Let Me Introduce You to ...
An interview by Patty Hawkins, originally published in Embroidery Canada.
... the Inspiring Kathryn Drummond
I don't remember exactly when I first met Kathryn but I do remember where. It was around the work table at Mrs. Twitchett's Eye, Carolyn Mitchell's needlework shop in Winnipeg. And I remember her hands, beautiful, pale and long-fingered with perfectly manicured nails. I was mesmerized watching those hands plying needle and thread – it was almost lyrical. . . But more about those hands later. In the years since we met, Kathryn has expanded her knowledge of needlework exponentially, and has launched a successful career as both embroidery designer and teacher. If you've ever taken a class with Kathryn or stitched one of her delightful designs, you will already be a devoted follower.
Kathryn was born in Winnipeg and has lived here most of her life. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with an Honours B.Sc. degree in genetics and began here working life as a laboratory technician for RH Pharmaceuticals. She has been married to Dave, an insurance adjustor for 19 years. Kathryn left her technical work when they decided to start a family because she wanted to stay away from the harmful substances in the lab. Their first son was born two years later, and the second arrived two years after that.
Kathryn is a devoted wife and mother. Dave has been very supportive of her needlework career and is her fitness champion: getting her up and moving if she has been sitting at her stitching for too long. Boone, now 16 and in Grade 11, is in cross country and Reach for the Topat school, plays rugby, and is in army cadets. He wants to be a doctor. Liam is 14 and in Grade 9. Fond of school, this social youngster is into comic books and makes his own super hero costumes out of duct tape, cardboard, and found objects! The whole family down-hill skis and enjoys "warm" Winter breaks, and summers on Vancouver Island visiting family. You are never a student or guest in Kathryn's lovely home without being offered tea and the most delicious cookies ever: on my last visit it was "Orange Cardamom Melt Aways" but her "Lavender Cookies" are light, buttery, and unique, and my introduction to "Mocha Toffee Truffles" was to die for!
Kathryn's mom, Sandra, was her first handwork teacher. At a young age, Sandra taught her to knit, crochet, macramé, machine sew, cross stitch, and needlepoint. Scraps of material turned into doll clothes. Cross stitch was easy; needlepoint a little harder. Pillow case embroidery was not a hit. Kathryn stopped stitching as a teen, but picked it up again at university as a way to relax. She purchased cross stitch kits from Eaton's and was content with this for years until she walked into Carolyn's shop in 1993. Kathryn noticed the store from a bus window and stopped in one day to have a look. She saw a pattern for a design that she recognized from a magazine and bought all the required materials on the spot. It was Emie Bishop's "Noel."
She learned Hardanger on her own from that design recalling that, fortunately, Emie recommended making a practice ornament. Kathryn was terrified of the first cut which was, of course, wrong! She simply disposed of that piece and moved on to successfully complete the other "Noel" ornaments with no more errors. Once Carolyn got to know her, she invited Kathryn to attend a class – "an evil plot!" – but it worked brilliantly and Kathryn was hooked! It was a Hardanger test piece and Kathryn enjoyed it so much that she started taking all sorts of classes with Carolyn. Her designing began to "cook" with a project called "Ode to Catherine" in which she was encouraged to make some of her own design choices.
. . . And Wings
While at Carolyn's Kathryn also took classes with Barbara Kershaw, who introduced her to Casalguidi and Schwalm, Anna Marie Winter, Ann Poole, Lorna MacDonald, Pat Guay, and Kit Gates, among others. Kathryn credits Carolyn with being a true mentor who helped her in so many ways. Not only did Carolyn introduce her to a wide variety of stitching techniques, but she encouraged Kathryn's interest in designing. Beginning with the basics in Carolyn's design class, Kathryn learned from stitching Carolyn's designs the value of clear, concise instructions artfully presented with legible graphs and beautiful photography. As Kathryn grew in ability and confidence and started to design her own projects, Carolyn also taught her how to teach classes effectively.
Kathryn always liked to make things so she felt it was a natural progression to design in needlework. As a scientist, she feels that her left-brain logic influences her right-brain creativity. She is very fond of repeating patterns, geometrical designs, and "mathematical" blackwork. Carolyn's classes helped her to focus and gave her many useful design "tools".
Kathryn's first independent design was a small, cross-stitched pouch made to hold tuxedo-shirt studs, a gift for her father. The image on the bag was, of course, a mini tuxedo shirt. She drew the design on graph paper first and then stitched it. She started by designing small items even before she took classes with Carolyn. In 1995, after stitching a Hardanger purse designed by Carolyn, she designed one of her own to use at her wedding. It was made from the silk used for her wedding dress and was "finished" in the way that Carolyn's leaflet described.
