Karen Barbé: Colour Confident Stitching


If you've been reading Stitch*illo, you've likely been enthralled with Karen Barbé's work. Located in Santiago, Chile, Karen's skills as a textile artist (and designer and photographer) are impressive. I was so thrilled when she agreed to be part of Stitch*illo. If you want to delve into Karen's approach to colour and design, I recommend her book Colour Confident Stitching.

Karen's opening spread in Stitch*illo.

Karen's opening spread in Stitch*illo.

Here are some excerpts from my Stitch*illo profile on Karen:

Karen says that through her stitches she translates the worlds of home, crafts and comfort onto textile surfaces. “As an embroiderer I find a deep connection with a vast tradition of needlework, which I contribute to with a fresh look thanks to my design background,” she says.

Karen was using her graphic design background in the corporate world, which she eventually left ten years ago to pursue her passion for textiles. “I realized they were a natural extension of a family tradition,” she says. “Becoming a trained designer enlightened this long, cultivated family practice with new tools, both conceptual and technical. To become a designer honoured this natural and affectionate tradition. Of course I didn’t see it as clearly as I do now. It was more about following my natural creative approach to everything. I’m thankful for how this discipline provided a rationale and methodological container that has shaped and improved my work, regardless if it involves textiles, stitching, photography or, lately, writing.”

Colour Confident Stitching has beautiful colour palettes to inspire your own work.

Colour Confident Stitching has beautiful colour palettes to inspire your own work.

For Karen, embroidery is a synonym of calm and peace. “It also provides an opportunity for conversation: to discover the interconnection between your eyes, neck and fingers with the fabric, needle and thread. I like to think about embroidery as engaging in a conversation or learning a new language. When we learn to embroider, all your focus is put into mastering the stitch—a precise and guided movement. At the beginning we only observe and get into this conversation step by step, much like making sure we are using the right words and grammar. But when we remember—without thinking—the right direction and sequence of every up and down of the needle through the fabric, that is when we can start having a more fluid conversation. I also like to see it as a negotiation, a set of questions, exclamations and commentaries. The needle and thread develop their own ways and we need to learn how to interpret and decode their signs and warnings, their postures and gestures. It is only after we have repeated a single stitch hundreds or thousands of times that we can engage in an endless conversation without thinking about whether or not we are being precise. It is almost like a dance with technique, shape and colour, all unified among the story, thread and fabric.”

A spread from Colour Confident Stitching.

A spread from Colour Confident Stitching.

“Embroidering takes so much time, attention and focus. Sometimes, and depending on the stitches being used, an area as small as one square inch can take up to four hours to complete. And so, approaching thinking, experimentation and creation in design through embroidery means having to reconceive and reshape creative and production methodologies so that they can fit and work with the time demands of today. It is also a declaration of an appreciation of life and design in a slower fashion, where mistakes and corrections are given the necessary time and consideration.”


“I like to think about embroidery as engaging in a conversation or learning a new language.” 

—Karen Barbé


Follow Karen on Instagram.

Announcing... a big, beautiful project!

I'm so excited to share with you this new multi-volume book project:

the UPPERCASE Encyclopedia of Inspiration!!!

So you might be asking... "An encyclopedia? What do you mean? Who prints an encyclopedia in this day and age?"

Good questions!

When I'm working on UPPERCASE magazine, there are always topics that I come across that I wish I could dedicate more time and pages to. Ideas that are larger than what a magazine can hold. People and projects that I know UPPERCASE readers would love. Ideas that percolate in my head and grow into something bigger, broader and better... until I can't help but admit that I've got another book idea on my hands! The Encyclopedia concept is a framework for unifying seemingly unrelated topics into a cohesive editorial vision.

As avid readers of my magazine and previous books will know, I have a soft spot for outdated, analogue artifacts like typewriters and vintage textiles. Good old-fashioned encyclopedias are steeped in a similar nostalgia for me. Can you imagine the fun and excitement of a salesman coming to your home to sell you a set of books? Or of cutting out a coupon in a magazine and sending away via mail order for your first volume?

