SCHMETZ Topstitch Needles

SCHMETZ Topstitch Needles

Joyce Hughes – Thread Painting with Panels

Joyce Hughes Fabric Panel

Joyce Hughes

Joyce with Mother’s Day in the background.

At Spring International Quilt Market, Rhonda Pierce, attended a Schoolhouse Session about fabric panels. Sponsored by Northcott Fabrics, it was a trunk show featuring the techniques of Joyce Hughes, an award-winning, world class thread painting artist.

What Joyce was doing with simple fabric panels was incredible, and her personal story is even more amazing.

Sewing was never part of Joyce’s life. As a child, Joyce’s mother and sister sewed, but she had no interest or time for a sewing hobby. After earning her degree in nursing, she got a job she loved in the oncology department of a busy urban hospital. Life was good.

But, in one of those freak moments — everything changed. An out-of-control patient violently kicked Joyce, severely injuring her. After many surgeries and months of painful rehabilitation, even though Joyce’s spirit was willing, her body was unable to return to those grueling 12-hour nursing shifts.

For the next ten years, Joyce worked with her husband in his business. When her daughter, Emily, was a senior in high school a group of mothers (all friends since their children were in kindergarten) decided to make t-shirt quilts for their sons/daughters. “None of us sewed. I did not own a pair of scissors and I had to borrow a sewing machine. I soon discovered this was not going to be a one-night process.”

After that first t-shirt quilt, Joyce wanted to make a second quilt for her daughter. She went into her local sewing shop, Byrne’s Sewing Connection in Doylestown, Pennsylvania to buy fabric for a simple nine-patch with frog appliqués. Trying to cover up her wonky points, she placed one frog and lily pad on the “mistake” corner. She liked it so much, she went on to add additional design elements like flowers, trees, etc.

Without ever taking a class or reading a book, Joyce started her project with a quilt sandwich and added layers of fabric and numerous threads, “thread painting” became her new passion. Joyce was creating a technique that was all her own.Byrne Sewing ConnectionBecause she received awesome support and encouragement from the staff at Byrne’s Sewing Center, Joyce stepped up her game and became more confident with each project. Debbie Byrne says, “My staff recognized Joyce’s talent right away and her work was very free and different. When I asked her to teach a class, she was surprised and very reluctant, but I told her to just show them how you do it.”

In her own words, here is a description of Joyce’s basic thread painting technique:

Nothing is hooped, and I never use stabilizer. I drop the feed dogs on my machine, put on the free motion foot, insert a SCHMETZ Topstitch 90/14 needle and AWAY I GO.

  1. Starting with the size I want, I piece together the background. For example, the top of the piece might be blue for the sky; the bottom would be green for the ground, etc.
  2. On top of the background piece, I lay out the main design elements which I have cut out of fabric (clouds, houses, trees, etc.). I iron them in place using Heat & Bond LITE.
  3. I am thread painting through three layers right away. The 3-layer sandwich is: base fabric, batting, and backing fabric.
  4. I use a spray adhesive to keep the three layers together.
  5. Generally, I start in the center, and work up and out … constantly moving around. My first go-around is simply to secure the three pieces of the sandwich together. I always start with a zig-zag stitch and variegated thread. This simple base stitching will eventually disappear because I use many layers of thread.
  6. As the project progresses, I add layers of smaller, more detailed elements (leaves, flower petals, butterfly wings). Adding solid colors makes it more dimensional.
Northcott Euphoria Collection

Northcott Euphoria Collection

With Joyce’s method, the back of the piece shows all the stitching. So, when she is finished, she often adds a new clean back.

After years of trial and error, Joyce prefers to work with silk finish cotton thread and she likes the look of the thicker weight thread … 40-30 wt. thread.

She always uses the SCHMETZ® Topstitch 90/14 needle because it has a bigger eye, which helps to prevent any shredding of the thread as it goes through so many different layers. “I will go through a whole pack of needles for one project — I always tell students to change their needles BEFORE they have a problem.”

Joyce was very new into quilting, and as she was learning and trying new ideas she would incorporate the new techniques into her classes. They became more involved and complicated, and class time was being effected. There were times when the design process took so long; the students didn’t have time to start the actual thread painting.

One Sweet Day

One Sweet Day

Joyce had to come up with a way to alleviate this problem. That is when she thought of using fabric panels for the basis of a thread painting class. It was a genius idea!! Debbie had a few bolts of panel fabric that was not selling well — and Joyce took a panel home to see what she could do with it. Debbie says, “Joyce came back into the store the very next day with a stunning sample. The whole bolt sold right away, before we even had a chance to offer a class.”

Joyce started to look at fabric panels as the “canvas” for thread painting, embellishment and trapunto classes. The panels took the intimidation factor of designing away with all students starting at the same place, yet each piece turned out unique. Class time was much more effective, and students got a chance to really experiment with their machines, using the darning foot, applying layers to their project with fabric and thread.

