Haley Pierson-Cox designs cross-stitch patterns that make people look twice and smile. A life-long creator and crafter, Haley shares her love of fiber arts by writing her blog. She balances her time between creating and meeting book deadlines.
How did you develop a career of “making stuff”? What does that entail?
Like many creators who got their start in the mid-to-late aughts, my career started with a craft blog. I wanted to share my hobbies and find a crafting community that felt modern enough to include boundary-pushing twenty-somethings. The internet was where that was happening.
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Blogging led to writing tutorials, which led to investing in photo equipment. Both of these led to dedicating part of my teeny tiny Brooklyn apartment as my craft studio. My interests in different mediums expanded from embroidery to yarn crafts to sewing to quilting. I began writing patterns and teaching classes across multiple mediums.
At the same time, I was hired by other blogs to create content and tutorials. I also joined the team on CRAFT Magazine’s website as an editor (CRAFT is now combined with Make Magazine). This was the point at which I left my day job in book publishing to pursue craft writing full time.
Eventually, through friends I’d made in the DIY world, I was introduced to my literary agent. I began writing cross-stitch books, which is my current professional focus. Developing this career was the result of hard, persistent work. It was also made possible by a strong network of people who generously helped me learn how to make creativity a job, providing me with the initial opportunities to show a larger audience what I could do. And, for that, I am extremely grateful!
How do you balance your time between making and writing about making?
Because I sell designs, not objects, the time balance usually depends greatly on book deadlines or other publishing schedules. I don’t think much about time distribution beyond having a good idea of how long certain things usually take. Designing a cross-stitch pattern, writing a book introduction, or stitching a sample for photography. I build a schedule that allows both sides of the work to get done within a timeline that’s as reasonable as possible.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I really enjoy using geometric layout. There are limitations inherent with needing to design consistently sized projects for books. Creating layouts that include unexpected details to add context to patterns to tell a story that might not be obvious otherwise. I like to make people look twice and smile. I like people to feel like they’re in on the fun.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’m autistic, so my brain happens to work in a way that makes intricate step-by-step planning the foundation for most of my projects. (Not surprising, since I literally design within a grid most of the time!) That said, I use the initial organization as a starting point. It provides general structure while allowing me to break all of the rules that I want to along the way. Basically, planning makes it easier for me to get started. I’m often delighted to find that I’ve finished in a way that I never would have predicted.
How do you decide what the subjects of your cross stitch patterns will be? What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Bob Ross Cross Stitch?
When I’m designing for my individual work, I keep a running list of words, phrases, ideas, or images that come to mind. Eventually, those pieces naturally start to come together to form a cohesive whole. When I’m partnering with a publisher on a licensed property, Like Cross Stitch the Golden Girls or Bob Ross Cross Stitch, I take a more focused approach. My goal is to design projects that the people who love the shows or the characters actually want to make. I do as much research as possible to immerse myself in the fandoms I’m working with.
I want the folks who hear a familiar catchphrase and think, “Whoa, that should definitely be a cross-stitch sampler!”. Then to flip open one of my books and find that pattern inside. I know how it feels to gasp in delight when a designer actually *gets it*. I want to people to feel that underlying enthusiasm when they see my patterns.
What are your other go-to methods of making?
I tend to be a fiber or fabric crafter. Pretty much anything I can string together or stitch through is alright by me.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
My workspace is the third floor of my Victorian home in Vermont. Right now, it’s very much a work in progress. We bought our house last spring and moved in over the summer. I have plans for a workroom and a secret passage podcast studio. A private library will double as a no-distraction zone for deadline stitching (no laptops allowed).
My whole career until now has been spent in a tiny 5′ x 12′ space in my apartment in New York City. This post is from quite a few years ago, but not much changed except upgraded sewing machines: https://www.redhandledscissors.com/2013/06/10/video-20-second-craft-studio-tour/). I’m a little bit overwhelmed by the possibilities presented by my new space! I have so many ideas, and I’m so excited to finally have room to move around. It’s hard to know where to start. (Not that I’m complaining!)
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Currently, my most indispensable tools are good detail lamps so I can see my stitches. Multicolored water soluble pens mark key areas on fabric to prevent counting mistakes when I’m trying to work quickly.
I also love sturdy Aida cloth. A well-organized embroidery floss storage box–with colors in DMC number order, of course. Gold-plated tapestry needles, which aren’t nearly as fancy as they sound. They do move through Aida cloth very smoothly, preventing hand pain. I know it doesn’t sound particularly exciting. For me, investing in very good basic tools and materials is more life-changing than even the fanciest of high-end sewing machines.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I’m usually a podcast gal while I’m working. I listen to an endless feed of true crime and paranormal shows. The occasional audiobook thrown in for good measure.
When you travel, do you create while on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
Yes, I definitely stitch while traveling! One of my favorite tutorials I’ve written was for an English paper piecing travel kit. It’s still my go-to for making on the move.
Tell us about Tiny Cranky Haley. Where did she come from?
Hah! Tiny Cranky Haley is a cartoon version of me. She allowed me to vent frustrations about life. Especially the challenges that tend to come up when strangers on the internet interact with content that you’ve created. She doesn’t make appearances very often these days. Drawing her allowed me to build basic illustration skills, then digital illustration skills. Tiny Cranky Haley, early days: https://www.redhandledscissors.com/2014/08/10/sunday-snapshot-tiny-cranky-haley-week-3/, Tiny Cranky Haley now: https://www.redhandledscissors.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Tiny_Cranky_Haley_Improper_Cross-Stitch_book_release.gif
Time machine. Where would you go and why? Who would you want to meet?
1880s, New York City. Louis Comfort Tiffany. I don’t necessarily want to meet him, but I’d love to witness the beginning of opalescent Tiffany Glass. Opalescent stained glass and lampshades make my heart sing!
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I write the craft blog Red-Handled Scissors. You can find tutorials, downloadable projects and patterns. Also information about the books I’ve written. You can follow me social media and learn about my monthly Patreon pattern subscription. You’ll also find links to the podcasts I host (The Very Serious Crafts Podcast and the Bones & Bobbins Podcast):
Interview with Haley Pierson-Cox posted January 2023
Browse through more hand embroidery projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.