Stitching Passion into Art: An Interview with Embroidery Artist Jessica Devin

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needle painting by Jdevin embroidery

Meeting someone who loves what they do is special and inspiring. I appreciate art a lot, and can tell when someone puts love into their work. And you can sense this love and care in each of Jessica Devin’s stunning embroidery works.

When I messaged Jessica, she was really happy to share her story and show us her work. Today, we’ll learn more about what makes her art so special. Remarkably, Jessica has overcome a significant hurdle—a severe hand injury—that would have stopped most people from doing even everyday things, let alone intricate embroidery work. Instead, she came back stronger and more committed to her craft.

How did you get started with silk shading/needle painting? Who or what inspired this unique style?

At first, I didn’t think I’d like embroidery. I was taught as a child, but it was the traditional surface embroidery or cross-stitch, and I didn’t really love it. But I was kind of forced into it.

My mother always hand embroidered Christmas stockings for everyone in the family, but not one for herself. So one year, I decided that she deserved one herself. I bought a kit. I realized two things, it was love at first stitch, and that, I can’t follow patterns. I had to tweak and change everything.

What I didn’t realize was, I was stitching in a style called needle painting. I had no clue what the technique was or how to work it properly. But I loved the way long and short stitches could blend to create different shades, tones and new hues. Without knowing what I was doing, I was needle painting.

It was only when I discovered books by Trish Burr that I realized I was using a legitimate technique. Trish has been a major inspiration to me, particularly because, like me, she’s self-taught.

I wanted to elevate my skill level, so I took a class with the Royal School of Needlework. The experience taught me many valuable habits, including how to stitch with both hands. This seemed impossible at first, especially since my left arm was severely damaged in a car accident. Though doctors were able to save my arm, they told me I’d likely have little to no function in it. Despite this, I’ve now mastered the ability to stitch with both hands, even using a size 12 embroidery needle.

But, my biggest influence by far is Margaret Dier. Her art inspires me so much. And she wrote the best book on the market for learning about needle painting/silk shading. I highly recommend it. She’s a good friend that I can count on to support me and cheer me on. She’s definitely had the biggest impact on my career.


How would you describe your embroidery style?

I’m not sure I have a unique style. My pieces are all over the place. I stitch a lot of commissions which don’t allow me to choose what I want to stitch.

But I love the diversity, and the challenge of stitching something new I’ve never done before.

I guess one thing that never changes is my attention to detail. I’m obsessed with getting as much detail in as possible, even in the smallest places.

And I pride myself on my color choices.

Can you also talk about your color selection process?

I pay attention to where my light source would be coming from in the piece. I add shadows and highlights accordingly. Then the mid tones. I find coloring it in by hand helps you to become better acquainted with the subject matter. You should know the subject you are stitching inside and out before you ever pick up a needle.

color selection in embroidery work

Once I’m happy with the colors, I print it out on white paper.

I then match up my colors with my threads.

I have no problem mixing brands. I’ll often use DMC, Cosmo, Anchor, Madeira, Valdani, Olympus, even silks like Au Ver a a Soie d’Alger, Rainbow Gallery Silk Splendor, YLI heirloom thread, DeVere Yarns, Pipers, and so many more. I find that certain brands make colors that others don’t. So I’m always able to find the appropriate hue I need in one of those many brands. I’m a bit of a thread addict.

I’m a big advocate for color theory and learning as much as I can about it. I feel anyone in the art world has to have a basic understanding of color theory. It helps me pick out my colors. I use a color wheel all the time.

Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created? What makes it special?

I do happen to have a favorite piece. It’s my Chestnut Headed BeeEater.

needle painting by jdevin embroidery

It’s based on a photo by @thomson_saburaj on IG. Amazing photographer. I absolutely adored that piece. When it sold, I actually canceled the sale. But the buyer rebought it. I figured if he wanted it that bad, it was going to a good home. I still miss it. But I have lots of photos.

What is your creative process like? Can you walk me through the creative process of the first design to the finished embroidery?

My creative process usually starts while I’m stitching something else.

An idea will form while I’m working. By the time I’m done with the current piece, I usually have a game plan going into the next.

I always start by researching my subject. Lots and lots of photos for inspiration. Then I will draw my design out on my iPad in Affinity Designer. It’s a fantastic vector drawing program if anyone is interested. Leaps and bounds better than ProCreate, which I started on originally.

Once I’m happy with the drawing. I color it in.

Once I have decided on the colors, I’ll write down the numbers and get them organized. I then make 3 copies of my pattern. One to transfer onto the fabric, one that I write down my order of stitching (what gets stitched first to last).

Generally, anything in the background gets worked first.

