Caela Conn Tyler
Caela Conn Tyler holds certification in canvaswork, Level II from the National Academy of Needlearts. Caela has taught in Canada and throughout the United States including several national seminars for the American Needlepoint Guild and the Embroiderers' Guild of America, numerous EGA regional seminars, the Council of American Embroiderers, Callaway School of Needle Arts, and the National Academy of Needlearts. Several of her canvaswork designs have won awards in numerous judged and juried shows. Caela's designs are currently being featured in signature pieces of jewelry. Her graphic arts skills are evident in the logos she has designed for various organizations and in her work as a free-lance page-layout artist. Although canvaswork her focus, she works in several media, particularly in garment design and embellishment.
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A Christmas Gift for My Mother
A Christmas Gift for My Mother marks my entry into the needlework scene as a designer. In the late 1960’s, chiffon-lined cashmere sweaters were all the rage. At that time my needlework experience consisted of having done a few “stitchery” kits, but I had this great idea for a special Christmas gift. I had no experience doing this sort of thing, but I was very intuitive about garment construction procedures.
I purchased a Dalton cashmere cardigan, measured the back area, and drew the design. I bought the crewel yarns in the needlework department of May D & F. (Remember when department stores had needlework departments?) In those days I didn’t own a single book that explained or showed how to do such a project. I realized that I needed to stabilize the knitted ground, so I basted either organdy or silk organza (I don’t remember which) to the inside of the sweater. Somehow, I decided that I had to trace my design onto tissue paper, then baste the design onto the sweater.
When the stitching was completed, I drafted a pattern for the sweater fronts and back. I made a lining from silk chiffon. My mother loved the sweater! Fortunately, in later years she sent it to me along with other memorabilia shortly before she suffered from failing health and accompanying dementia.
Shakespeare’s Iago, an infamous villain, destroyed Desdemona with the poison of his conniving evil nature while, on the surface, he was handsome and irresistible. Iago is a gorgeous snake, yet this piece often triggers unsettled feelings and a sense of distrust. Why would anyone select a snake as the subject for needlework?
When I was enrolled in the National Standards Council of American Embroiderers’ intensive correspondence course on design, one of the lessons focused on positive and negative space. Following study and several exercises on the topic, I had to design and stitch a piece in which the main emphasis was positive/negative space – and the assignment required portraying an animal.
The skin patterns of snakes can be beautiful! Their impact is often heightened by the snake’s movement and coiling. In this piece I used just one hue, red, to emphasize both positive and negative space. The red spots on the snake are, of course, the positive space of the snake’s skin pattern while the matching red canvas background is the negative space of the design. In addition, the fine line outlining the snake (i.e., separating positive and negative space) is likewise red. At the same time, the diamond patterned cream area of the snake is both positive and negative space, establishing the positive space of the design while being the negative space of the snake skin.
There’s little textural contrast here, like the smooth skin of a snake or the “smooth operator” nature of Iago. However, the use of metallic threads lends an air of elegance or good looks. And the stitch treatment is quiet and simple – just three stitches were used.
Iago: repulsive? fascinating? ugly? gorgeous? It’s your call. Just watch where you step!
Monet’s Water Lilies
Monet’s Water Lilies embodied a fresh approach toward the use of variegated threads when it debuted at ANG Seminar in New Orleans. When I designed this piece, I focused on two ideas. One was color interaction, particularly exploring Monet’s emphasis on “the colors of light.” The canvas is color-washed with diluted acrylic paint. The exposed canvas stitches worked with variegated threads produce constantly changing color combinations against the hue of the ground.
A second area of focus was likewise guided by Monet’s approach – creating the “impression” of objects or a landscape rather than creating specific representational forms. Horizontal stitches worked with colorful, somewhat shiny threads offer the impression of water. Matte finish wools, cottons, and linens worked in slanting and/or crossing stitches were selected to impart the illusion of grasses and reeds. Likewise, very shiny oval eyelets represent the water lilies.
