What People Are Saying About Penny

"I like to think of you as a high priced call girl that the unwashed masses can't afford--like Woody Allen's Whore of Mensa. It's not your fault that people offer $10 blowjobs on the street corner. It's not an insult if somebody doesn't buy your art." -Alexandra J Walters

"Once Penny was making her own silk thread, and a midget appeared. Before he could open his ugly mouth, without looking up, she exclaimed, 'Rumpelstiltskin. Now get the fuck out of here.' Fairytale Over."- Beth Featherstone

"Penny can push a needle through a telephone pole without a thimble." -Shane Blaufuss

"When a man asked Penny, 'What’s the meaning of life?' She looked at him for exactly 3 minutes, completely still, until he cried. That man’s name was Steve Jobs."- Beth Featherstone

"A demon from the pits of bitch cunt." -W.C. Hurst

"pulitzer for you too." -John Lurie

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Pattern Is Dead, Long Live The Pattern!

At the risk of pissing off a large portion of the needlework community, I'm going to go ahead and speak my mind.
Commercial patterns = Paint by Numbers.
There. I said it.
     They amount to the same thing, however, we don't build hip website communities and handmade/craft shows and dedicate portions of hipster magazines to Paint by Numbers, why do we do it with needlework? Why is it not only encouraged, but elevated, as if you and thousands other stitchers have found the Awesomest Project Ever? We don't celebrate painters that primarily paint Paint By Numbers, why do we do it with stitchers?
     I know the conventional answer is "I can't come up with anything that cool/neat/beautiful/ but I want something interesting to stitch." Or, "I can't draw." Guess what. You don't have to.
     Although most of my work is original, I often incorporate non original elements into it. For example, my postage stamp series utilizes actual postage stamps. Granted, I re-drew them, but it's not essential.
     Here's a secret... There is plenty of copyright free art that can easily be used for needlework, and chances are, you'll be the only one stitching it. Oh, and it's free.
     I'm currently doing a series of Haeckel drawings.

Johnny Murder holding the Siphonophorae
My Version in progress.
  How did I do that? Well, I drew out the elements I wanted to keep, and then used a projector to enlarge it and traced it with a heat transfer marker to make the pattern. This is the third Haeckel piece I've done so far. I'm nearly 100% positive I'm the only person embroidering his work. (At least that's what Google tells me).
     But what if you can't draw? If you don't have a projector? Easy. Just print it out and trace what you want with a transfer marker. Done.
     This is my piece for an upcoming show. The theme is works based on The Garden Of Earthly Delights.


This is the original work that I tweaked and added new elements to. 

Again, I drew my version and added things, but you could easily print it out and trace it.
     Here's a great tutorial on how to turn photos into patterns- Feeling Stitchy Also, I bet this Craft Magazine tutorial would work too- Craftzine
     So I guess my point is, needlework takes a tremendous amount of time. Do we want to spend that kind of effort on a pattern that everyone else is doing? And if we're not going to do our own work, why don't we pick something unusual? If we're going to do paint by numbers, let's do this-
instead of this-

*Also, Blogspot has changed the post format and it's all screwy. Forgive the strange paragraph layout. 


  1. And for the love of all that is frickin' holy, don't call your iron on transfer (done only in backstitch) ART. It's craft.
    And quit freakin' stealing everyone else's ideas. This world is full of limitless images. Find your own. Come on! If you can't be original, there are very fun iron-on appliques available at your local mass market craft store.

  2. thanks penny. i think about this all the time.

  3. A.W.- I got your back, girl. Your post goes up this weekend.

    Schinders- I'm glad you think about it too. It makes me feel like less of an asshole for saying it.

  4. Penny, I. Love. You. There. I said it.

    ....and now I'm going to go embroider that hallucinating cat. :D


    Watch, in 3 months Company-I-Can't-Name will have Haeckel and Wain patterns. Gag. They already dicked Alexandra.

  6. Not pissin' me off, I agree completely. I love some of the embroidery patterns, but I'd never stitch them.

  7. To each their own-I like cute little kittens and I love amazing art work. I do iron on patterns and I do originals. I'm also not wanting or claiming to be an artist,I love vintage patterns and I stitch them up. I craft. I'm cool with that. I don't take it seriously-it's something for to relax to, to make presents for people and if some cash comes from it cool.