The next copy I use is my stitch direction sheet. I draw lines showing how each stitch should be placed on the fabric. This helps alleviate the guess work while stitching. You already are familiar with the direction of the stitches.

What are your favorite materials to work with? Any must-have tools or materials you swear by?

The embroidery material I work with the most is either a good quality tightly woven linen fabric, like a 56 count linen. Or a silk dupioni.

Silk is more professional to work with, but is extremely finicky and stains easily from the oils from our hands. Which is why it’s so important to wash your hands frequently while stitching.

The embroidery tools I use the most…. I transfer my pattern using Prick and Pounce, or if I’m being lazy, or the design is extremely detailed, I’ll use a Charco tracing paper. It works like carbon paper, but the lines are water soluble and non-damaging to the fabric. I can’t live without either.

Btw, I hate heat erase pens. Let’s just get this out of the way. They aren’t archival. The ink may look like it’s disappeared, but it sits inside and on top of the fabric which will deteriorate and degrade the fabric. The lines can also show back up any any point, and they can leave ghost marks which are permanent.

I always use products that are non-damaging to the fabric. Everything done to an embroidery should be reversible for conservation purposes.

I usually use a slate frame to stitch on. So it takes me about an entire day to transfer the pattern and then set up the slate frame. But I find it’s completely worth it in the end. The tension you get from a slate frame cannot be beaten.

slate frame for embroidery

If I do use a hoop, I use Nurge. But I honestly prefer using a frame. Even stretcher bars are better for holding the tension correctly.

My other favorite tool is my Aficot. It’s a beautiful piece of handcrafted wood art. It’s made to polish stitches after they have been laid, or can be used as a laying tool which is very handy when working with filament silk or even rayon.

My iPad is also a huge part of my arsenal. Once upon a time, I did everything by hand. From tracing paper to colored pencils. The iPad just saves so much time. And the designs look more polished and professional.

My other go-to must-have embroidery tools are my stands. Since I do stitch with both my hands, I have to have a stand to hold the frame or hoop. And I recommend everyone who stitches to use one.

Holding a hoop continuously can cause severe damage and fatigue in your wrist and arm. Having a stand will save you a lot of pain down the road. Plus it makes working French knots so much easier, lol.

Another important must have tool is a good light source. If you can’t sit next to a sunny window all day, a good lamp is a must. I use an Ottlite daylight lamp, with 3 brightness settings.

I also have a little lamp that holds a 5500k bulb that I will turn on when I need to take photos of my patterns. That bulb is the closest thing to natural daylight, but too bright to have on whole stitching.

My last favorite tool is actually my organization system. I use DMC’s stitchbow storage system. Unfortunately, DMC has pulled the large inserts from the market for rebranding. So finding them can be a challenge. But they are worth every penny.

But because of the lack of good storage systems out there, I’m in the middle of prototyping an organization system of of own. I plan on selling it in my shop. It’ll be able to house over 500 skeins of thread and be completely archival. This means there will be no damage to the thread.

I’m a serious advocate for not using the flat bobbins that are so popular. They are terrible for the thread.

What’s the most challenging aspect of embroidery for you?

The most challenging aspect of embroidery for me is not having enough time. I have so many ideas and projects lined up, but it’s the slowest art form there is.

And I’m raising and homeschooling my 7 year old boy. So finding time to stitch can be tough.

I still manage to get in around 8 hours of work a day. But it’s a lot of early mornings and late nights. Embroidery is my job, but it’s also my hobby, so I’d be stitching even if I wasn’t working. Lol. Finding time to do the dishes and clean the house is the real problem.

What motivated you to turn your passion into a business? Is there an advantage to this creative self employment more than a 9 to 5 job? And the challenges you have encountered?

I didn’t really intend to turn this into a business. But one day Stitch Magazine saw one of my pieces on Instagram. They asked me to create and write a pattern for them; Something I had never done and wasn’t even sure I could. But took the job immediately. That’s when it dawned on me that I was now ruining a business.

And as luck would have it, Stitch has repeatedly asked me back to write patterns for them. I think I’m at 7 patterns now, going on more to come. Then the commissions started rolling in.

People searching me out blew my mind. I’m still honored any time someone asks for a piece. It’s so special.

I also draw patterns on the side for people who want to stitch something specific, but can’t find a pattern or aren’t able to draw it themselves. So I’ll draw the pattern for them, give them the color numbers, the stitches to use and directions on how to stitch it.

I’ve never been great at the 9 to 5 job. I’ve always been artistic and go with the flow. I’m also ADHD, which makes working a normal job even harder. But with embroidery, I can sit and stitch for hours. It’s so therapeutic and calming.

But don’t get me wrong, making art is the fun part, running an actual business is a lot of work. There are always legal hurdles to overcome, permits that have to be acquired, and inventory that has to be accounted for.