For Kathryn, design inspiration evolves from an idea for a finished project. While she sometimes goes looking for inspiration, thoughts often come unbidden, almost like she doesn't have control over them. For example, when she began to think about a project to submit to Seminar 2016, she went searching for flowers because Seminar used one in its logo. On Pinterest she found Art Nouveau flowers and felt they would look good on a sampler – maybe bands of flowers and drawn thread. Then she found some Moroccan tiles, and that idea evolved into Moroccan tile-inspired blackwork, a geometric design with drawn threads. This idea then morphed into a set of blackwork smalls and another set of ornaments. No flowers! This example demonstrates how one idea may spawn another and another, and lead to something quite unexpected. It's important to go where the ideas take you; the result can be surprising, even to the designer!
Other welcome sources of inspiration include carpets, ceilings, wallpaper, nature, and Christmas cards. Kathryn chooses what she wants to work with – for example, tulips or fish – and then she goes searching for images. She takes what she wants from those sources and then the design grows away from the original picture. She browses the internet and magazines for inspiring images and saves appealing designs in notebooks and files. When ready to begin something new, she often gets started by simply opening her book and perusing the items saved there. This idea came from Carolyn's design class and has provided a starting point for inspiration on many occasions. While some designers struggle to find inspiration, Kathryn seems to have too many ideas and not enough time!
Kathryn loves designing Christmas ornaments. She also enjoys working on biscornus and needle books which are usually inspired by larger pieces she's working on. The "Lily Biscornu" project which Kathryn has contributed to this issue of EC came from a table centre design; she simply squeezed a large motif into a smaller area and reimagined how to finish the ornament.
Kathryn still does some cross stitch but not much Hardanger. At the moment her favourite forms of needlework are Punto Antico and Casalguidi. She has researched these Italian techniques thoroughly and has adapted traditional patterns into her own exquisite pieces. She has tried reticella, and drawn thread, has a love for blackwork, and enjoys canvaswork and Schwalm. Occasionally she combines a couple of techniques in a single design. For example, she will pair blackwork with Hardanger or canvaswork with stumpwork. However she usually sticks to one technique at a time, examining all of the nuances suggested by that form. She often takes the traditional style of embroidery and works it into a more contemporary format. Casalguidi, Puntico Antico, and Schwalm are customarily white but she likes to inject brilliant or subtle colour which gives the final design a completely different look from the traditional, elegant white-on-white.
Carolyn often encourages her students to experiment with colour by choosing their own favourites when stitching her designs. This has led Kathryn to experiment widely, learning the beauty and effect of many colour variations. The colour choice for any given project often depends simply on her mood at the time the design is conceived.
Kathryn's favourite fabric is linen: Belfast (32 count) followed by Cashel (28 count), and a new 30-count German linen.
She loves working with all kinds of threads; they are "candy" to her! Caron overdyes are a particular favourite but each type of thread has its own attractions, depending on the look of the final design. Silk is "delicious." Beads and pearls are a must. Kathryn singles out Swarovski pearls and crystals as being worthy of needlework. With all the time an energy that goes into creating a design, there is no substitute for their beauty and quality.
Kathryn is not afraid to try new things and take chances. She feels that it's very important for a designer to step outside of her comfort zone and experiment with different approaches, colours, techniques, and materials. Not everything works but it's a learning process. And, like the rest of us, she admits to doing plenty of ripping!
A Practical Approach
Kathryn uses Easy Grapher Professional to work out her designs though sometimes she plays with ideas on paper before going to the computer. Repetitive elements are easier to produce on the computer. A whiz with technology, Kathryn found Easy Grapher Professional intuitive and very easy to learn. She uses Stitch Whiz for making stitch diagrams.
Once the computer design is complete, she chooses fabric and thread and then stitches a sample. She adjusts the design as she stitches and updates the computer file immediately because one change often leads to another.
When asked how she carves out time to design, Kathryn, a busy wife and mom, laughed and said she generally skips cleaning! She will find some time to stop in her day and sit on the couch with graph paper and pencil or her laptop. She does most of her stitching in the evening during family TV shows.
The Business of Designing
Designing includes marketing the final products. This is difficult for Kathryn as she admits to being shy about self-promotion. Carolyn introduced her to the folks at Nordic Needle – a full service needlework shop in Fargo, North Dakota – and they have forged a close working relationship which has been very exciting and rewarding for Kathryn. Nordic Needle publicizes and distributes her designs. She was thrilled when an early stumpwork design called "A Tulip Study" made the cover of a Nordic Needle catalogue. And Kathryn is tickled pink to have her own rack of patterns in the shop!
Other sales venues include Merchant Night at Seminar, Toronto's CreativFestival, and online in "The Needlework Show," a trade show for wholesalers which takes place each April and October. Kathryn stocks her own "virtual booth" with descriptions, prices, and photos. Store owners register to purchase. She has already generated sales there and they are increasing as more and more people discover her designs.
Kathryn recognizes the importance of meticulous finishing and good photography to promote her designs. She has taken a few classes in finishing techniques and will sometimes use instructions from other projects when tackling something new. Her sewing and craft skills have been very helpful and her mom sometimes assists with beautiful finishing. Above all, she recognizes that it is important to take time to finish carefully. Though she has never taken a class in photography, she works at getting the pictures of her designs just right. She has progressed through trial and error. After each shot she examines the result critically, makes changes, and tries again, ultimately being content only when the picture meets her exacting standards.