Monet’s Water Lilies was designed and stitched as my expertise piece to fulfill the NAN Level I Teachers’ Certification requirements. It led to my entry into the ranks of “national teacher” when it was accepted for the New Orleans ANG Seminar. The project’s popularity was amazing! I estimate that I shared this piece with at least 450 students.
On Gossamer Wings
My stitching group friend, Charlie Eldridge, purchased a set of dinnerware on a trip to China. It featured brightly colored butterflies and was gorgeous! Meanwhile, I was gathering my thoughts regarding my expertise piece for NAN Level II Teachers’ Certification, a piece that displays the epitome of the candidate’s color, design, and technique skills. A few days after I saw Charlie’s china, I was stuck motionless in a rush hour traffic jam when a vision of On Gossamer Wings flashed into my consciousness.
The combination of fanciful and colorful design elements incorporated in an elegant, finely sewn garment perfectly represented my personal expertise. However, the project was daunting. I made and fitted a muslin shell, then drew the shape of the proposed stitched inset onto the muslin so that the canvas ground fabric (Congress Cloth) could be all one piece with no seams. After line drawing the individual butterflies and resizing them to provive many options, I cut them out and pinned them to the muslin shell, ensuring that none would be sucking a nipple instead of nectar. Following all that preparation, I ripped out the muslin shell shoulder seams, laid the muslin flat, and drafted the paper pattern/line design of the stitched inset.
The inset uses mostly silks along with some synthetics, metallics, and cotton embroidery floss. What fun I had gathering my materials! These threads were worked in a combination of small-scaled needlepoint stitches and selected embroidery stitches for the butterflies. Since the jacket fabric is washed tussah silk, I experimented with several background treatments that would echo the appearance of the silk fabric. The small two-day pattern darning stitch appears as fabric from a short viewing distance. Finally, the whipped outline stitch scrolling lines and curves represent the butterflies’ graceful flight along with echoing the curving edges of the inset.
The jacket was constructed with a flannel inner lining for body and stability. The fronts and back were hand quilted in tunnel quilting that repeats the curved edge of the inset. Originally, I wore On Gossamer Wings with a tea-length skirt made of matching fabric as a special occasion outfit.
When On Gossamer Wings was accessioned to the NAN Permanent Collection I was allowed five years’ use of the garment before it became part of the collection.
1995 was very stressful - filled with losses which every woman experiences. My very best friend had moved to Phoenix, Arizona (the move was not a totally positive one). My aunt, who is the last of her generation, was disabled by Alzheimer's disease. My summer days were focused upon college and scholarship research as my daughter entered her senior year of high school. I knew that, next year at the same time, I would be experiencing her exit from our home. I couldn’t imagine the emptiness!
When I was explaining these overwhelming feelings of loss to a psychologist friend, she suggested that I draw my feelings as an aid to working through this period of my life. I couldn't complete this process by simply drawing - I had to stitch it.
The house is a large Victorian - one in which I would love to live. In fact, I poured over house plans, selecting a great kitchen from one, a master bedroom and sitting room from another. I also combined the exteriors to “build” the façade of my perfect house. The stitch treatment is very precise and controlled. The fine details indicate my pleasure in the decorative details that I have included in my real home. I am home alone - no friends or family surrounding me. All of the rooms are in darkness except the upstairs sitting room (my room). I hope, that my aloneness is not a permanent situation or feeling. The details of the beveled glass door were not visible unless they were illuminated by a porch light, so the porch light is on, in anticipation of companionship.
It is that not-quite-light time of day. Is it waning sunset or waxing sunrise; dusk or dawn? While I was stitching, I couldn’t answer that. I did know that the potential existed for either option. Ultimately, I would determine that option. I had a gut feeling that it would be sunrise in hopes that I would find intimacy with other current friends or acquaintances. My daughter's blossoming into adulthood, her great potential for career success, and the wonder of those college years would help offset her not being here. I simply needed to adjust to the new level of our relationship.
