Let's Meet: Joanna of The Plum Stitchery

Joanna and husband (The Plum Stitchery)
After a little break that has seen me stitching in super quick time to finish my piece for the first ever exhibition with Our Common Thread, I’m excited to be back and introducing you to the wonderful Joanna Somers of The Plum Stitchery!

Joanna first picked up needlepoint in her early thirties and propelled by her passion and love of needle and thread, her hobby quickly became a career. She began painting canvases for her local needlepoint shop and it wasn’t long before her own line, The Plum Stitchery, was born.

The Plum Stitchery offers elegant and classy heirloom-quality needlepoint canvases, all hand-painted by Joanna. Joanna’s own designs tell stories, whimsical tales of ballerinas, space rockets at night and hot air balloon rides are but a few of the adventures you may take while completing a Plum Stitchery canvas. 

Joanna not only produces her own designs but also collaborates with a band of talented artists, transforming their artworks into hand-painted canvases you can add your own touch to. The Plum Stitchery has worked with Dana Gibson, Snowden Flood, Jacky Williams and many more, resulting in a varied range of styles for us to choose from that are bound together by sophistication and well-executed design. These qualities lay at the heart of The Plum Stitchery and inform everything they produce. To stitch a Plum Stitchery canvas is to leap into timeless chic.

It’s time to pour a cup of tea, this time I feel it’s only right to break out the vintage bone china, and delicately nibble petit fours while we get to know the fabulous Joanna!

Jane Austin Cameo needlepoint cushion with fringe edge
Jane - Joanna's first canvas

Hello Joanna, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your passion for needlepoint? 
Hello! My name is Joanna, and I own The Plum Stitchery. 

That this is my “job” is surprising; when I was little, I thought I’d be an acrobat. 

When I grew up, I tried nursing, marketing, real estate, and motherhood. 

My children are 7, 5, and 2 and another is joining the party in July.

They’re lovely people, but I can only work when they’re asleep, which is why I post many new designs at 1:00 in the morning.

While I’m not an anxious or overly nervous person, I do find myself spinning and that’s why I love my job; whether I’m painting or stitching a canvas, it transports me, it calms me, I find my center, it helps me to breathe, and it brings me immense joy.

Hot Air Balloon flying in the night sky needlepoint canvas
Hot Air Balloon by The Plum Stitchery

Do you identify more as a painter or a needlepointer, or both?
Both.  I was a needlepointer before I was a painter, but I enjoy each equally.

Needlepoint and I were not formally introduced until 2014 when my mother-in-law tried it and said, “Joanna, you would love this.” 

My hand-quilting projects were rolled up and set aside as I stitched a project, and then another project, and then another, and I watched my stash grow. 

I started to work at my local shop Wool & Willow Needlepoint and gained amazing insight into the industry from the shop’s owner Anne. 

Anne gave me my first piece of advice before I tried painting a canvas, “Add a little bit of water to acrylic paint and use the tiniest brush you can find.”  

3 pastel feathers in a circle needlepoint design
Feathers by The Plum Stitchery

Can you explain your creative process?
My designs typically start with a sketch.

Once I have it just how I want it, I outline the main design with a black pen and place canvas over top of that. I paint from there.  Seeing a design emerge on paper from my first idea is exhilarating, and I love to see it render onto canvas.  

When I paint a design, I start with one color of one element; choosing that first color is the most important step because it will determine the how the rest of the design will go. It continues to change as I paint it, and I never quite know how a design will look until it’s done.

There are some designs that were absolute fun to design and I remember painting them and not being able to put down my brush. 

Collage showing development of Maude (Halloween mummy) from sketch to finished needlepoint design
Maude by The Plum Stitchery

Where do you draw inspiration from?
There is inspiration everywhere, and the one element of design that inspires more than anything is color.

Some colors just strike me and I know exactly what other colors I would like to use in the same design, and a canvas can shape up from that starting point.  Nature, architecture, history, and Wes Anderson all inspire me, too. 

The Plum Stitchery has collaborated with a lot of other artists, how do these projects come about? 
It is an absolute privilege to bring such amazing talent to needlepoint and I’m overwhelmed every time an artist is open to collaboration, that they trust me with their work.  Some artists were complete strangers to me that I reached out to with the idea to collaborate, while some were friends first and the idea to collaborate built from there. 

