It’s amazing to me how God works things out in our lives. Last week I (Debi) would have had 30 years with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and be ready to retire. However, six years ago God called my family into Native American ministry, so we quit our corporate jobs and migrated northward to South Dakota. Then in 2004 God decided it was time to move on again and he moved us another state even colder, and we landed in Fargo. Now, we aren’t doing what we thought we were sent here to do, but I do believe my husband and I are both in the jobs God intended! Last month I celebrated 3 years with Nordic Needle and am so blessed to be a part of this wonderful team!

I know, get to the point! As I was reflecting back to corporate life I was struck by how much time I spent every day on documentation. I was the human resources person for a large business office, keeping track of attendance, workers compensation, vacations, grievances, and such. Everything had a procedure, a form, and a way to be filed. I thought I got away from that here, when just last week I was asked whether it was important to document our needlework…….and so, today’s topic became clear!

Documentation, is it really necessary? suggests this definition of documentation: "The act or an instance of the supplying of documents or supporting references or records." I really like this definition, because a favorite saying among the HR folks was "if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen." That might be a discussion, an absence, or an infraction. If there wasn’t a record made at that time, when everyone’s mind was fresh, then the incident was often thrown out in a grievance or at an unemployment hearing.

How does that apply to our needlework? I have tried to collect items made from my ancestors, but most of it is just conjecture on my part who actually did the work. A piece found in my Great-grandmother’s trunk has been attributed to her because it has a Swedish saying on it. It is handmade, but did Grandma Anna really do this piece? It’s not signed, initialed, or even dated to give me any clues. Unfortunately, many pieces in my collection have been assigned to certain ancestors based on pretty flimsy circumstantial evidence. In one instance, I have a Workbasket magazine with the person’s name on the label, with a page turned back on a particular tatted design, which matches some tatting found on her linens. I have put those items together and declared her as the tatter.

I can think of another reason to start documenting our needlework as soon as we start stitching on a project. Have you ever gotten into a project only to misplace your thread? Then spend hours looking for the missing thread, perhaps going to your local needlework store trying to match the thread, buying another skein, and then later find the original one? I don’t even want to think about how many hours of frustration and dollars I have spent because I didn’t write my project down?

Those are the topics we will ponder today. Wonder with me through these thoughts because there doesn’t appear to be a really good way to structure this topic.

Should I include a signature?

Historically, sampler designs often included the stitcher’s name or initials and the year it was completed. Many famous stitchers included their signature on their needlework including Mary Queen of Scots. In addition, artisans in other media usually sign or mark their artwork.

What should my signature include?

This is a personal choice, one that artists struggle with even today. Here are some of the options to consider:

  • Your initials (2 or 3), possibly worked into a monogram.
  • First name & last initial, first initial & full last name, or full name.
  • Design a personal logo which you can work into the piece. Potters often use a special symbol to sign their work. James Whistler, the painter known for such works as Whistler’s Mother, used a stylized butterfly as his signature. The butterfly design changed over the course of his painting, which also provides a time frame for when the painting was done.

Jim Shore Monograms
TIP: If you come up with a logo or signature you like, then graph it so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time

What if I am single, gotten divorced, or remarried, how should I sign my pieces?

One of the best answers I found was to sign your first name on the front and then include something on the back that includes your full name (at that time) and the date. This helps people identify your pieces over time.

How should you write the date?

You should always use all 4 digits of the year. Many of our textiles are being preserved and it is possible to have work from 1810, 1910 and 2010 but if the piece says ’10 it can be an arguing point.

Where should I put my signature?

  • Keep in mind how you are going to finish the piece so that your signature isn’t cut off or hidden by the finishing.
  • You don’t have to sign or stitch your name in the lower right hand corner. Find a place in the design and use a slightly darker or lighter thread color so that it blends in.
  • Perhaps there isn’t a good place for your signature. You can purchase personalized handiwork labels which can be tacked on to the back of your piece. Be sure to add the date with permanent ink before you attach it to your piece.
  • Create your own personal label on a separate piece of cloth and attach it to your piece, like the quilt labels.
  • If you do sign your work, it is suggested to use the same technique that the piece is done in. However, sometimes it is not possible for needle workers to stitch their signature in the design. You could sign your work with permanent ink, such as Elaine Keller from Candle in the Cellar does. Be sure to test your pen on a scrap of the fabric before you try writing it on the finished piece!
  • A trend in the art community is to sign the front but include more information on the back like the painting’s name, full artist’s signature, date, special artist’s symbol AND a fingerprint!! Pretty hard to argue with the fingerprint when it comes down to whether it is a forgery or not.

What if it is a piece from a pattern?