  8. Great post. I totally agree. I have used commercial patterns as a way to learn and as a way to make a cute present for someone but I see them for what they are.

  9. ooh penny, are you talking about the pill transfers i saw the other day?

    this reminds me a little of the difference between tattoo flash and original tattoo art. i love 'em both but there's a huge difference.

  10. Ha Dru!

    I've been secretly whispering about this topic for a long time, although I did find that very interesting.

    Mostly I just find the whole thing confusing.

  11. I think there is a difference between Embroidery as art form and embroidery as craft. My embroidery patterns are not art and that's o.k. However I do think they are original and unlike any other patterns. Possibly too cute for some people yes. And in a sense they might be more original than a embroidery based on an existing illustration.(and yes I do admire your work) Anyway I know from emails I get that people take up embroidery (as a craft) because of my patterns, and that can't be a bad thing can it?

  12. Kittykill,
    While I understand your thoughts, I think the real problem here is that the word "artist", as defined below, is not what 95% of these people truly are. While you may not make that claim, think of how many people in a week you could run into who do.
    Too many people call themselves artists when they don't have art to show for it. They have doodles or copy-cat rip offs, or "recycled art" where a couple new Sharpie strokes & some glitter on a shitty thrift store painting quantify a $400 price tag in a bullshit hipster "art gallery." Hence why I believe an example of Paint By Number is fantastic. The same goes for all these idiots who take 30 seconds a day to "draw" a "portrait" of someone with fucking diamonds surrounding them because Urban Outfitters did some Photoshop work of just that in their winter catalog, when there are first graders who could come up with something more emotional and more so, creative. And yet, social media has plopped these people up on a pedestal, with false identities while actual art is overlooked. The problem here is that the word "artist" gets thrown around in society now like the word "friend".
    You might know a ton of people, but not all of them are your friend. They're actually your acquaintance. In stride, you might know a lot of "artists", but they're probably not at all skilled in understanding the fine arts, nor are they inspired creative thinkers. They're probably "adept at something", (see below.)

    Some help from our friends at Webster's:

    Main Entry: art·ist
    Pronunciation: \ˈär-tist\
    Function: noun
    Date: circa 1507

    1. a obsolete : one skilled or versed in learned arts
    2. a : one who professes and practices an imaginative art, b : a person skilled in one of the fine arts
    3. : a skilled performer; especially : artiste
    4. : one who is adept at something : con artist

    Hilarious to me that con artist is listed as an example.

    Just sayin.
    Language is dirty.

  13. Great article! I often look at the commercial 'patterns' and think I can make my own, why do I need that? I think they are a good shove for me to go out and do my own stuff. I see what everyone else is doing, and go to the opposite!

  14. Great post. Heck, I even differentiate my own original work between Art and Craft.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with someone choosing to use commercial patterns and just stitch as a hobby, but it's very different than being a fiber artist.

  15. Wow! I'm excited to get so much feedback from you guys!

    I should say that, when it comes to commercial patterns, whether they're from Joann's or Esty, anything that encourages people to try their hand at something new, or gives them a way to be creative is amazing. I mean, artists like BadBird, Follow the White Bunny, ect, you guys should be canonized. Seriously, it's a huge gift you're giving people, expanding and encouraging the ways they can be creative. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.

    I guess it boils down to whether the work is being approached as art or craft, what the maker's intention is. I know that with my knitting or weaving I have no qualms about following established patterns or designs and although I'm intensely proud of that work, I guess I'm more invested in the craftsmanship aspect of it.

    It's not like the needlework or the sculptural fiber pieces I do. Those pieces are usually highly emotional, and the medium is chosen for it's exploratory value and deliberateness. When you're spinning your own thread to dye and hand stitch a portrait of your mother, you goddamn mean it. You know?

    So I guess that's the difference for me, the knitting I do I consider craft. It's usually derivative of an established design, but that's unimportant to me. I'm just interested in creating something practical and beautiful.
    Where as the needlework is highly personal story telling. I'm invested in it on a emotional and intellectual level that's not present in the crafts I do.

  16. Ha! I posted your last comment almost verbatim on my blog right before I read this.

    Don't cheapen the life's work of others, but getting a 10 minute lesson in embroidery, using a few commercial patters and calling it art. Don't sell it as art, don't show it in galleries as art, don't start an art blog about it. Also, don't steal the art of others to make commercial patterns.

