Our tête-à-tête this month is with Joanna Somers of @plumdesign_. Joanna is married, has 4 young children and lives in Ohio. She is extremely diverse in her talents. She is the needlepoint designer behind The Plum Stitchery, she recently started Plum Design where she "slap-paints" onto pages of old books, she has a coterie of needlepoint designers that she manages and she does collaborations with many famous artists. Some time ago, I slid into her DMs and am now constantly picking her brain on a whole range of topics. I am very proud to call her a friend and am thrilled she is doing this tête-à-tête.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your needlepoint background, how and when did you learn to needlepoint, and when did you start painting your own canvases?
The lovely ladies at Wool & Willow taught me to stitch in 2014; my mother-in-law brought me to the shop right after she stitched her first project thinking I would enjoy it, too. I remember bringing home my first project and putting on a shelf, afraid to ruin it, but within a few days I couldn’t put it down. Before that, I was a hand-quilter, and I’m sorry to say I’ve not quilted more than an hour since I started needlepointing.
Within a few months of that first project, I had the chance to work at Wool & Willow two days a week and I jumped at it; it was the first job I’d ever had that I never once dreaded going to work. One day, I thought I might try designing my own canvas and Anne, who owns Wool & Willow, gave great advice for painting: use thin acrylic paint and the smallest, cheapest brush. It took many, many attempts to find the best approach, and I made a lot of canvases that ended up in the trash, but I was as hooked by painting as I was by stitching.
Over the next few years, I designed off and on as our family grew and when my third child was 6 months old, I picked up the brush again and re-launched The Plum Stitchery. That was the summer of 2017 and since then I’ve met and befriended an amazing community of stitchers, designers, shop owners, and finishers.
2. I am in love with some of your collaborations with well-known artists. Can you tell us how you came to get involved with them and how do you decidewhich pieces to convert to needlepoint canvas?
Thank you! Collaborating with artists of other mediums is the most unexpected part of running this company and it is an understatement to say how thrilled I am to work with each one. Every stitcher has his or her own style; every artist willing to share their work with the needlepoint community just makes it that much easier for each of us to stitch something we love.
Making connections with various artists usually happens through Instagram. Sometimes, I see a piece of artwork and know it would be stunning in needlepoint, or that there’s nothing else like it available to stitch. It’s a little scary to slide into someone’s DMs and chirp about needlepoint but I’m fortunate to have met generous and kind artists who let me adapt their work. Some artists know exactly which pieces of their collection they want me to adapt while others let me make suggestions. Either way, it’s been an experience to recreate these various works of art on canvas; in a way, it feels like I’m walking in someone else’s shoes when I paint their designs.
3. Recently, you started painting the most exquisite pieces of art on torn out pages of old classic books. What led you to this and did you think it would be such a success? Do you have a favorite one you’ve painted?
Thank you so much! My oldest loves to create artwork and this summer requested “painting nights” where she would get to stay up later than her siblings and we sit together and paint (I usually am very mean about sharing my art supplies). On one of these nights, I saw a used copy of Vanity Fair on the bookshelf and thought it would be fun to paint on its pages. That particular novel has great chapter titles that informed whatever illustrations I could add, and soon I was pulling more and more books off the shelf.
There isn’t a favorite painting in the bunch, but I’m always excited when I’m able to get something on the page that looks how I imagined it could look. The response has been lovely, and I’m immensely honored when someone commissions a custom piece, though my workload has made it almost impossible to take on these projects.
4. Can you tell us what’s in your stash and what are you stitching at the moment? Also, do you have a favorite needlepoint piece you’ve designed?
My eyes are bigger than my needles and I have more canvases in my stash than I could stitch in my lifetime, but that’s okay! There are so many gorgeous designs, both new and vintage, and it’s good to have options when it comes to stitching; sometimes I’m in the mood for small or simple or detailed or fancy stitches and it’s nice to have a rotation of projects to match my mood. My current project is a Kirk & Bradley twelvetide stocking; I can’t put it down.
5. You seem to certainly have your plate full, you’re married, have 4 young children, you design needlepoint and paint, you collaborate, you manage other designers, how do you possibly do it all?
Many times, I feel like I can’t do it all. Running a creative business is always a balancing act between logistics and creativity; especially this year with the amazing boom our industry seems to be in the midst of, a lot of my time goes to managing orders and inventory, shipping, trunk shows, maintaining the Web site, and marketing and less to designing new canvases. As it always does, it will balance out again and I’ll find more time to design again.
In the day to day, in terms of working while being a stay-at-home mom, I have a standing desk in our sunroom and I jump into work throughout the day whenever possible; that has been the most challenging lesson to learn since starting this business: sometimes I need to work in two-minute increments. After the kids go to bed is when I get to really focus on work; I make a pot of coffee and work as late as I can.
6. Since the pandemic at the beginning of this year, we have seen a spate of needlepoint designers. If you were starting out anew, what would you tell yourself?
This is the first company I’ve run and doing so has been one of the scariest and most fulfilling things I’ve done. I’m very much still new to this and still learning every day how I can do things better, but I would tell myself to breathe more and not stress about growing pains.
Thank you Joanna for such a fun and informative tête-à-tête.