Sunday, January 10, 2010


News of new products is starting to come out of Long Beach, where TNNA is having their biggest trade show of the year.  There are new threads, new canvases and new Stirling leather bags so far.

Colleen at Needle Works has a great new posting up with shots of all the Leigh drama dragon masks (I updated my Leigh interview to add this link) and also new canvases from Melissa Shirley and Kelly Clark.  Julia Snyder has a new book out as well.  It's called Darn Fillings and covers laid trellis or trame stitches and darning stitches.  The most interesting item for threadaholics like me is that ThreadWorX is overdyeing Vineyards Silks and Soie d'Alger.

Read everything below.  The links are in reverse order, with the most recently posted listed first.

New posting with Kathy Schenkel, Kelly Clark, Shelly Tribbey, and Lani designs shown.  There's a link to the new Lee website, too.

Written by Jane/Chilly Hollow
Blogging at
Archived Yahoo 360 postings at

Interview: Leigh Richardson of Leigh Designs

Today I have a special treat, an interview with Leigh Richardson, the brains behind Leigh Designs. Leigh is probably best known to many needlepoint addicts as the creator of the Mad Hatter series of designs, which you can see on her website in the two links below.  In the photo above, you see Leigh (right) in her studio with Alex (left), her long-time studio manager and artist.

You will want to click on Home and explore other wonderful Leigh Design series, such as the Dynasty ornaments (each based on a country's royal family and heritage), the fabulous Sirens mermaids, the incredible Wicked witches and their fabulous hats, the fancy Las Vegas showgirls with all their feathers and rhinestones and long legs, the elegant geishas, the lovely series based on Mexican pottery, the one based on Northwestern Indian designs, and on and on. Something for everyone--that's Leigh's canvases!

Leigh Designs also distributes the Ashland Sky project bags and River Silks ribbons. We are lucky that she has agreed to show off a brand new design called Lord of Fire (it is being introduced with seven other drama dragon masks at the January 2010 TNNA trade show this week) and explain how such new painted canvases designs such as this red drama dragon mask are created.

Leigh, how long has Leigh Designs been in business?

This will be our 31st year as Leigh Designs...where did the time go?

I know your background is in fashion illustration. How did you move from the world of fashion to the world of needlework?

There have been many stops along the way; Fashion illustrator, Gallery Work/Fine Art/Oil Paintings, Ad Art and Cover Art. There was this ad in 1976 in The Daily Breeze, Torrance, California asking for a 'copy artist' for a local needlepoint manufacturer - I said "I can do that!" I had no idea how to needlepoint, certainly, no idea what a 'hand paint' was. I started as a copy-artist, moved quickly into custom work and it wasn't long until I was designing.

Does this fashion background influence how you develop a design?

Actually, it was the ad art which influenced me the most. I always said the worst job I ever had was 'paste-up and layout', and here I am doing it on a regular basis in design. I don't design on the computer. I think designers tend to use all the 'tricks' they have learned through the years in their art career. This determines how they work.

So you draw out your preliminary design by hand and then edit the design until you have a solid design?

Yep! All done by hand, the old fashioned way!

Leigh is allowing us to follow along as a Chinese drama mask design is developed for the TNNA show in January of 2010.   Leigh, where did the idea for this latest design come from?

I have collected masks for years....our family room may look pretty scary to some. I have done design series based on Northwest Indian Masks, Balinese Masks, Noh Drama Masks......The Chinese Drama Masks seemed to be a natural progression as my focus turned to the use of more metallics and glitz! I haven't gotten twinkle and shine out of my system yet!

Let's hope you never do. Sparkle adds fizz to the champagne of needlepoint stitching!

Well, I go through 'phases' like anyone else. It's the attention span, thing, again. When I start to lose interest, I move on to something else. Sometimes, a customer will ask if I'll do more of a line which was introduced several years ago. I don't. Actually, it very hard to recapture the excitement of putting together a design line once it's done. My favorite set of designs is the one I am currently working on and I hold no emotional attachment to my past work.

You start by sketching a design in black and white? Once the design is to your liking, then color is added?

I start with pencil and that most intimidating of all objects - a blank sheet of paper! I work composition first, using a 'short-hand' I have used since my oil on canvas, fine art days. 

The 'short-hand' develops into shapes and this is refined into crisp outlines we call 'black and whites'. 

Color isn't really considered until the design is refined into this final stage. You can't correct a bad design with color. A bad design or an 'uncomfortable' composition will show through every time. All eight of the design series are brought up to this stage. We work in series of eight for many reasons - commercial and personal. Then, the first one of each is painted up. This is the original from which the artists paint the reproductions. 

Final Design for Lord of Fire

Once you have eight designs for a new series, who oks the design at this stage? Do you often have to readjust colors? I know you like using red as a neutral. Are there other colors you favor?

I'm afraid the sole design decision rest with me. I put them together and paint up the originals and if the designs 'lay an egg' I have no one to blame but myself! I tend to set them up in the studio to 'live with them' for awhile before they are photographed and reproduced. Robert [Leigh's husband and Business Manager] will make comments and the artists will also add their opinions, but in the end, it's my decision. It's very seldom a large area of color is changed. Sometimes small changes are made - little 'tweaks' can be made but once the label goes on, they are done and I don't look back. Red is my favorite color and I use it heavily in my work. Do you know a color that some shade of red doesn't look fabulous with? Color is very important. I tend to have a short attention span with art, so splashing lots of color keeps my focus and interest. Not a coincidence at all, I figure if I'm bored others will be bored also. 