What I love most about the artists I represent are their unique styles. In letting me adapt their work to needlepoint, they are offering needlepointers the opportunity to stitch a canvas that best fits their personal aesthetic.  

Majestic Tiger with feathered hat and floral boarder needlepoint canvas
Mathilde by Dana Gibson and The Plum Stitchery

Where do you sit down to sew and paint?
My studio is in a sunroom off the den of our house.  Besides a lot of light, it allows me to work during the day in between being a stay-at-home mom.  The greatest challenge of starting this company was learning how to jump in and out of creative work minute by minute, because sometimes that’s the only time I have to get something done.  I have a standing desk, and my paints and canvases and designs are sitting out all day and I run to it when I have a minute to spare.   

Which needles and threads do you most like to sew with and why?
Bohin needles work beautifully and while you’re supposed to use a new needle with each project, I will admit this is not a rule I follow.  One needle might stitch several projects and they’re only ever retired when one side of the eye snaps off.   

In regards to fibers, I love silks and wools equally.  Silks can stitch like butter and have a long-lasting luster; wools offer the most gorgeous, warm finish.  
The colors of strandable fibers seem deeper and more saturated somehow; Needlepoint, Inc. silks and Vineyard Silk Merino Strandable wools carry some of my favorite colors. 

Carousel Horse Needlepoint Cushion
Carousel Horse - Vintage Circus Collection by The Plum Stitchery

Which are the best needlepoint resources you’ve found?
I hoard vintage needlepoint books; the colors and designs show how much the art of needlepoint has changed over time.  You can see the influence of tapestries and samplers move into geometrics and follow that line to the modern needlepoint styles artists create today.  

In regards to resources, some projects motivate me to go “stitch shopping” to find that perfect stitch; Stitches To Go and Julia Snyder’s stitch books are my go-to.  

Which indie designer-makers do you love?
There are so many…

Willa Heart’s designs are as chic as they are witty.

Nathalie Lete’s work is vintage and bold and elegant.

The gentlemen at MadCap Cottage are masters with patterns.

Dinara Mirtalipova has gorgeous detail and saturated colors.

Do you listen to podcasts or follow any YouTube channels?
Podcasts are usually rolling when I paint, but none of them are related to fiber arts. My favorites of these are The Moth, This American Life, and TED Talks Radio

Nature inspired needlepoint canvases by workshop students
Learn to Paint Canvas Workshop with The Plum Stitchery

What advice would you give budding needlepointers?
My advice would be to stitch to your heart’s content.  Follow no rules beyond creating this piece that brings you joy.  My mother is an avid stitcher; when we were little, she cross-stitched and did crewel work and she never did anything with the pieces she stitched.  She put her projects in a box in the basement and they may still be there now.   For her, the joy was in the stitching.   

Tricia Heaton recently wrote a post to new stitchers about this; the multitude of “this is how you should do this” rules that float around needlepointers and that we should all ignore that noise.  There’s no “right” way to do something you love. 

What’s next for The Plum Stitchery?
There are some wonderful collaborations in the works, several new clubs emerging this summer, a few stitch-along projects, and trunk shows scheduled through next year.

3 ballerinas dancing on stage needlepoint canvas
Ballerinas by The Plum Stitchery

Thank you so much for chatting with us today, Joanna! It's been a lot of fun getting to know you and more about The Plum Stitchery. I love your advice to beginners and agree, if we keep enjoyment at for forefront of everything we do we will help ensure the needlepoint world is a welcoming and fun place for everyone to be, no matter how they stitch.

Don't forget to follow Joanna on Instagram to stay up to date with The Plum Stitchery. If any of the designs have caught your eye, you'll find more information about how to order on their website. 

Last time Emily shared her story with us, if you missed it then Let's Meet: Emily Peacock. I’ll be chatting to a few more members of our needlepoint design collective, Our Common Thread,
over the month of May, stay tuned to find out who we’re going to meet next.

Did you enjoy this post? Sign up to my newsletter to get more hand stitched treats delivered directly to your inbox. I can't promise it'll be weekly but I can promise it'll be a healthy dose of creative fun.

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

I'll be back soon...until then, may your needle always be threaded and your canvas stash plentiful!

Shannan, Bobbin and Fred xX

Fred the Goat kindly asking for social shares if you enjoyed this post

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