It has occurred to me that all women, and many men, deal with multiple losses - losses like mine, which don't necessarily involve death, but do include significant grieving. During the designing and stitching, I was grieving. Home Alone is grief - sadness, tears, those moments that should be shared with another. Stitching the house hurt. The landscape was less painful since I was outside with several directions to choose. As I worked through this personal crisis, the landscape stitches evolved as being less rigid and more flexible than was the house. While I was working on the landscape, my ideas for the sky spontaneously emerged. I looked forward to the sky; to the freedom of expression, the lack of restraints, the glitter and subtle glitz. Can a sunset be a sunrise? Would that be nature's ultimate example of the oxymoron, bittersweet? Home Alone led me to questions I needed to ask myself. The answers and the piece itself often supported me eight years later when I faced even more significant losses.
Architectural Details: Iron Lace
Architectural Details: Iron Lace presents vignettes of decorative ironwork, mostly derived from photographs I have taken during visits to New Orleans. Since I developed this design specifically as a teaching piece, it serves as a vehicle to expose students to different approaches to portray lines and curves on a canvas ground.
Decorative ironwork appears lacy and graceful, yet in reality, it’s very heavy, so must be strong enough to support significant weight. Therefore, the various line stitches used in this piece are not necessarily thin and delicate. As appropriate, line stitches are padded and/or raised so that the design is believable.
A second conceptual focus that guided this design was using or resizing/adjusting individual stitch units – the marriage of a design component or shape and a stitch. During careful inspection of Iron Lace, the viewer will notice that there is practically no stitch compensation due to this approach.
At first glance, the hues used in Iron Lace may seem strange because we tend to think of decorative ironwork as being black. This is not true! The colors used in the vignettes closely match the photographs.
Having participated in this class, many students have subsequently comments that they’ve never looked at a building or an architectural detail in the same way since the class. Great! The class was a success.
My Favorite Necklace
While on a driving trip along the Oregon coast, my daughter and I spent a night in Bandon, OR. A ways beyond land’s edge, huge rocks jut from the ocean’s surface. We descended to the beach and discovered that, at low tide, we could walk to the rocks. About 4-5 feet of the rocks’ surfaces were concave, eroded by the watery power of the Pacific tide’s ebb and flow. The somewhat smooth rock surface was encrusted with very large (8-10” diameter) purple sea stars and pale, sea-green sea anemones, stranded until the high tide waters returned. It was hard to resist the temptation to touch these beautiful sea creatures.
My Favorite Necklace interprets that magical sight. I had purchased the abalone shell a few years before, to have it “just in case”. Its concave surface represents the rocks’ surfaces. I also portrayed the rocks’ surfaces using an irregular pavilion stitch, mixing threads to lighten the value and to hint at the gray “non-color” of the rocks. The small upright cross stitch fillers echo the hues of the sea stars and anemones and, hopefully, offer the impression of their being scattered on the concave rock surface.The sequins and beads along the pavilion stitch area’s edge depict the sea creatures. I also used beads by hanging them from the stitched necklace to further support repetition/rhythm (especially regarding their shape connection to the abalone shell) and to better balance the piece. Finally, the thin, but solid curving purple line emphasizes the abrupt juxtaposition of the rock surface and water.
Poppies Jacket Dress
When I saw this poppy print fabric, I had to have it! In fact, as the length of fabric was being cut from the bolt, I visualized my approach to the garment’s completion. I determined the shape of the black Congress Cloth insert by making a muslin shell of the swing jacket, then drawing the insert shape on the seamed-at-the-shoulders shell.
My goal was to approximate the coloration and shading of the fabric’s poppies as closely as possible, yet simultaneously create textural interest. After selecting several reds, gray-greens, and pale neutrals in Needlepoint, Inc. silk, I decided to further emphasize the flowers’ shading by using various textures. Thus, the darkest red values (in comparative shadow) are stitched in irregular Scotch/mosaic stitches, mid-values and pale neutral areas use the more textured irregular Norwich stitch, and the most intense, pure reds stand out in irregular Rhodes stitch. I added a fine red metallic to the purest, brightest red silk thread because of the threads used in the inset’s background.