Running a business is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re willing to work hard, it’s the most amazing and rewarding life. There are always ups and downs, but overall it’s a dream come true.

Other than embroidering, what are the other things you have to do as part of a business? Describe a typical business day.

While embroidery is the main part of my business, I’m also on the computer a lot, typing up patterns; Or, on my iPad, drawing patterns for other people. I try to space it out, so that I don’t get bored with any one thing.

So I’ll stitch for a bit, hop on the computer, get onto the iPad, and repeat.

I also have a lot of thread that needs constant attention. Whether it’s organizing the colors, putting away pulls from a previous project, or just general upkeep. I have a very extensive collection of threads. They do take up a lot of my time.

embroidery threads

Plus while doing all that I’m raising my boy and being a housewife. It’s all about balance. And a bit of will power. Otherwise, I’d be stitching until the dirty dishes reached the roof.

How do you market your products? How do you decide on pricing?

I market mostly through word of mouth, Instagram, and Facebook. I personally hate marketing, but it’s part of running a business.

Pricing a piece can be really difficult for people. No one wants to feel like they are over charging. But I learned the hard way that it’s imperative to charge what the art is worth.

I take into account the amount of time I worked on a piece and multiply that by what I think is a fair hourly wage. Then I add in the cost of materials like the fabric, the thread, the needles, etc. Most of my embroidery takes me around 40-60 hours to complete. I charge between $50.00 to $800.00 depending on the piece.

The lesson I learned and want all embroidery artists to learn is that, hand embroidery is a luxury item. It’s no different than an original oil painting. If you walked into an art gallery, what do you think they’d be selling that piece for? There are always people out there willing to spend money on beautiful art.

And the people who aren’t willing aren’t your audience, you don’t need them. It hurts not only your business when you undersell you work, it hurts other artists as well.

I sometimes am criticized for charging $15.00 for a PDF pattern. But what they have to realize is that, it’s not a run-of-the-mill PDF pattern. Most of my patterns are around 60 pages long. With extremely detailed instructions and a ton of photos. They aren’t 5 pages of vague instructions, making you guess how to stitch the piece.

I want anyone to be able to pick up one of my patterns and stitch it just the way I did. No secrets or tricks are held back. I walk the stitchers by the hand through the pattern. So pricing can be difficult, but you have to realize what your work is worth.

Art makes the world a more beautiful place and people will pay for that.

What do your customers appreciate the most about your embroidery work? Are there any favorite products that sell well?

That’s a great question. I actually had to go through my reviews to get the answer.

It seems like people really appreciate the hard work I put into what I do; Whether it’s a pattern or embroidered piece. It’s the attention to detail that people seem to gravitate towards.

My best-selling product is my Kingfisher PDF pattern, but a class second is actually a necklace I make.

needle jewelry by jessica devin

In my down time I dabble with jewelry making. I have a line specifically for embroidery artists, seamstresses, quilters, really anyone who loves their needle. I have a gold needle necklace that people really seem to like.

And I love that no one has been able to duplicate it yet. So many shops steal ideas from each other. But the jump rings I get, that fit through the eye of the needle are my best kept secret. The necklaces are actually really pretty and I enjoy making them.

I actually plate the gold or silver onto the needles or scissors charm’s myself. It’s like a little chemistry experiment. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of work, but fun.

What’s the most valuable business lesson you’ve learned so far?

The most valuable business lesson I’ve learned is literally what we were just talking about. Not to undersell your work.

It’s critical that you be paid a fair wage for the work you do. No one should expect to pay someone $5 a hour for a hand embroidery work.

Embroidery artists should be making at least minimum wage, if not more. They are creating art. Something no one else can create because the art you make comes from your personal experiences, your highs, your lows; it comes from inside you, and no one can duplicate that.

It’s one-of-a-kind artwork. And should be cherished and treated no differently than an oil painting, watercolor, sculpture, etc. They are all art.

I guess lastly, I’d like to say that embroidery has changed my life. It’s my dream to get as many people as possible to try it. It has so many amazing aspects. It’s healing in a way you can not imagine. It’s like therapy, or meditation.

Embroidery allows you to enter a zen-like state that can truly heal all kinds of wounds. I’m living proof of that. I truly believe embroidery saved my life. And it can do the same for others. I just want to get the word out there. People deserve to know.

Thanks to Jessica Devin for sharing her love and passion for embroidery with us.

I was deeply inspired and moved as I read the final paragraph where Jessica wrote about the healing powers of art. This is something that I myself have experienced. I’ve felt this healing power of art. In a world so focused on science and tech, it’s good to remember the value of the art of embroidery and the time and effort of the artist.

If you would like to, you can reach her here:

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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