Kathryn's designs are generally sold as stand-alone patterns. Occasionally she puts together kits for smaller shows and classes. She likes to include bead packs as a little extra value to accompany many of her leaflets.
Kathryn's "best seller" is her Punto Antico "Gelati Ornaments" design. "Undersea Fantasy," a Casalguidi series comprised of scissor fob, needle book, and box cover, is in high demand. "La Floron," a popular canvaswork piece, seemed to emerge onto the canvas effortlessly. It uses some different and innovative techniques such as couching and leaving open space for emphasis. Her "Jewel Box Ornaments" (canvaswork) have also been well received.
Up Next . . .
Kathryn is currently working on a series of five or six small Puntico Antico table centre pieces stitched on varying shades of linen. Two designs are now complete; others are in the planning stages. After that, her next piece may be another Punto Antico design called "Bliss" on blue fabric with butterflies, but time will tell how this design will develop.
Kathryn began her teaching career in Carolyn's shop. Carolyn showed some of Kathryn's designs to the people from Rainbow Gallery who expressed interest. In order to test the patterns, she taught the designs at Mrs. Twitchett's Eye. Kathryn enjoyed instructing so much that it encouraged her to design more and more so she could continue teaching! Classes are a great way to test instructions.
In addition to teaching many classes at various venues in Winnipeg, Kathryn has also taught at Stitchers' Muse in Nanaimo, at a recent Nordic Needle Retreat, twice at the CreativFestival, and at Seminar. Kathryn really enjoys the individuality of each class, and since becoming better known, new teaching opportunities are coming along more frequently.
Feedback from her students has been very positive and is an important learning tool for Kathryn as she develops her teaching skills. She welcomes e-mailed comments and questions if her students run into difficulties. She encourages them to send her pictures of their finished work and loves receiving these photos, especially if the stitcher has made changes to the design or colours. She has found that those who take her classes are generally a happy group as they are doing what they love!
Each class takes on a character of its own and Kathryn finds it enjoyable to see people get to know each other while working on her designs. She is famous for bringing her delicious, homemade cookies to class – this is a great ice breaker. At Seminar in Winnipeg one woman who was not in her class nonetheless came by every day just to sample the treats! Being with other stitchers with busy hands seems to free people up to talk about all the things they need to talk about. It's therapeutic. Every subject gets covered and the sessions can sometimes get wild! Kathryn always learns something in each class she takes and teaches – and it's not always about needlework!
When getting started, it is critical to take a design class because there are many helpful tools and useful techniques to guide design choices in areas such as the use of colour and shape. Mastering this knowledge is invaluable in attaining the finished product you want. Record ideas in a design journal and keep it handy. The more you think of the world in terms of design, the more ideas will come to you, almost like exercising a muscle. Just try it! Experiment!
Teaching is a skill and it takes practice. Take note of the things you like and don't like about teachers you've learned from and the classes you attend. Work really hard to develop detailed and accurate instructions and to convey the information clearly. This is critical.
Kathryn has belonged to EAC for more than ten years. She contributed a lovely sampler design to EC Magazine for our 30th Anniversary, and followed up with a companion piece for our 40th Anniversary. She was Members' Show Chair for Seminar 2013. Kathryn is currently Chair of the Winnipeg Embroiderers' Guild Education Committee, and is in charge of WEG's Facebook page. She recently contributed a great blog to the EAC website (see archive, Tuesday, November 11, 2014).
And Finally . . . Those Hands
Kathryn was working at Mrs. Twitchett's Eye when a call came in asking if there was someone who could teach tatting to an actress for a movie being shot in Winnipeg. Kathryn volunteered. They discussed ideas on how to proceed and what to do if the actress couldn't learn this technical skill quickly. They decided that, if necessary, they would film Kathryn's hands doing the tatting and insert them into the scene. Kathryn was required on set at midnight on the first day of shooting. They gave her one hour to teach the actress tatting but, not surprisingly, she did not take to it, though Kathryn did show her how to "fake it." It was a freezing cold night and it took more than three hours to film the scene. It involved the actress sitting on an airplane with the star, Renee Zellweger, in the seat beside her. The movie was New in Town, and in the end, Kathryn simply viewed the scene on a monitor from the back of the airplane. Such are the vagaries of the movie business that they never did film those beautiful hands for the world to admire. And of course, the scene ended up on the cutting room floor!
Back to Meet Our Members
Patty Hawkins has been a member of EAC since 2004 and is a frequent contributor to EC Magazine. She has followed Kathryn's career with great interest and has had the pleasure of taking many of her classes. She even spent a wild week with Kathryn (and Beryl!) at the CreativFestival in Toronto where Kathryn tried to teach her how to tat while curled up on a hotel room bed (no cold airplane for her!). There was so much laughter and horsing around that, eventually, she just gave up.
(originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Embroidery Canada)