I know you have a stable of artists who paint your canvases, which is a little unusual. Many designers contract out this work. Why did you decide to have your own painters in-house?

Well, thirty plus years ago they didn't have 'off shore' painters. When we reached the point where we needed assistance, we brought in artists and trained them to paint on canvas. One of my artists trained with me so many years ago, moved with us from Southern California to Washington and now, Alex pretty much runs the place. Having artists in-house allows us flexibility.

Where is your studio? What is it like? What's a typical day like at Leigh Designs?  (In the photo below, you see Janis  on the left and Alex on the right at work on their drawing boards.)

We bought property in Washington in 1983 and built the house and studio which is on our property. At that time we were pretty much country. But as long as UPS could find us, we were in business! The studio consists of a large, long room with skylights which accommodates four artist stations for the full time artists. In the past, any part-time artists brought in usually work at home. At the rear of the studio is a dark-room for the light table and enlarger and the powder room. There is a stock-room, a cutting room where canvas is cut and paint is poured and a gallery area. There is also a coffee area with microwave, small fridge etc.

A gallery area to display your designs?

Yes, there ia a long hall which ends in a large room which will eventually be my office. Right now, it holds trade show boxes, a rack of designs and a desk with the computer we use for shipping. The hallway, evenually, when the appropriate lighting is decided on, we hope will display models we no loger take to shows. The business is always a work in progress with changes being made with the times.

Typical day? Is there such a thing? I'm an early riser so my day starts at 5:30 after taking my Corgi, Chloe out for her constitutional.  (Chloe poses in the studio for her portrait above.)

I'm with my cup of coffee checking out emails and running through the notes from the office as to orders, supplies, notes needing answering, etc. Then, Chloe and I trek to the studio, where the artists are either there or arriving. Everyone knows their 'game plan', but an inquiry by phone can send Alex into action: "Who can knock out a Ruby before Jim [the UPS driver] gets here?" or "Leigh, do we have any SIRENS in stock?" So, what we are all working on stops and 'rushes' go on board. I may have more messages on my table needing attention but if I'm lucky, I can give my full attention to a custom piece in progress. It's a casual atmosphere where we all have worked together for so long we know each other very well. There can be books on tape, music or talk radio going in the background with commentary interjected frequently. Robert is in and out double-checking ship dates or confirming canvas stock. Jim arrives daily to pick up shipments, deliver supplies, or pick up show crates and get in his banter with Alex. It's a busy place. Our day ends at 5 but, we have been known to go until 6-6:30 to complete some rushes. The week before a show can really get crazy with long hours.

The Chinese dragon mask design we are using to illustrate this interview is one of a series of eight. Do you normally create more than one version of an idea to release as a painted canvas set?

Yes, I like to design in sets of eight of a size. Sometimes I'll add another eight of a smaller version of the series making it 16 of the design line. Then, I'm done - really done and don't look back, I move on to something different.

How long does it usually take for a shop to get what they order?

Our shipping is pretty good. Usually we can ship out stock items within two weeks. If it's a rush, we can ship in a day or so. Custom work or the large items not stocked, of course, take much longer.

What are the typical canvas sizes you sell, or is there such a thing? Are you mostly creating large designs on 13 count canvas and smaller pieces on 18 count?

Ha! Instructors love 18 count and I do as well. It works better for the decorative stitching. However, we have stores who want only 13 mesh. We carry 18, 16, 14, 13, 12, 10. We have Congress cloth, Penelope, and rug canvas in stock. Then, there is the colored canvas....we have all the colors and I'm always pushing our supplier for more!

Partly Stitched Lord of Fire Courtesy of Brenda Hart

We are lucky to be able to show off a partly stitched version of the Lord of Fire red drama dragon mask that Leigh designed in the photo above, courtesy of Brenda Hart who is doing a stitch guide and perhaps a class with this piece [email Brenda at for more information], so you can see this design from its birth right through stitching. Thanks, Brenda!

Those who are more familiar with Leigh's work will recognize that the drama dragon masks are related to the Chinese drama masks wall hangings that are available through Alex Paras Needle Arts, one of which Rosalyn Cherry-Soliel made famous in Needlepoint Now and for which she won many ribbons at the Milwaukee ANG Seminar in 2009.

There are smaller versions of the original Chinese drama masks also available through Alex Paras.

Many thanks to Leigh Richardson and her studio for sending photographs to help us stitchers understand the hard work behind those beautiful painted canvases.  Further thanks are due to Brenda Hart who loaned out a photo of her unfinished piece so you could see one of Leigh's designs move from concept to stitched needlepoint.

UPDATE:  Colleen at Needle Works has already posted information about new products she's seen at the TNNA show, including all the drama dragon masks from Leigh.  If you want to see Lord of Fire's brothers, go here.

Written by Jane/Chilly Hollow
Blogging at
Archived Yahoo 360 postings at