  17. Penny -- that's exactly the difference for me between my art and craft. With my art, I'm trying to say something. There's a message, a meaning and shit load of emotion under it all.

    With the craft, it's fun and let's me play with techniques and materials, but I'm not really saying anything other than -- this is fun. It doesn't mean that both don't require skill.

  18. Good God, finally. I have been thinking the same thing for....ever. I think the patterns are fine for folks to do if that's what they're after. But if I see one more cutsie smiling baby animal/robot/food item being billed as "art" I'm gonna barf rainbow sparkle Lisa Frank unicorns all over the place.

    I like your proposed solutions of finding something you like, making changes, and going for it. This speaks to the tradition of embroidery before all these mass-produced patterns (look at Red & White: American Redwork Quilts and Patterns. It shows you that folks were taking imagery from anywhere - adverts in newspapers, stuff from packaging for household items, etc - and making it their own). There's so much possible! Why just do what someone else has done already?

  19. I agree, though I have to say what I do is craft. I'll do art eventually. Patterns were nice to help learn with. By the way, your Haeckel piece is insanely impressive!

  20. I learned technique using transfers as a young girl. Now though embroidery is not a vehicle for technique but rather a vehicle for my art and therein lies the distinction.
    Great Post Penny :)

  21. Penny, your work in insanely amazing and I am always blown away by sheer amount of time and effort (and probably sore fingers!) you put into your incredibly intricate pieces. I just started stitching a few months ago because I was laid off, needed some new hobbies to "stay busy," and embroidery was soothing. For now I like patterns because I am still learning and everything I do I give away as gifts to friends, so the "cute" factor works for me right now. I do see it as craft and not art, although I think that craft can inspire art, for example, I have become much more interested in color and looking at images with a new perspective..thinking, hmmm...that could look awesome as embroidery. For some people, crafting will be all they need/have time for. Others will be moved from craft to art and that is awesome. As for your point that needlework takes a lot of time, so do you really want to spend it doing something lots of other of other people are doing...For me, when I make something for someone, the point is that I am showing my love and affection for that person by making them something they know has taken a lot of time and effort, and that usually makes the gift very special to the recipient. If I were going to invest a lot of time to make something for my house though, I would absolutely want something original. I hope to grow both my technical skills (which crafting helps with) and creative ability so that one day I can create original, inspired pieces. Thank you very much for sharing your work and your perspective, it takes guts to share both of those things!

  22. It's so great to hear about everyone's experiences!

    I wanted to add, I saw something great last night. Two of my Texas transplant friends came over for arting and beer, and one of them is picking up embroidery again after years and years of not doing it. I asked her if she had any patterns she was going to work off of and she pulled out these photos her husband took of murals from different Dallas barrio bars. Murals of hilarious large breasted women posing with beer bottles. She had enlarged them, reversed the image and printed them out in black and white. She was like, "Why would I need a pattern? I thought I'd use these."

    It made me insanely happy.

  23. i think the simple answer is that many many people don't think they can design or draw and often that idea was {put} in their heads from early childhood - they are so scared of being crap at "art" or "not creative" that they buy a kit but the important thing is they enjoy it isn't it? painting by numbers/stitching by numbers is relaxing i suppose - i make my own patterns and charts because i don't want to make what someone else is making - i enjoy the designing stage and the problem solving involved in it.

  24. hello and thanks for all your sharings... I do appreciate it very much... I totally agree with you about "paint by nymbers"... though I always have a cross-stitch embroidery (unicolor for more ease) with me when I travel... that helps me traveling relaxing as I embroider without having to think or solve anything... just enjoying and relaxing...
    but when I'm home, there I can concentrate and so I thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas... I think that soon (as soon as I am back home) I will have a go on Haeckel designs that I love so much... so thank you again for your sharings... and keep on saying what you really think with no fear... business attitude won't win...!
    Michelle (from south of France)

  25. That would be interesting if you started working on a similar project because of this post!

    Inspiration can strike anywhere!

  26. I'm sorry, but the whole point of this discussion was to think for yourself and come up with your own ideas. Don't copy Penny! Do something that hasn't been done.