Joyce says, “When I started to work with panels, I didn’t look at which company designed it. I was just concerned about how it would work for thread painting and/or embellishing classes. Several years ago, a sales rep from Northcott, Shirley Mandler, noticed my work and showed it to Deborah Edwards, their designer. She asked me to work with a few other panels from Northcott, leading to many more projects together. This past winter, I was asked to do a presentation for their Spring International Quilt Market Schoolhouse Series.”

Most of Joyce’s art quilts have a story. When she is designing a quilt, she becomes obsessed with the project and she only works on one piece at a time.

Joyce Hughes Mother’s Day Quilt

Mother’s Day

Working on her first major art quilt, “Mother’s Day,” Joyce was encouraged by her daughter’s high school boyfriend, Kyle. Emily had left town for her freshman year in college, but Kyle was still living at home and often came to the Hughes home for dinner. He loved checking the progress of Joyce’s quilt. He said, “Mrs. Hughes — that quilt is wonderful, and it should be shared so other people can see it.” He did some research, and because of Kyle — “Mother’s Day” was entered in the Pennsylvania Quilt Show.

Sometimes this is how life works.

On September 7, 2007, Joyce got a phone call in the morning from the organizers of the Pennsylvania Quilt Show telling her that “Mother’s Day” had been awarded first place in the quilt show. Later that same day, she received a second phone call. This time, from Kyle’s mother … telling her Kyle had been murdered.

Joyce Hughes Words to Live By Quilt

Words to Live By

Weeks after Kyle’s death, Joyce found herself driving … and crying … with no particular destination. She ended up in the parking lot of Byrne’s Sewing Connection. It seemed like the right place to go. It was Kyle who got her started down the road of art quilts … and she felt compelled to make a quilt to honor him. “Words To Live By…” is that quilt. Inspired by Kyle’s poetry, Joyce used his handwriting to create the words on the quilt.

Debbie Byrne’s says, “We often see people turn to sewing or quilting because of a huge grief or loss in their life. Creating something can be cathartic, and it can become an important part of the healing process. Conversely, celebrating the joy of life such as birthdays, wedding, and holidays is a wonderful way quilters share their inspirations.

Joyce has done so many wonderful things for us at the store. Her classes are terrific, and she has inspired so many people to express themselves and not be afraid. The most remarkable thing about Joyce is that she makes ordinary people believe they are artists. I like to say ‘we knew Joyce before she got to be so famous’.”

In today’s world, every brick and mortar store in America is dealing with competition from Walmart, Amazon, etc. But no big box store or internet quilt shop could ever create the magic that happened between Joyce Hughes and Byrne’s Sewing Connection.

Joyce says, “I am so grateful to Byrne’s Sewing Connection. Their encouragement has meant the world to me and so many wonderful things have happened for me because of them. Being asked to teach classes gave me a boost of confidence, and I was able to experiment with students to develop different techniques and ideas — to see what worked, and what didn’t. I cannot believe I am now traveling and giving lectures on quilting and thread painting. I love it! When I am designing, sewing or teaching, I can’t imagine a better way to spend my day. It took me a long time to see it — but sewing is a gift in my life.”


Which Needle Should I Use for Embroidery?

SCHMETZ Embroidery Needles

SCHMETZ gives you options! SCHMETZ Embroidery needles are available in two sizes,
75/11 & 90/14. Also available are Embroidery Twins in sizes 2.0/70 & 3.0/75.
Shadow embroidery anyone? Embroidery needles have an widened eye & groove, which
means less friction on the thread as it passes through the eye. The finishes of
SCHMETZ Gold Titanium Nitrite and Chrome Professional Grade needles resist wear
and heat allowing the needle to glide smoothly through adhesives with slower
gummy build up. Experiment! Discover your favorite SCHMETZ Embroidery needle.


Loralie Designs

Loralie Harris with a faceless dress sketch.

Loralie with a faceless dress sketch.

Loralie Harris is the spirit and creative force behind Loralie Designs. Her “Fun Ladies” machine embroidery designs have fanatic fans all over the world. Every new whimsical fabric collection — Nifty Nurses, Teachers, Sew Girls, now Apron Esque — is infused with in-your-face personality and attitude. Loralie thinks of fabric as the wardrobe, and embroidery as the jewelry.

Although she wears many hats at Loralie Designs, Loralie Harris thinks of herself as an artist and a writer. She says, “I love to do the artwork, and I always imagine the story. I often write a little poetry for some of my characters.” Maybe those unique stories are the secret sauce behind the success of Loralie’s Ladies.  

Like most girls, Loralie always loved fancy dresses. In college she discovered the world of theater and costuming, which provided the perfect launchpad to open her own little boutique. After college, she opened a tiny, one-of-a-kind boutique in Capitola By the Sea and never looked back. It was 60’s California and she was right on trend.  She considered herself a hippie merchant, making long dresses (remember granny dresses?)  hostess gowns, little tops and bathing suits. “It has always been a thrill for me to have a customer purchase something I created. Being an artist/merchant has been a gift in my life.”

Loralie Original, 2003.

Loralie Original, 2003.