This project is a new take on the notion of an Encyclopedia. Each volume will be a full creative exploration of a particular topic, released in whimsical order. (You can arrange them alphabetically on your bookshelf if you're so inclined!) They'll be beautifully produced and printed and each book will be designed to fit within the set. I know how much you love collecting UPPERCASE magazines for their beautiful shelf presence and timeless content—the volumes in this Encyclopedia will be similarly covetable. So who commits to printing a multi-volume Encyclopedia these days? UPPERCASE does!

It's also open-ended. There is no shortage of inspiring topics to be explored and I look forward to adding more volumes to the project over the years. For the launch edition, I'm working on three volumes: FEED SACKS, a pattern sourcebook written by Linzee Kull McCray;BOTANICA, a fascination of all things floral through art, craft and lifestyle; and STITCH•ILLO, artists and illustrators telling stories through stitching and textiles. 

"How're you going to fund this? Why not Kickstarter?"

Curating, writing, editing, designing and printing a book is an expensive process. The editorial and production costs will average $35,000 per volume. My goal is to raise $60,000 towards these costs by the end of May.

Although I debated using Kickstarter, I know that you—my dear readers—are the folks who will be excited about this project the most. And we're in this together, it's not all or nothing like Kickstarter. I'm committed to making these books! Plus with all the experience and systems I have in place from my previous book projects, launching this on my own makes it easier in the long run. The enthusiasm of UPPERCASE readers has motivated me for the past seven years and I know you'll continue to do so. Thank you!

So please show your support for the project during this early making phase. Feed Sacks in underway and slated for publication in October. Botanica and Stitch•illo are also in progress and I'll announce their anticipated publication dates soon. Full descriptions are on the project site.

Support the Encyclopedia project by pre-ordering the first 3-volume set at the Early Bird price of $100 ($145 outside North America). The prices include shipping of the three volumes. The price will increase to $120 in North America and $165 outside of North America after May 1. 


"Can I get published in the Encyclopedia?"

Yes! Involving my readers is one of the joys of curating content for my projects. There's no entry fee to submit, please visit the Participate page to find out how you can submit your work for consideration.

So, that's what I've been working towards these past weeks... and some of these book concepts have been years in the making. There's even more detail over on the project launch site. 

It's exhilarating (and scary) to put this out into the world at last.

Thank you for your support!



thread week: an eclectic stash

Artist:  Vicky Lindo

Artist: Vicky Lindo

As this post goes live, we'll be deep in the midst of thread, vintage finds and crafty friends. Sounds like a perfect Saturday eh? When Janine recently visited STASH, and discovered a kindred spirit, we knew it would be the perfect place to hold our Embroidery Bee and Issue #16 launch. 

In addition to her thriving business, STASH proprietress Veronica Murphy maintains an amazingly eclectic Pinterest pressence. If you aren't able to join us visiting her boards will give you a taste of the STASH experience. 

Artist:  Jose Romussi  Image Source:  The Jealous Curator

Artist: Jose Romussi
Image Source: The Jealous Curator

thread week: knit collage

Knit Collage makes stunning yarns. The textures, colours and intricate details are so appealing that I just want to keep one... as a pet! I could scarcely bring myself to unwind one they are such gorgeous objects on their own.


With playful textures, sparks, sequins, silk flowers, ribbons and other surprises spun throughout, each is a delightful surprise. Obviously labour-intensive, Knit Collage yarns are made in India. Their website shares the story:

All of our spinning takes place in India, where we recently moved our studio. With the hope of creating work for uneducated women in Punjab, we spend (and still spend!) countless hours teaching the ladies how to craft the yarns on traditional spinning wheels. Through much patience and hard work, more and more women are slowly becoming spinning experts. We now proudly employ 36 women there and that number is growing every month. Not all of those women are spinners, we also rely on ladies to card fiber, crochet tiny flowers and organize the other trims that will later be spun. Our manager also checks and packages each and every skein for quality. Truly each yarn is specially handcrafted with love and care! Through our tiny operation, we hope to create beautiful yarns and better the lives of the women who craft them along the way. We also hope that by sharing our vision of the world through our yarns, we will inspire creative freedom in the people who love and use them.

