Let's Meet: Tess of Pewter & Pine

Tess Nagle, Needlepoint Designer
Tess Nagle of Pewter & Pine


Today I’ve got the happy delight of introducing you to another of Our Common Thread’s designers, the courageous and talented Tess Nagle of Pewter & Pine

For so many of us needlepoint is a stress reliever, a welcome distraction in our chaotic and stress-laden  lives and, sometimes, as in Tess’s case, a healer. Tess’s journey has been one of twists and turns and her experiences are a reminder of how needlepoint is more than just a hobby; it’s a salvation, a refuge, and a way for us to connect with the earth and the community around us.

Through the simple act of stitching we can find peace with our past, survive the present and ground ourselves to the earth and its bounty of inspiration. When we keep the thread flowing, we keep the good vibes going.

Geometric red and beige needlepoint pattern canvas
Mojave Desert Textile by Pewter & Pine

I’ve been admiring Pewter & Pine’s needlepoint since we were first introduced back in February. Tess’ mix of Navajo and kilim styles combines with earthy colours and her love of typography which she uses to convey her sense of humour, strength and, awe of the world around us.

Armed with a paintbrush, a needle and some thread Tess has faced her demons and emerged from battle stronger than ever with a beautiful family and a fantastic business under her belt. Needlepoint is a lifesaver for so many of us and this is Tess’ story.

Over to Tess…
I’m 34 years old and currently living in Phoenix, AZ with my husband and our cat. I grew up in NY State and went to high school and college in CT.  After college I moved around quite a bit. Found myself out in Los Angeles for a few years, then Manhattan. From there I moved down to New Orleans which is where I met my husband. And, our cat. From New Orleans, the 3 of us moved up to Boston, MA and from there we ended up in Phoenix!

I have always had the creative urge but felt like I could never quite get my hands on what it is I wanted to do. I think that is why I moved around a bit at first, I felt a bit lost and was trying to seek something out but didn’t know what that something was. Also during that time I had started on a long journey of drinking which slowly and progressively got worse.

After I had moved to New Orleans and had been in denial for years, it became apparent that I did in fact have a real problem and that’s where I got sober. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but turns out it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Me sobering up led to my needlepoint journey.

Woman modelling a denim jacket with a southwestern geometric needlepoint design
Soulfully Southwestern designed by Pewter & Pine, stitched, finished and photographed by Christie Denizio

I was on the phone with my Mom one day when she suggested I try stitching to ease my stress a little bit. My Mom of Doolittle Stitchery has been a needlepoint designer and stitcher for over 30 years. That was the first time I ever considered it even though it had been accessible to me my entire life.

Not long after that phone conversation I made a trip to visit my family in Vermont and that is when my Mom taught me how to stitch. I fell in love with it and I fell hard. It really felt like a meditative process for me and seemed to help ease some anxiety that I was experiencing.

My Mom saw how much I took to it and offered to teach me how to stitch paint. So immediately after learning how to stitch I learned how to stitch paint. All fell into place from there. I like to say that needlepoint saved my life. It gave me purpose and brought me so much joy.

Stitch painting work in progress flatlay
Work In Progress by Pewter & Pine

I too love the Kilim and Navajo styles I see in your designs, where does your inspiration and love of these influences come from?
In all honesty, I don’t know why I am so drawn to that style. It’s just what I like. I think a big part of my aesthetic comes from the spiritual path that I try and walk today.

When I was 18 years old I went into a 30 day treatment program where you go out into the Utah wilderness with llamas as your pack animals and hike, camp and survive out in the wilderness.

While I was out there, we built our own sweat lodges and I did a vision quest, which is a Native American rite of passage that is supposed to help you find your purpose in life, your role in a community and how you may best serve the people. I sat in a 10 foot circle by myself for 4 days without food.

I think the fact that I was introduced to some Native American beliefs and practices at that time has really stuck with me through the years. I also think that my vagabond lifestyle and love for travel and nature has inspired a lot of my work.

Geometric, navajo llama canvas and pillow by Pewter & Pine
No Drama Llama by Pewter & Pine

What are the steps you take to move an idea from inspiration to finished design? 
My design process is pretty simple. I get an idea then start mapping out on to canvas with sharpie. Once I have the basic design laid out with sharpie I will start adding color and details with paint.

Some ideas come to fruition pretty easily, while others can take a little longer and with some (or many) revisions made.

I also occasionally use a program called MacStitch which can be really helpful for more complicated designs. I will start the design in there and once I get it right I will put it down on canvas.

Most of the time, I never know if a design idea will come out the way I envision it. Working in needlepoint can be tricky because you have to imagine things as a very pixelated image, and not all ideas will transfer well. Some days things look a bit like this…

Tess with her head on her desk - part of the design process
Valuable part of the design process with Pewter & Pine

What do
you listen to or watch while you’re painting canvases or stitching them?

While I paint and design, I prefer to listen to things and while I stitch I prefer to watch things. I also find that a lot of the time during the day I do both of these things in silence. Sort of a meditative thing. Helps to clear my head.

Every night though, I end my day with a stitching sesh. You will find me on my living room couch with my husband and my cat by my side watching the newest binge worthy TV show.

