An Interview with Orna Willis

Monday, April 8, 2013

Orna Willis has been one of my favorite needlework designers for several years now, and I’ve had the opportunity to do more than one interview with her.  A member of both the EGA and ANG, Orna uses a variety of brightly colored materials including DMC Embroidery Threads in her unique designs.

Today I am sharing our latest chat, offering insights into the way Orna designs her beautiful pieces of needlepoint art.

Orna describes her designs as Contemporary Ethnic and her heritage plays an important role in her designs. She states, “Whether intentionally or subconsciously, I clearly see my heritage in my designs.  My pieces have an ethnic feel to them. They repeat certain elements such as arches, crescents, and stars.  I also tend to choose strong vibrant colors, and add beads and embellishments all with a very Middle Eastern vibe.  Elements of places I know are reflected in my work.  Examples are: Window in the Old City, my take on the old city of Jerusalem and the beautiful arched windows in some of the ancient homes.  Hamsa is another example; the hand that wards off the evil spirits is a well-known motif in both Judaic and Muslim cultures.”

You can learn more about Orna, her patterns and kits on any of her web sites. Check out Adorn by Orna to shop for patterns and register for a cyberclass (like the one for these gorgeous Dolci Beads!). Visit  Orna’s inspiring blog for her thoughts on making thing by hand and her Adorn Atelier for a wide variety of handmade crafts including felting, paper cutting, wirework, knitting and more.

Here’s more from my interview with Orna:

When did you first discover that you could create art with a needle and thread?

I stumbled across needlepoint accidentally.  I had always sewn, making clothing for my sisters and then my daughters, but never needlepoint.  In 1994 I bought a needlepoint-charted design and jumped in, head first.  I found it very addictive, and immediately I tried another charted design.  After the second piece, I decided to play on a piece of canvas with no guides, just following where the needle took me.  I wasn’t interested in creating images, I wanted to create geometric shapes and fill them with patterns, textures, and colors.  It wasn’t long before I had bits and pieces of stitched canvas all over the house, like tiny vignettes of fiber combinations.  I couldn’t get enough of these experimentations and soon they got bigger in size, clearer in intent and were complete compositions.

Are you self-taught, or have you taken classes?

I began as self-taught.  I was too impatient and curious to stop for instruction.  Later, over the years, I’ve taken classes from some wonderful teachers and designers.

You create wearable art that is stunning, like this beautiful quartet of designs sitched with DMC threads to the right, and the “Kanya” cuff bracelet to the lower left. Do you often wear the pieces in public, and what type of response do you get?

Thank you for your kind words!  I wear my pieces when I go out to an event a bit more dress up than what I wear around the studio.  I particularly like to wear my earring pieces but also my cuffs.

The first response is almost always, “How long did it take you to stitch that?!”  I’m never quite sure of the answer but I explain that stitching is very therapeutic for me.  The next question is how hard would it be to try stitching a piece.  I love encouraging people to give it a try and have converted quite a few newbies to needlepoint.

In addition to needlepoint/thread on canvas, what other types of needlework do you enjoy?

I enjoy embroidery and felting but I must say that when I have the time I usually go right to needlepoint.  It’s probably where I feel I can make the most happen.  I have been working on smaller and smaller count.  While the majority of my design work is done on 18 count canvas, I have done quite a bit on Congress Cloth and now I am focusing on Silk Gauze, 32 and 40 count.  The detailing that can be achieved on this tiny count is amazing.

How much of your day is spent stitching versus designing?

For me stitching and designing are the same.  I always design on canvas, never on the computer, so designing is stitching.  Once I have stitched a new piece I then go on to chart and write the instructions.  This is the part that takes up too much of my time – this is when I’d rather be stitching.  However, it can’t be avoided…  When the design has been written, charted and illustrated I have someone else stitch it again, a proof stitcher, someone who makes sure the instructions are correct.  Most of the stitching I do is in the evenings.  During the day I work on my computer and in the evenings I sit and stitch.

Where do you seek inspiration on days when your muse is taking a break?

I “hoard” inspiration everyday, for just those moments when I think I have no muse in me.  I am constantly browsing online, looking at sites that focus on interior design, fashion, the art world and the craft world.  Everyday I make sure to find at least one new site that excites me and offers ideas for a new direction, a new design.  I live in the city and while others look at nature for inspiration, perhaps go out to their gardens or hike near their home, I walk the streets, look at people, shop windows, and the city skyline for inspiration.

If you could create one design that would become your masterpiece and spend 100% of your time on it, what would it be?

If I had all the time I could ask for, I would take a huge piece of canvas and I would let my needle guide me.  I would not make any determinations in advance, but rather just pick a fiber, a color, and plunge into the canvas.  Then I would like to never have to chart the piece, just let it sit across from me.  I will make that day happen at some point.


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Categories: Classes and Conventions, Embroidery, Interviews, Needlepoint, Thread Crafts Tags: ,

3 Responses to “An Interview with Orna WillisComment RSS feed

  • Tamara Beinlich
    April 8th, 2013 10:43 am

    Great interview. Very beautiful. I wish I had patience and the eye sight (lol) to make such things.

  • Catherine
    April 8th, 2013 1:27 pm

    Beautiful work! Especially love the Dolci beads.

    Tamara – needlework isn’t always small. Take a look at this:

  • Debbie M
    April 8th, 2013 8:40 pm

    Thank you for that wonderful interview with Orna! I’ve been admiring and following her work for a long time. Excited that I may have a chance to get to meet her this summer!

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