The background presented an unanticipated color challenge. The black Congress Cloth was very different from the black fabric background. I masked this obvious difference by working the background in the unobtrusive T-stitch using one strand of black silk along with a single strand of black with a silver glint Accentuate.
The rather emphatic texture of the poppy petals and whipped spider variation stamen called for the small leaves to be treated more subtly. The Nobuko stitch was a perfect way to meet the leaves’ shading requirements. The stitch’s slight texture and overall subtle pattern fit the leaves’ curved shapes beautifully.
It seems that, just when you think you have worked out a design, one more bit presents a predicament. The poppy stems were perhaps the greatest puzzle to be solved. In real life, poppy stems are big and hairy – not attractive on this jacket! The fabric’s poppies themselves were interpreted as oversized; skimpy stems would not support these flowers. After trying many approaches, I settled on whipped chain stitch stems. The chain stitches were worked fairly heavily with silk. The length of each chain stitch matches the diagonal width of the silk ribbon that I used to whip the chain stitches. The ribbon wraps around the chain stitches smoothly, making the stems solid and raised, visually strong enough to support the flowers.I enjoy making finely constructed garments. All of the dress’s seams are French-seamed. I drafted a pattern for the jacket lining. The jacket’s neck and front edges were the most critical: they had to be crisp with no facing roll-over. Topstitching assured a clean edge where the edge was fabric, however, I didn’t want to “interrupt” the stitching on the canvas insert with topstitching. To solve this dilemma, I used Madeira invisible thread (smoke color) and worked tiny stab stitches by hand in a way that produced just a hint of these stitches along the edge of the front inside facing and were totally invisible in the canvas insert.
Fleur de Lis
My daughter’s experience as a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at the University of Missouri was wonderful! When she transferred because of changing her major, I wanted to give something to the Kappa house, and hopefully, to the Kappa organization. I designed the original version of Fleur de Lis for the Missouri Kappa house. Since many Kappa alumnae are needleworkers, I planned to “give” the design and complete instructions to the national Kappa Kappa Gamma organization. My intent was that proceeds from the sales of the instructions would benefit the Kappa scholarship program.
Because of my ultimate purpose, I limited the threads that I used to ones that are easily obtained; cotton embroidery floss, a metallic, a Rainbow Gallery rayon, and floss overdyed. The design’s components represent Kappa. The sorority’s colors are blue/French blue and white, their flower is the fleur de lis (or iris), as is their symbol (along with a gold key). In the original design, which was more square than rectangular, the Greek letters of KKG were placed vertically to the right of the flower arrangement. Below the letters was a gold Kappa key.The University of Missouri Kappa house was most appreciative of my gift. Although I submitted complete bound instructions, photographs done by Mike McCormick (along with his permission to use them), and my professional credentials, the national Kappa organization said, in essence, “No, thanks!” I subsequently restitched Fleur de Lis, removing the Greek letters and key and inserting the lattice border for use as a teaching piece.
Study in Diamonds
This needlework piece explores covering a box - with a twist. The emphasis of the design is SHAPE. The designer selected a shape template (in this case, a rubber stamp), embossed the shape on velvet to be used on the box sides, and developed a design that was inspired by and echoed the shape.
The exact replica of the rubber stamp shape was repeated on one corner of the box top. If one considers the “envelope” of the stamp shape, it is a diamond. Therefore, all other aspects of the design were created with diamond shaped stitch motifs. To reinforce the diamond shape concept, all design areas were established on a diagonal plane, as in one side of a diamond. At the same time, a diamond is so obviously symmetrical, that an asymmetrical composition was needed for balance and interest. Although there is significant repetition in this design, contrasts were achieved through varied approaches to diamond shaped stitch motifs and through the use of a wide range of materials – silk and cotton threads, metallic threads, sequins, and metallic kid.
Monet’s Impression: Sunrise was the source of the term “Impressionism”. Namesake is a thread painted interpretation of this painting. My goal was to achieve the “feel” or “look” of Monet’s work through color treatment of the background, using stitches that resemble Monet’s brushstrokes, and spontaneous changes in colors and/or threads.