After Loralie married her husband Chuck, he took her home to Alaska where they lived together on his boat. He was a contractor, and she opened another little shop in downtown Ketchikan which quickly became the “go to” place for handmade, one-of-a-kind dresses for local weddings and special occasions. Their son, Tim, was born in Alaska, and he was always a part of the business. He used to take his nap under the cutting table in a tub full of fabric scraps.

When Tim was five, the family moved to California and went into the wholesale dress business. They started “Loralie Originals.” Loralie happily became the designer of prom and bridal wear and Chuck engineered and ran the factory. For 20 years, their formal dresses were sold all over the world. Loralie Originals had 300 employees and became a respected major player in the world of women’s formal attire.

But, in 2000, the Chinese came into the formal wear market. That was the beginning of the end. “We had worked hard to build a business we were very proud of — but we just could not compete. We tried everything, but the writing was on the wall. After a long process of downsizing and reinventing ourselves we finally had to call it quits, laying off all employees and selling off hundreds of sewing machines and closing our factory in Northern California. We had to let it all go.”

First Ladies, Doodles on a hotel note pad, circa 1995

First Ladies,
Doodles on a hotel note pad, circa 1995

On one of her last fabric buying trips to New York City for Loralie Originals, Loralie was doodling while talking to Chuck on the phone. Although she had always sketched her dress designs on faceless models — she had the urge to draw faces. She saved those first doodling sketches. Little did she know at the time that these “First Ladies” would be the start of a whole new breed of fun, quirky characters who would populate Loralie’s world for years to come!

Because Loralie Originals had been buying fabric wholesale for many years, they had many contacts in the industry. With the popularity of Loralie’s fun characters growing in embroidery, stepping over to the production/wholesale side of the fabric business seemed like a logical next step for the Harris family.

Loralie’s creative haven.

Loralie’s creative haven.

They went to their first fabric trade show in Kansas City in 2005 with three groups: Nifty Nurses, Cool Cats and Bathing Beauties. “It was a whole new world for us. After 20 years of being a manufacturing business, we became a warehouse operation.” It has been twelve years since that first market and the original three collections are still available and selling and have become classics in the Loralie assortment.

Loralie Designs has always been a family business. Loralie creates the art and Chuck manages production and financials from their home in Arizona. Their son Tim and his wife run the office, website and warehouse from Northern Colorado. Loralie’s design process rotation cycles every quarter, so new collections of fabric and embroidery are always in the oven. They have the fabric produced, warehouse it in Colorado and sell it through the wholesale market to retail shops all over the country. They also sell through international distributors in Japan, Europe, Australia and many other countries. “I marvel and am thankful that the imagery and message is international in its appeal.”

In Colorado they have a few future rocket scientists cutting, folding, making fat quarters, packing and shipping. “We think of ourselves as a colorful, fun business experience for them along the road on their way to the corporate suite or university!”

Loralie Designs - Ooh Lá Lá . . . Personalities that make a smile!

Ooh Lá Lá . . . Personalities that make a smile!

Every collection starts with a “panel” which is the heart of the “story. Loralie thinks of the panel as the star of the play, and the related novelty prints are the character actors, and the coordinates as the chorus in her fun production on cloth. Loralie’s love of theater has always been at the core of her art. She often writes stories to go with her fabric collections — or poems that could easily become songs. A little known fact — Loralie has actually written a musical review — Fun Ladies Follies. If you think one collection is fun, try putting ten together with costumes, music and silly lyrics!
Loralie’s designs have a personality all their own. “I always strive for friendly humor in my artwork. It is my pleasure to put a spring in a lady’s step and see her face light up with inspiration for a project when she sees my work. The comment I hear most often is,‘They just make me smile.’I am so blessed to be able to share my work, and support my habit!’’  

Every Loralie design or character has a unique voice and she thinks of her art as a gift from God. “Every designer has a special ilk, inscape, vision which is their own. It is important to turn on your receptors to absorb creative input from all around you. It is a kind of mental wavelength I intentionally exercise.

Then, get into the idea, start the work, and if it is good it will grow. I just let it flow. I don’t know what little buddy will come forth next to make me smile first and then go on to cheer so many others. I may start with a theme in mind but the particular characters are quite spontaneous and a surprise!”

So what does the future hold for Loralie Designs? As the grandchildren now nap in the scraps, it will be the Harris children’s challenge to continue the life of Loralie Designs, a kind of “Strange Inheritance” still in progress. In fabric, embroidery and wherever they may take up residence it is Loralie’s hope that her characters and collections will continue to put a spring in the step and a smile in the heart.”

SCHMETZ Microtex Needle

SCHMETZ MIcrotex Needle

The SCHMETZ Microtex Needle is generically known as a Sharp. This needle has a very slim acute point. In other words, a very fine point. Because the point is so fine, it also needs to be replaced more often. That’s right! Needles don’t last forever. Replace the needle when you hear a little click at stitch formation or your stitches become uneven.

Use SCHMETZ Microtex with Micro fibers, polyester, silk, foils, fake leather, batiks, quilting cotton. The very thin acute point creates beautiful topstitching and perfectly straight stitches for piecing quilts. Use when precision is paramount.

Sizes:  60/8, 90/10, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, 110/18