Artist Profile: Carolee Withee

Even though Carolee Withee first learned to hand embroider at the tender age of five, she continues to be enthralled by this delicate fiber art and has made it her own! She especially loves to learn and combine new techniques with familiar ones; she uses a wide variety of materials ranging from treasured inherited linens to the latest varieties of Brazilian threads. Her award-winning creations are favorites at large quilt shows. We are happy to welcome Carolee back to Fiber College this year.

If you want to learn the art of hand embroidery; just need a refresher class to perfect your skills; or would like to learn aspects of Brazilian style embroidery, then this is the class! Carolee will offer Embroider a Monogrammed Initial on Saturday, September 9 from 1:30 – 5:30 PM.  You might create a hand embroidered gift for a granddaughter’s graduation or a dear relative’s birthday, or a gift to yourself to hang on a wall or set on a stand. Delicate floral embroidery winds around an initial; the design of flowers, leaves and vine is your own creation. Depending on the complexity of your design, you should leave with a finished piece of art.

Let’s listen to Carolee talk about her passion for hand embroidery and then you can sign up for her class right here.

Fiber College chooses a new theme each year. For 2017, it’s Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?

Re-Use is a concept very important to my quilting life. Most everyone has inherited crocheted and embroidered handwork from their grandmothers. For several years, those antique crocheted doilies and bureau runners, along with embroidered needlework, have been the focus of my quilts. In addition to using my own grandmothers’ needlework, often I am challenged to “make something” out of a gift.  Tiny tatted medallions were given to me.  They became snowflakes in a winter scene.   Another gift was an antique crocheted shade pull, for which a window scene must be designed!  Sometimes I find a piece of needlework from the thrift store or a yard sale.  I reused an antimacassar set made of 6 crocheted birds, and designed a scene of the birds flying from Maine to the Italian Coast for the winter. I always try to use the whole item, but on occasion a torn or soiled piece of handwork is cut and re-purposed into my designs.

A stunning piece made with recycled linens!

The answer to this question is that the walls of our house are covered with many of these quilts!  And the very best reward is that I get to see the handwork of the grandmothers every day.

I have shown my 20 quilts in a presentation titled, “Displaying Our Grandmother’s Handwork,” to the members of various organizations around Maine.

People often ask me for suggestions for using the doilies that they have inherited.  Here is one idea; a vase full of white flowers on a dining room table. We can never have too many doilies!

What a wonderful way to use all those special doilies you’ve inherited (or found in your fibery travels)!

Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from? What inspired you?

I enjoy the designing process because I often have to learn a new technique in order to depict a specific scene or tell a story.

My quilt chapter offered a challenge to sew a quilt featuring “Downton Abbey” fabrics.  My idea was to use one of the fabric repeats of the mansion, in the background of my piece and then to add a garden of Silk Ribbon flowers.  In my mind I could see the colorful flowers, but before I could sew the garden I needed to learn how to create flowers in silk ribbon.  I bought some books, got advice online, and learned the technique.  Of course it helped that I’ve been embroidering since I was a child.

It’s Downton Abbey!

An earlier project urged me to learn how to do tatting. I needed some edgings and motifs for a Crazy Quilt and didn’t have enough in my inheritance of laces. I needed rabbits in another project, so had to learn the technique of needle felting.  Using the wool roving to show furry rabbits was just right!  Most of my current works are examples of blending many techniques.  Usually a special piece of crochet or embroidery is the inspiration for one of my wall quilts.

Aside from your class, what is your favorite thing about FC? What do you think new attendees just shouldn’t miss?

I just love the energy that is so apparent every day!  All of the participants, students, teachers, and vendors, can benefit.  For the most part we all go home with feelings of accomplishment: we’ve learned a new technique; we completed a project in a class; and we found food for lunch!  There is enthusiasm and inspiration to be found by just walking around.

A close-up shows the wide variety of stitches, threads, and fabric that Carolee uses in her handwork.

I do a lot of mixed media design.  The more techniques I can combine in one piece the better! As I check out the artists and classes each year, I always discover a new technique that I want to learn.  I like that challenge.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I have had many opportunities to present my quilts to folks in Maine.  I have written quilting song lyrics and I sing along with the trunk show.  Hopefully, in another year I should have another presentation ready so that I can “be on stage” again.  The change I would make would be to have started doing this much earlier in my life and to market my programs so that I could travel, travel, travel!

Because it takes months to finish a large wallhanging, I recently decided to design some smaller pieces.  My class for 2017 is the result of my love of silk ribbon embroidery, crochet, tatting, dimensional embroidery, and the embroidery we all learned as a child. I have found that hanging my work on a wall where I can see it each day, inspires me to design another, and then another.  My plan is to get all those designs and ideas out of my head and onto fabric.  Housework will just have to wait!

Carolee prefers to stitch at her kitchen table (the heart of the home, right?).

I just started the embroidery for the letter “K,” which will be another sample for my class at Fiber College on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 9th.   I like to use neutral colors for the monogram so that the floral design will stand out.  I’ve finished the foundation stitching, and started to satin stitch the K. This is to be a gift for our great-granddaughter, so my floral design will be bold and bright. I always do handwork at my kitchen table.  The light is good, the tv, phone and computer are all handy along with needles, common threads, and other small supplies. (PHOTO).  My husband is very understanding when my stitching takes over the whole table, and his lunch has to be set on the corner.

Specialty embroidery threads can be quite expensive.  Apparently storing threads out of the sunlight is advised.   I’ve found just the place to store my silk/wool/ rayon threads.  This coat closet is handy to where I do my embroidery and so the back side of the door becomes the perfect storage site.

An ingenious closet rack protects beautiful threads from the sun.

Tatting is the most perfect “take-along for those occasions when you are waiting for an appointment.  My metal shuttle, plus the current piece I’m tatting, fits nicely in the pocket of my blue jeans.   I make a tatted flower or a butterfly, knowing I will find a place for it in a future project.  A good example of a tatting take-along is this Queen Anne’s Lace on the corner of this wallhanging called “A Crazy Quilt Landscape.”

Carolee’s Crazy Quilt Landscape–it’s a prize winner! See the results of her take-along tatting?

The sunrise and clouds at the top, the forest on the right and the meadow on the left, with a large tree superimposed in the center, offers many opportunities for embroidery, tatting, needle punch, photo transfer, and other techniques.   I was so thrilled that “A Crazy Quilt Landscape” won both a Blue Ribbon and Outstanding Mixed Technique Ribbon at the 2016 Maine Quilt Show in Augusta.

I do love to combine techniques in one quilt!  I’ve been working on a flower garden scene for the last few months; the finished piece will be in the 2017 Maine Quilt Show.  The garden has several flowers and a dragonfly that are tatted.  Other flowers are crocheted and most of the rest of the garden is of silk ribbon.  I added a few Swarovski Crystals for something shiny and a black cat made with wool roving.  An embroidered frog sits under a coleus plant.  If you are at the Maine Quilt Show, July 27-29, please look for this wall quilt.  Yes, it will be finished!

This embroidered initial is sure to be a treasured gift.

Now that you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Carolee, be sure to go sign up for her class here! You sure don’t want to miss the opportunity to stitch an heirloom treasure in her class, Embroider a Monogrammed Initial on Saturday afternoon, September 9 from 1:30 to 5:30. 

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