There are several thoughts on whether or not you should sign a piece that is stitched from a pattern or a kit. One of the prevailing thoughts is that most of us put our own twist on the design. Another idea is that it is okay as long as you aren’t selling your work. (That’s a whole other copyright issue.) I would suggest a compromise by signing your name but on the label or documentation list the pattern name and designer. That shows you are not taking credit for the design only the execution of it.

Should I keep a journal?

  • It keeps you organized! I don’t know how many times I have started a project and then misplaced the thread label only to end up at the store trying to match the colors! I am notorious for changing the colors so I can’t refer to the pattern for help.
  • You may decide when you are finished you want to enter it into competition. Depending on the competition, you may need to know the fibers used or how much time it took to stitch it.
  • Some journals also have space for you to record some thoughts about why you choose this project, who you are doing it for, and thoughts along the way.
  • Another great note to make is whether there was something different you would do next time?
  • While most of us don’t think about our pieces ending up in a private collection, it may end up in a grandchild’s possession. For collectors, a piece may be worth more money if the stitcher and history of the piece is known. For family members, the information about the stitcher is priceless. I would have loved to see Great Grandma’s signature or read her words about what she felt as she stitched the Double Wedding Ring Quilt.
  • While it might seem depressing to keep track of the hours you stitch, I believe it is important. This helps you do several things: values the time you put into the project whether or not you sell it, gives you a way to estimate how much a future project might take, and proves to yourself (and your spouse) that you really are accomplishing something from those hours of stitching!

Here are some journal options:

Future Projects Journal

Consider using your journal to keep track of the projects you plan to do also. As soon as you purchase a project, add it to your journal. Some people go ahead and purchase the supplies and put it all together in a stitch folio or mesh bag. This helps keep you from doing things like buying the book/pattern/kit twice. Been there, done it more times than I am going to admit.

Here are some options for keeping your projects together:

Stitch Guide

Another type of journal you may want to start is your own stitch guide. Take a close up photo of that area and note what stitch it was, where the directions are, what you used, and what project it was on.

Mary Corbett has a great page for keeping a stitch journal on her website.

Should I have a portfolio of my work?

While you may not be thinking today about turning your hobby into your profession, you never know when that experience will come in handy. It’s nice to have a portfolio to pull from. When I was working on my resume for Nordic Needle I tried to go back in family photo albums to find photos of some of my previous projects in case they wanted to see my work.

Another reason you may need some photos is for volunteer work. Perhaps you’d like to do demonstrations at your local museum. It would be nice to include photos of your work. Also, be sure to have someone take pictures of you demonstrating or lecturing at these events to include in your portfolio!

A portfolio gives you a chronological look at your history and you can look back to see what you have accomplished over the years. Nothing should be considered too insignificant to include. I wish I had taken pictures of the 8-strand lanyards I used to make because they are so similar to what I am learning about Kumihimo today. Also techniques are cyclical so it is fun to look back to see what colors and designs you used in 1970 versus what you are trying today.

Photographing Your Work

Ryan and I are responsible for doing the photography and copywriting for all the new products, and then Ryan gets them onto the web. We understand how frustrating it can be to get a great photograph of your piece. Here are some of our thoughts:

  • Digital cameras are great. The higher the pixel rate, the larger your photo can get and maintain its integrity. Another wonderful feature is that you can take a lot of shots and only print the ones you like.
  • Don’t stop with just one or two shots, take several! It is easier to do that while your piece is set up. Nothing is more depressing than to find out that your photo was blurred or there was a glare and so you have to set everything up again. From the voice of experience—take several shots!
  • Try using a tripod to keep your images from blurring.
  • Keep your background neutral because the focus is your work, not the environment. This also makes it easier to crop the picture if needed in the future without it being obvious that something was cut off.
  • Direct sunlight is not the best lighting! Instead set up an indoor area where you can use a lamp so you can adjust the beam to reduce shadows and highlight areas.
  • Don’t use the camera flash because it creates shadows and can distort colors.
  • If your project is made to hang, then show it hanging on a neutral wall.
  • Make sure your project is sitting square to the camera. This is especially true if the item is framed. Should you need to crop it later, it will be impossible to square it up.
  • If your piece is more dimensional, then take a shot square on and then experiment with different set ups, like on an angle, or on a pedestal, etc.
  • If your picture is framed you may need to remove the glass to avoid the glare.
  • When you are going through your pictures, save those you want in two dpi sizes. A lower dpi such as 72 dpi allows you to email the file but makes it tough for someone to enlarge it enough to copy it. You need a higher resolution, like 300 dpi, for printing such as advertising or a pamphlet. If you don’t have time to do both, then save them at the higher dpi.

We hope this helps you in your journey as a needlework artist. I was confessing to Ryan that I need to follow my own advice and get caught up on my journals and portfolio.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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