Knit Collage was founded by Amy Small, who used to design sweaters for Free People and has been hand-spinning wool since 2005.

Amy spinning. Photo via Jimmy Beans Wool blog.

Amy spinning. Photo via Jimmy Beans Wool blog.

Read an interview with Amy on the Jimmy Beans Wool blog.
Read an interview with Amy on the Jimmy Beans Wool blog.

Here in Calgary, folks can find Knit Collage yarns at Stash (where we're having our Embroidery B and issue 16 launch this Saturday!)

thread week + type tuesday = MaricorMaricar


One cannot have a "thread week" and "type tuesday" without mentioning the incredible talents of MaricorMaricar:

I am so pleased that we have been able to feature their work in UPPERCASE magazine a few times. Most recently, MaricorMaricar made the letter Z for Issue 15's Beautiful Bitmaps.

Available as a print in the UPPERCASE Society 6 shop.

Available as a print in the UPPERCASE Society 6 shop.

Visit their Big Cartel shop for this print.

Visit their Big Cartel shop for this print.


thread week: Rebecca Ringquist


Erin has declared 2013 the "year of embroidery" and I would have to agree with her! To encourage your yearlong pursuits of the thread arts, may I direct you to the Etsy shop of Rebecca Ringquist ... Dropcloth offers some fun and instructive samplers.

"In the summer of 2010, on a whim, I designed and printed an embroidery sampler, and sold over a hundred of them at the Squam Art Sale. Word got around the blog-o-sphere, and one thing led to another. Seven more have been designed and printed as multiples since. I am so grateful for the popular interest in these samplers. Although they are separate from my studio practice, they certainly are informed by my artwork and most definitely help support my artwork."

Speaking of her studio practice, feast your eyes on these gorgeous pieces:


Watch the great video about Rebecca over on CreativeBug.

thread week: Debbie Smyth


I've had Debbie Smyth's website bookmarked for quite some time and when I was working out the concepts for issue 16—which includes both thread/string/knitting/knotting as well as concepts of home and nesting—I asked to see if she would share her work on our cover. Fortunately she agreed and the result is a very attractive cover that touches on multiple themes.

Debbie Smyth is textile artist most identifiable by her statement thread drawings; these playful yet sophisticated contemporary artworks are created by stretching a network of threads between accurately plotted pins. Her work beautifully blurs the boundaries between fine art drawings and textile art, flat and 3D work, illustration and embroidery, literally lifting the drawn line off the page in a series of “pin and thread” drawings.

“On first glance, it can look like a mass of threads but as you get closer sharp lines come into focus, creating a spectacular image. The images are first plotted out before being filled out with the thread, the sharp angles contrasting with the floating ends of the thread.  And despite the complexity of the lengthy process I try to capture a great feeling of energy and spontaneity, and, in some cases, humour.”

Debbie plays with scale well; creating both gallery installations and works for domestic interiors. Her unique style lends itself to suit corporate environments, public spaces, window display, set design, graphic design and illustration. By collaborating with interior designers, architects and other creative practitioners, Debbie pushes the expected scope of her work even further.

“I feel as if I am taking thread out of its comfort zone, presenting it on monumental scale and creating an eye-catching, and in some cases, jaw-dropping effect.”


This post kicks off "Thread Week" here on the blog. Each day we will be sharing posts related to thread, needlework and all variety of creativity related to string—from the simple to the extraordinary.

For our local friends, make sure that you join us this Saturday for our Embroidery B and issue launch at Stash in Inglewood! Click here for details and to RSVP.