Embroidery artist Mollie Johanson’s work is all about the smiles – the ones she makes when she creates her designs as well as the happy faces on people who see her work. She enjoys embroidery and cross stitch so much that she wants as many people as possible to find some happiness for themselves in the activity. So, she designs embroidery patterns and writes books to make it easy for others to add some colorful handmade whimsy to their lives.
Tell us a bit about the creative work you do. How does it best express what you want to communicate through your art?
Most of the work that I do revolves around stitching of some kind. Cross stitch and embroidery patterns are the main things that I create, but I also like to make small sewing projects.
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What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
The first thing most people notice is that I tend to add happy little faces to my artwork and patterns. I just think they are cute and that makes me happy! Beyond going for a kawaii (Japanese for super cute) aesthetic, I try to make my work as approachable as possible. My goal is to have people see one of my patterns and think “I can do that!”
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Can I say both? Because I’ve found that both are needed. I start every project with some kind of plan, including deadlines, types of materials, and sketches. But everything requires some moments of improvising and flexibility. Things don’t always go the way you expect and that’s okay as long as you’re prepared to roll with it.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Cross Stitch Celebrations: Bundle of Joy?
The first thing is that I want folks to be able to make cute projects for babies. But beyond that, I really want people to feel comfortable using cross stitch charts to make more custom designs.
Combining or changing patterns doesn’t have to be scary. Cross Stitch Celebrations: Bundle of Joy aims to empower new and experienced cross stitchers to go beyond just choosing a pattern and following it to the letter (or in this case, symbol!) My upcoming book in the Cross Stitch Celebrations series, Graduation, does the same thing for educational milestones, but maybe more. It has a bunch of easy-to-customize elements!
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I tend to work all throughout my house and the trail of embroidery floss proves it! But I do have a few areas that are dedicated to certain purposes. My office is set up for computer work with occasional sewing. It’s full of things that inspire me (old toys, handmade items, and rainbow-sorted craft supplies) and when it’s tidy, I find it to be a perfect place to focus. It’s just rarely tidy.
I also have a makeshift photo studio which is a table near a window covered with colorful backgrounds and surrounded by photo lights and props.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
As a messy creative, I think it’s important to find a system that works for you. Winding embroidery floss onto bobbins isn’t my thing, but keeping skeins divided by color is. That visual organization is more important to me than it is for others.
Likewise, just because some kinds of storage look pretty on the internet, doesn’t mean they will make sense for your day-to-day creating.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I always have at least one composition book (you know the classic school notebook?) that I use for sketching and making lists and notes. Because I keep them, I have years of notebooks that I can look back on. Sometimes I revisit an idea and make it into something new, while other times it serves as a reminder of how far my work has come over time.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I live in a house filled with lots of people so there are always active sounds and often music in the background. That’s what I’m used to, so I can usually work well with those sounds. But when I’m all alone, I tend to let things be silent.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
Because creating is my full-time work, I always technically have time, but it’s also easy to get distracted. One way I work to have daily creative time is to have several projects going at different stages. That makes it easier to pick something up and stitch while I sip my morning coffee, watch a favorite show, or even travel.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
Is too often an acceptable answer? Because I love starting new projects. I also love finishing them and sharing them with the world. To balance those things, I usually have several short-term and more than a few long-term projects going at once. I’ve also learned along the way that sometimes it’s okay to say, “I’m never going to finish that” and move on.
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
My non-work crafting is usually knitting or crochet. It’s different from the cross stitch and embroidery that I spend most of my time on, and it’s nice to be able to make a thing that I can wear proudly.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I truly believe that both of these things are true for most people. So often I talk to people, and they say “Oh, I’m not creative” and then I ask a few questions and they share hobbies or skills that are VERY creative, but not in the traditional sense (such as cooking, gardening, even engineering). The skills and interests come naturally.
On the flipside, you can be a traditional artist and still need to cultivate your skills by sketching or brainstorming ideas. But I especially love encouraging the people who think they aren’t creative and helping them find and build on their skills.
Is there an element of your art you enjoy working with most? Why?
I absolutely love the planning part. Coming up with new ideas and choosing the materials to use really ignites a spark in me. (That’s probably why I love starting so many projects!) When there’s a challenge of fitting a certain theme or working with specific materials, it adds to my enjoyment. I think part of it comes from being encouraged from a young age to always be creating and trying new things. Of course, seeing those ideas become a real thing is also very rewarding!
Learn more about Mollie on her website.
Interview posted December 2022
Interested in learning more about counted cross stitch? Check out our article How to do Counted Cross Stitch.