, research and communicate with colleagues. I also have specific tools that make my work easier like my wool scissors and locking tweezers.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
All my storage is transparent so I can see easily what is inside. I keep a variety of drawers for threads in silk, wool and cotton in palettes I enjoy. I have a closet for my dyed and processed wool fat quarters and another larger closet for bolts of wool before they are processed. And I use thread organizers for all my threads. This allows me to pull a single thread the perfect size right from the palette.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
BBC historic movies, TV or music. Generally, I play light classical music as it relaxes me. Sometimes I play the blues.
You travel quite a bit to teach workshops. Do you stitch on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I always stitch in the airport and on flights. And I know I have inspired others to stitch by being observed. I bring small applique projects or counted thread work to pass the time on flights and in airports.
How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule a workshop?
My web site includes my email contact information, my teaching schedule and many of the current classes I offer.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think people are born creative but can learn techniques for creation. I know that many people who enjoy my work love to make projects and are amazingly talented stitchers but will never create their own patterns.
If you could spend a day with any creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
I cannot think of anyone. I enjoy being among my colleagues, other stitching teachers and designers.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Being organized and disciplined is critical. From writing books to creating applique the creative habit is the most important aspect. I am up, dressed and in my studio every day by 8:30 AM. Even though I work at home I am never in my jammies or without makeup. That’s part of getting ready for my creative process, to be ready for anything all day, every day.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope visitors will gain by visiting?
Insights on how I work and why I made certain choices during the creative process.
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