Do you love creating objects that are beautiful, or are they useful? Julie B. Booth does both. She designs purposeful products that can be used but, at the same time, are vibrant artworks of the textile. It doesn’t matter if these are bags made of cloth, talisman pouches or bags that resemble boro; her focus on tactile and visual particulars shows through.
She was encouraged to make embroidery and be creative. As a child, Julie found herself inspired to pursue the course with a degree in Studio Art and used her stitch, print and beading skills to create an embroidery business of modest size. She was a graphic designer for many years, but she says her primary obsession was always with stitch. After getting new inspiration from Julia Cameron’s novel “The Artist’s Path”, Julie established her own company called Thread Born Dolls, specializing in unique soft sculptured figures and doll designs.
Nowadays, Julie teaches classes in surface design, doll-making and embellishment. She also makes fabric collages, but ‘to do so’. She also produces printed, painted, and resisting materials. Her publication “Factory Printing At Home” showcases her successful and tested methods.
The desire to experiment and discover pushes Julie forward, and her design is varied, diverse and filled with mixed media fun.
Beginnings of embroidery
Julie B. Booth: It all started with a kit of crewel embroidery. I remember it precisely… two birds were sitting on a tree. My mother offered it as a distraction when I was recovering from persistent walking pneumonia. At the age of 11, I thought it was awe-inspiring! The various colours of crewel wool, all the stitch diagrams I could make out. I was eager to begin… to create the buttonhole ring with owl eyes!
It inspired me to start making my designs of cartoon animals. I have an original embroidery of a sleeping toad beside a toadstool the period.
I was pretty much self-taught in the field of stitching. Mom and family supported me and sent me books on the subject. I still have the two books that have inspired and influenced me the most The first is Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book(an Orange tome full of exploration!) and Adventures in stitches from Mariska Karasz. This book is my primary stitch reference book, but Karasz’s work was the principal source of inspiration. There are pages of fun ways to stitch, and her beautiful illustrations and images in black and white of her intricately stitched work. When I consider it, the basis of my method for teaching stitching is in the pages of this book.
I had enjoyed drawing and making crafts from an early age and was supported by my parents, who even organized art classes outside of school. Stitching and printing became my two favourite art activities, and I also cut the blocks with linoleum every Friday night when I was a teenager.
I earned my bachelor’s degree from Studio Art with a specialism in printmaking at Wesleyan University, Connecticut and an award-winning certificate in scientific illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. My embroidery was a small-scale business for an extended period when I started embroidering the brims on tennis hats with flowers and cartoon characters playing tennis. Additionally, I worked on larger embroidery projects for my family members, such as family portraits and work shirts embroidered to my brother. After college, my primary job consisted of being a graphic designer, and I was in that field for over 20 years.
Return to stitch
I decided to return to stitching with more serious intent. Consequently, I took a correspondence class on Surface Stitchery from the National Standards Council of American Embroiderers. It made me think about the possibility of stitching in an artistic and artistic method.
In the mid-1990s, I was bitten by the doll bug and cloth and began my company Thread Born Dolls. The first designs were more traditional (though unique) doll designs. After attending an evening class with cloth dolls and surface design artist Arlinka Blair, my style took an entirely new direction. She taught me how I could tie my passion for embroidery, beading, and stitching to create cloth-based figures to hang on the wall. A few months later, I began teaching surface design and doll making classes.
When the demand for my printed fabric collage designs increased, I was approached to design a line of hand-printed fabrics collage for the gallery. One of the gallery’s owners had been to opening ceremonies for an exhibition of work from the group I founded, “Flexible in Nearly Everything”. He was drawn by the prints I had printed on the fabric collage I designed for my dolls.
I also became curious about resists and was awarded a grant from my fibre guild to investigate using everyday materials to create the process. I continued to experiment with the fabric collage resists creating stencils, print blocks and fights, and an online newsletter and blog, which eventually led to the launch of my first book, Fabric collage Printing At Home, in 2014.
Stitch has healing properties that can heal.
Stitching has always been close to mind, around when I began giving a series of classes that focused on hand-stitching as a healing and expressive art form.
While I’m no art therapist, students who take my classes, like Healing Cloths, are often the process of journaling their memories and making a stitched work extremely therapeutic. While a lot of the work focuses on healing, they also can make other kinds of clothes: meditational or transitional, celebrational, aspirational.
The journaling is the foundation for the remainder of the two days of the workshop. I talk in private with every student. Many of their experiences are complex, and I encourage students to consider how their emotions can be expressed visually (or) symbolically.
I also suggest that they use symbols to help them through the tough times and see the bright side waiting for them on the other side. Students can take home their unique textiles that hold personal significance, such as hankies, linens, or other pieces of clothing which can be used to create symbolic meaning. Also, I bring textiles and scraps of fabric collage that may stimulate their thoughts.
The majority of stitches taught in the class are employed to stitch a seam on cloth. However, I incorporate some dimensional stitches for attaching significant objects and beading embroidery techniques. The majority of the clothes I create focus on relationships that have changed and involve relatives who have passed away.
One example is that a student wanted to pay tribute to her mother, who died and with whom she had an uneasy relationship. The fabric collage she designed included appliques taken from her mother’s hankies and the teeter-totter design with buttons that symbolized the relationship. The project continued to grow following the workshop. The participant said that she did not just feel the bond of reconciliation with her mother but also that she felt that her mother was helping in making the fabric collage.