The background canvas is colored by acrylic pouncing. In addition, copper leaf was applied as the sun’s reflection in the water (repeating the strong statement made by the metallic kid sun), and painted silk organza and tulle were basted as underlays representing the barely discernable clouds in the sky.
Monet’s original work shows an industrial area that is vague and shadowy. I took the artistic license to alter this aspect of the painting, making the stitched piece more “landscape” in nature.
Monet’s brushwork and incomparable approach to the use of color were the real challenges. Monet’s brushwork, when viewed closely, seems to be unplanned and even crude, yet, from a distance, its magnificence is obvious. This, in combination with his superb use of color, creates a masterpiece that can be viewed for hours with the viewer constantly discovering further nuances and details in the painting.I attempted to interpret these aspects of Monet’s work through using “boxy” stitches in the landscape area, partial experimental stitches in the sky, and horizontal stitches in the water. The use of several thread colors and many overdyed threads, while working with multiple needles, presents the impression of constant change and spontaneity. The use of a single strand of thread in the sky and water areas allows for further color interaction with the color treatments of the background canvas. Similar to Monet’s work, Namesake makes its strongest statement from a distance.
The Gourd Ladies
The Gourd Ladies evolved from the gourd artistry of Robert Rivera, a prominent New Mexican artist. Mr. Rivera has done a series of women, created from gourds that are treated with a shiny charcoal black finish, similar to a San Ilfisando pot. The ladies feature brightly painted kachina-like faces, real hair, and several bead necklaces each. I have always admired Mr. Rivera’s work.
I adapted the artist’s approach, using a significant amount of neutrally hued threads on a matching neutral canvas background. Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone – I added color to the body of each lady – each containing a color symbolic or reminiscent of the southwest. The color is “puddle” at the bottom of each doll and reappears in the face. The upper portion of the dolls remains solely neutral as a backdrop for the bead and fetish necklace(s).
The design lines are purposely simple, yet vary among the three ladies, in an attempt to reinforce and possibly exaggerate each body type. In fact, I came to look upon the threesome as a southwest rendition of the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty – remember tall Flora, pear-shaped Fauna, and short, rotund Meriwether? Although several different stitches are used on each doll, all are closely related. For example, the tall striped design includes oblique patterns – all featuring exposed canvas and somewhat dramatic.Although this comment is not usually included in an “artist’s statement”, The Gourd Ladies were pure fun! Since I stitched the faces first, each gal watched me as I created her. The whole process flowed so smoothly and was so relaxing, it seemed to be one of those projects that was just meant to be.
Harvest Fresco was inspired by a decorative piece featured in a 1990 Horchow catalog. The colors were very subdued, making the item appear to be antique. I was drawn to its general appearance, but I was particularly interested in its suitability for teaching the concept of reducing color intensity and various approaches to shading. The design consists of two contrasting areas; the cornucopia and its elaborate border or frame.
The cornucopia itself, along with its fruits and vegetables, is complex – finely shaded and detailed. I used a combination of several small-scaled canvaswork and embroidery stitches to interpret the various shapes and incorporated single strand shading techniques to create the illusion of the third dimension. In some cases (for example, the cornucopia and eggplant) the shading was accomplished solely through changes in the hue’s values. The large pumpkin and other items are realistically depicted by a shading technique that combines hue and neutral, thus reducing the amount of pure color to indicate shadows. I grounded the cornucopia arrangement by my favorite technique – a subtle darning pattern that represents the arrangement’s shadow on an implied surface.
I emphasized the contrast between the two main sections of the design by using obvious and sometimes rather large stitch motifs for the frame/border. Stenciling colors the canvas in some exposed canvas sections. Since this portion of the original fresco was in relief or raised in places, I included padded and traméd stitches to produce a similar effect. I further heightened the visual impact of relief by outlining with a fine subdued metallic and black thread.
Imperial Eggs was created as a design sample for a class in which students would be guided through the process of designing a piece featuring Fabergé eggs. More specifically, Imperial Eggs is a vehicle for demonstrating curve treatments and appliqué.