Handstitch Camel Needlepoint Hanging Decoration by Pewter & Pine
Camel Ornament by Pewter & Pine

Who are your favourite designers?
Oh man, there might be too many to name. Without a doubt I am a huge fan of all the women who have taken part in the Our Common Thread design challenge. It’s been really amazing to work alongside them and we have all been learning so much about each other and from each other.

To name some others - Charley Harper's needlepoint designs are up there on my top favorites. I also love Birds of a Feather, Little Bird Designs, Pip&Roo, and Kate Dickerson.

Our Common Thread’s online exhibition is in full swing! Take a virtual tour and see what some of Tess’ favourite designers have created in response to their first ever design brief: Living Coral, Pantone’s Colour of the Year 2019.

Coral and green geometric needlepoint canvas painted by Pewter & Pine
Living Coral - Our Common Thread Design Challenge by Pewter & Pine

It’s so cool that you and your mum are both creative and both paint needlepoint canvases. Me and my mum are both creative too and so I wondered what it’s like for you having a creative mother?
My Mom is my best friend and I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. We are constantly on the phone bouncing ideas off one another other, sharing photos of our current WIPs, giving each other, and sharing, ideas.

She has been doing this for such a long time so I am very fortunate to have her in my corner. I can’t count the number of times I have had to call her with a design problem and she has helped me come up with a solution. We are the opposite of competitive and I’m really thankful for that.

Geometric needlepoint clutch in earthy colours by Pewter & Pine
The Tally Ho Textile finished as a clutch by Pewter & Pine

Which threads do you sew with the most?
My all-time favorite is Planet Earth Fiber. I LOVE their silk fiber. I also recently started using a new fiber that they came out with called “Essentials” for 18 mesh canvas. It is 50% merino wool and 50% silk and it is like butter, Baby. I also use Silk & Ivory’s silk fiber in tandem with Planet Earth’s. Both fiber lines are really great and come in all the pretty colors.

Where do you sit down to sew and to paint?
I transformed a bedroom in our house into my studio space where I paint.  It gets good natural sunlight which is muy importante! As for stitching...that usually takes place in our living room.

I recently got a La-Z-Boy recliner chair off Craigslist and that thing has become my favorite place to sit. I’m basically an 80 year old living in a 34 year olds body and loving every minute of it.

Needlepoint canvases spread out over a day bed in Pewter & Pine's studio
In the studio with Pewter & Pine

What challenges have you faced as a designer and as a wholesale business?
A big decision I had to make as a needlepoint designer was whether or not I wanted to sell strictly wholesale to needlepoint shops or sell retail direct alongside wholesaling. I ended up making the decision to strictly sell wholesale to needlepoint shops and I feel that was the right choice.

I myself am a small business so I’m all about supporting small and local. I can’t imagine life without needlepoint shops so I like to do what I can to help keep us all up and running!

Pewter & Pine Trunk Show at a Local Needlepoint Shop
Trunk Show with Pewter & Pine

Which part of the whole hustle do you enjoy the most?
My all-time favorite part of this job is seeing someone’s finished stitched product of a design I created. I live for it. I love the collaboration that exists between me and the stitcher - me having designed it and them having made it their own. It is so rewarding.

I will also add that stitching needlepoint is generally my favorite part of the process. Don’t get me wrong, I love painting but stitching is pretty much the reason I got into painting in the first place.

What are your favourite needlepoint resources?
The book “Stitches To Go” by Suzanne Howren and Beth Robertson is where it’s at. I am never without this book while traveling and it’s always around while I’m stitching at home. It’s a great resource for finding the perfect stitch to use on a project.

And my all-time favorite needlepoint resource - needlepoint shops. I love going in to my local shops and getting feedback on different stitches, colors, techniques, etc.

What’s the future for Pewter and Pine?
I do have some exciting stuff in the works that I really hope comes to fruition! Stay tuned!

Gasp Round Needlepoint Canvas in forest by Pewter & Pine
Gasp by Pewter & Pine

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and being so candid, Tess. I’m a big fan of the ways you capture your vision of the world in your beautiful designs and it’s been an honour to get to know you both professionally and personally. 

Don't forget to follow Tess on Instagram to stay up to date with Pewter and Pine and find out exactly what those exciting things Tess has in the works for us. If any of the designs have caught your eye, check out Pewter and Pine’s website for more information.

Last time Joanna of The Plum Stitchery shared her story with us, if you missed it then Let's Meet: Joanna of The Plum Stitchery. Joanna has some fab advice for beginners and explains how she collaborates with artists to turn their artworks into needlepoint canvases.

Next time, we’ll meet Marina of Marina’s Home! Marina’s an up and coming designer with a flair for bold, geometric designs and a very cute Jack Russell, and will be chatting to us about her experiences of selling at craft markets and much more.

Geometric Needlepoint Wall Hanging in Mint Green and Peach by Pewter & Pine
Wall Hanging by Pewter & Pine

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We love hearing from you, please leave your thoughts or questions for Tess in the comments.

I'll be back soon...until then, have a super stitch-tastic time!

Shannan, Bobbin and Fred xX

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Let's Meet: Tess of Pewter & Pine

Tess Nagle of Pewter & Pine Today I’ve got the happy delight of introducing you to another of Our Common Thread’s designers, the co...