The process of walking through
When I am working on the idea, I take a moment to journal and then walk. I’ll then return to create additional thumbnails.
I work from my studio on the lower floor of my house in Vienna, Virginia, USA. I have a big work table (composed of four tables, each topped with a massive chunk of wood and padding) which I use to do stitching, painting, and fabric collage printing projects. I also have plenty of shelves for my materials and an adjacent room that has additional storage for fabric collage. I prefer to keep a few of my favourite threads in baskets and others in small containers. Seeing the colours of the yarn on my table get me excited to stitch with the lines!
Walking is an excellent way to think about creative ideas. After they’ve been identified, I take out the materials, fabrics collage, and then (often scraps); however, depending on the task, I also pull out yarns, sari, cheesecloth, tulle, and threads. I’ll begin to move everything on the back of a stabilizer or backing fabric collage, typically wool or felt. When I’m pleased with an arrangement, I’ll put everything down.
I do not plan my stitching ahead of time. I might decide the places I would like specific colours to be, but generally, stitching occurs at the moment.
I make my decisions while I am working. I try to be conscious of the colour and the various styles and textures. Once the stitching is done, I’ll stitch it to the final shape, which could be the form of a pouch, book, etc.
I usually work using collages of fabric.
I layer my fabrics with a stabilizing material, typically wool fabric felt or flannel. I’m not a fan of using the hoop as I find it cumbersome. It’s easier to move around the piece with no. In addition, because I typically create stitched objects, I cut the stabilizer to fit the shape and size of the thing I’m making.
Recently, I’ve had two stitching methods.
The other is organic and freeform. I spread out scraps, silk ribbons, yarns, yarns in loops and curves and then check if they begin to appear like something. I also add handpainted cheesecloth and, often, tulle for different textures. I wrap the yarns and then employ a running stitch to create the giant silk ribbon. After that, I made some patterns created by the silk ribbon and twine. This is when I add additional texture by couching, ruching, and French knots until I’m pleased with the result.
The second method I use in my boro-style pieces is more organized. I cut off fabric scraps and sari silk ribbons and put them all together into a raw-edged patchwork that covers with at the very least an inch of tulle to stabilize everything. I then create running stitch designs across the patchwork.
Apart from stitching, I love creating printed, painted and resisted textiles.
Pieces and fragments of these end up in my work stitched as background fabrics or focal pieces (as in the book Inside Nanny’s sewing Basket Three pairs, One Ornate).
My top kitchen fabric resists liquid soap, sweetened confectioners’ sugar in a microwave, and raw wheat flour; however, I’ve also tried resists that range from baking powder and gelatin. I’ve also tried using toothpaste (and it did the trick! ).
Each resists comes with particular characteristics. For instance, confectioners’ sugar produces smooth lines, while wheat flour paste can mimic the crackling lines that are found in batiks that are made traditionally.
My absolute favourite, however, liquid soap is its simplicity in making (none) and removal and the many methods of applying it to fabrics. The majority of resists must dry before applying fabric paint. However, there is no need for liquid soap. It sinks to the surface of the fabric. It becomes so dense that it repels colour. It is easy to create multi-layered materials with resistant details using this specific everyday product.
I am constantly fascinated by natural designs. I am a lover of beach walks. I also have a particular space in my mind for unique designs of the fungi.
I am elated when I find beautiful textiles, and antique textiles can make my heart beat faster. I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Textile Museum to look at and research the many old fabrics in person. Much effort and love were put into the creation of these anonymous pieces.
I’m thrilled with what I’ve created. Inside the Nanny’s Sewing Basket: Three Pairs of Three Pairs, One Ornate. I created this piece in honour of my grandmother, my mother. I felt a strong bond with my grandmother. She also loved making things by hand, was a meticulously organized house and was proud of her garden. Her inspiration has been intermittent since I got her sewing basket twenty years ago. I found three pairs of scissors within, and one was exquisite that it was sterling silver with intricate designs.
I cut prints using three scissors in this project and printed the images on one of my resist fabrics collage. It was then added some hand-painted cheesecloth and put all together. The scissors are satin stitched.
Recently, I’ve been able to write articles about hand-stitching and surface design in Quilting Arts magazine. I’ve also appeared in various segments for three episodes of their TV series. I teach as well and have been enjoying organizing retreats and classes like retreats like the Textile Museum Muse Project, in which I offer opportunities for students to see a selection of antique textiles and items that are part of The Textile Museum, Washington DC collections, and use these as inspiration for new artworks made from materials.
My work seems to be changing from 2D and then 3D. My focus is on small, highly stitched pieces, including books made of cloth bags, talisman pouches, and Boro-inspired bags. I’m inspired by the idea of creating objects of intention, paying focus on the tactile and visual aspects. I love seeing how people feel connected to these objects. A buddy stated to me, “I’ve the privilege of holding them, transferring them round and over, and recognize each tiny element’. It’s this connection that keeps me going.
The Most Important Lessons To Take Away
- Begin by selecting one or two stitches, then really dig in to discover what they could do…stay in them for a while and explore the possibilities they offer.
- Try working with different types of textiles… explore what you like and what you enjoy working with.
- Try to be curious by trying and exploring. Find work that is meaningful to you. You are on your journey. Most important is that you invest the time and effort into your work.
- Consider what your objective is. Do you want to sell your work or teach you skills? Or are you looking to explore, play and learn?