Recognizing and replicating the curvature of eggs can be challenging because of the limitations of the canvas grid and the multiple vanishing points of an egg’s perspective. Since one of the purposes of this piece was to emphasize the eggs’ perspective, I included Fabergé eggs whose design lines reinforced or “underlined” the eggs’ shapes. The simple and elegant Coronation Egg (background) is a perfect examples of this. Here, I emphasized the curves by stitching only the design lines, leaving the remainder of the canvas bare. I accomplished the curves with a simple diagonal couched trellis technique, but the placement of the couching stitches (hidden at the intersections) skews the trellis foundation to create the curves.
The middle ground Pine Cone Egg’s scalloped lines are likewise emphasized; in this instance by being stitched on top of a fine Alicia’s Lace ground. The blue “veil” of the egg’s background serves to establish the middle ground compared to the Coronation Egg while remaining subtle enough to showcase the scallop motifs. Each individual scallop was formed by 4-5 couching stitches, using a relatively heavy weight metallic thread for the foundation stitches. The tiny diamonds adjacent to the scallops’ lines were interpreted by simple cross stitches over one canvas thread.
The richly hued Spring Flowers Egg takes center stage because of its attention-getting coloration, its dimensional appliquéd attachment, and its fabulous flower basket surprise inside. In contrast to the other eggs, the egg shell’s curving design lines are not symmetrical. Since the curves’ gold work is raised on the actual egg, I stitched these curves with trailing stitch and rope stitch, creating a raised appearance along the outer edge of the curves. The smooth gold inner edge at the egg’s opening offers yet one more curve treatment.
The attached egg half is actually larger than its diameter dimension along the opening edge, tapering to actual size along its oval outside edge. Because of this size difference and because the egg half is attached to the main canvas only along its oval edge, the opening edge becomes dimensional, standing away from the canvas. I support the free-standing edge by lining the egg with a layer of needlepunch.
It is obvious that this piece is stitched entirely with silks, metals/metallics, and beads. I selected these materials because of the luxurious nature of Fabergé eggs.
Several items inspired the design development of Adobe Harvest. My “design ideas/sources” file contained a Travel and Leisure magazine photograph showing the front of a fairly decrepit adobe with a dirt yard. Hanging on and leaning against the adobe wall was a plethora of ristras and wreaths containing chiles, squash, gourds, garlic, nuts, and other harvested items. A second source of inspiration was a set of photographs of doors that I had taken several years ago in Santa Fe. I also referred to a fabulous photograph of a hand crafted broom leaning against the wall of a house in Spain. The final items that contributed to this design are the gorgeous books on stumpwork by Jane Nicholas.
I was intrigued by the idea of using stumpwork techniques, not to depict exquisite flowers, berries, and insects, but to create gourds, squash, and other less “beautiful” botanicals. Since I was creating this design as a new class offering, the instructional focus became stumpwork techniques. I used Ms. Nicholas’ books as my resource because I think her particular approach to stumpwork is the most refined and presents the highest quality. After much exploration, variation, and adaptation, Jane Nicholas’ berries became round squash and her aubergine buds turned into lumpy, ribbed gourds. The broom head was shaped with my curling iron.
Since the focus of the envisioned class was to be very time-consuming stumpwork, I used very straightforward and simply executed stitches and techniques for all other aspects of the design. Simple straight stitches and irregular split stitches are used for most of the remaining design elements. However, these simply stitched areas use different threads and colors blended in the needle to realistically depict a weathered door and adobe wall.
Since the adobe wall background was so important to the design and since it was so uniform (all one color treatment and stitch), it presented the viewer with too much negative space. To solve this design problem, I inserted areas of worn adobe; places where the smooth adobe mud is worn away revealing the foundation of adobe bricks. The rows of exposed canvas between the stitched adobe bricks and the regimented pattern of the bricks offer significant contrast to the surrounding areas. The Exposed canvas was eggshell colored – too light to imply the bricks’ mortar. I basted fine rusty-bronze tulle to the canvas in these areas, then stitched the bricks. The tulle added a haze of appropriate color and camouflaged the pale canvas background.
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