Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

The Caron Collection Designer Spotlight Remembers
(Caron visitors: This designer spotlight was written before Mary's death.)

Mary Duckworth
By Rita Vainius

Born in Virginia, but raised in California, Mary Duckworth was still trained in the true Southern traditions thought necessary for all young ladies learning the art of embroidery, how to mend, darn, turn a fine seam and sew on buttons. Thus began a life long love affair with the needle and its constant use in a myriad of applications. When she was 10 years old, she inherited her mother's Singer treadle sewing machine and instantly became a sewing fanatic as well.

Though her parents considered a career in the arts to be decadent, Mary longed to be an artist and involved in the theater. After graduating from Notre Dame Convent School, Mary left home to pursue her dreams. Initially she supported herself as a bank teller and pursued her interest in art and theater as an avocation. (Click on the
picture for Mary's FREE pattern.)

In 1948 Mary married Ralph Duckworth and, consequently the US Navy as well. Over the next 35 years they were military gypsies until her husband's untimely death in 1983. This marriage produced 2 wonderful daughters: Susan, a free-lance graphics designer and illustrator and Carolyn, a free-lance writer and photographer, both of whose artistic careers were actively encouraged by both parents.

During her husband's long sea deployments, Mary began in earnest to pursue and develop her artistic talents. She became involved in dinner theater productions wherever they lived, designing and executing costumes for both period and contemporary plays, ballets and other dance performances and designing stage sets and interior furnishings. Mary has done everything in theater work from pushing a broom and wielding a paintbrush to directing and producing.

Mary is also an accomplished portrait artist, working in oils and pastels. Her paintings are included in private collections throughout the U.S. and abroad. While her husband was stationed at the US Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she was a radio disc-jockey and on-camera for AFRS/WGBY. In her free time, Mary is a voracious reader, devouring anything from airport "trash" books to fine mystery novels. Since childhood she has been a dedicated museum goer and these forays are always fertile ground for design inspiration. Crossword puzzles are another obsession and other interests have included sculpture, ceramics and mosaics.

Despite Mary's avid needlework interests, she did not gravitate toward needlepoint until canvases with no pre-stitching became available. Then Mary took up this needleart with a newfound enthusiasm. Even being a south-paw became a distinct advantage as it forced her to carefully analyze the stitch construction in order to execute it properly.

After moving to a new home in 1968, Mary started looking for needlepoint canvases for a set of dining room chairs. Even with all her costume and theater design experience, it never occurred to her to attempt to design these herself. It took a needlework shop owner, who knew of Mary's talents, to suggest it. She packed Mary off with a cut of canvas, a selection of Persian wool and a copy of Hope Hanley's Needlepoint. After examining the stitches in the book, Mary selected some to try on her chevron design for a pillow. Only a true innocent would select a diagonal design as a first effort! By the time she completed the pillow, her whole needlework focus had changed forever. 30 years later, she has yet to get to those dining room chairs!

During the 1970's, Mary worked in the gift shop at the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts. After seeing some of her needlepoint work, she was asked to design some canvases with performing arts themes, which proved to be popular sellers. With her husband's encouragement, she decided to pursue a design career. In 1973 she started "Duckworth Designs". The regional success of her designs spurred her on to go national. She became a regular exhibitor at national trade shows, shipping her designs to clients in the U.S., Canada, England and Australia. In 1977 she opened and for 8 years operated her own successful needleart retail shop, "The Designing Duck", in Arlington, Va. She reveled in the daily interaction with fellow stitchers and credits her loyal customers as instrumental in her growth and evolution as a designer and teacher.

Mary's strongest design influences have come from Oriental sources: textiles, woodcuts, brush paintings and Noh theater of Japan. She finds the elegant simplicity of these art forms captivating. Working with Japanese design sources taught her two very valuable lessons: any two colors can be compatible with each other if the correct color values are used and, in design composition, less is best. Mary elaborates: "I work to achieve designs of classic simplicity with an understated elegance".

Other inspirations evolve as a result of clients' custom requests. The commission which gave her the confidence that she could meet any design request was for a tennis playing duck-billed platypus! Collages are Mary's most challenging design assignments. The client presents a list of "must contain" items that have little or no relationship to each other. Yet she must bring all these elements together in a harmonious design. Mary's favorite project was a Christmas stocking based on "The Cajun Night Before Christmas". Santa appears as a swamp rat in a racoon suit, his sled is a pirogue and the reindeer are crocodiles! The list also included the Notre Dame Cathedral dome, a golfer, Lake Pontchartrain, the atomic energy symbol, skis and a bottle of Tabasco sauce. Mary worked everything into a pleasing design, except for the bottle of hot sauce, which had her stumped. Although it was just a small element, the red label on the bottle made it an eye-catcher no matter where or how she positioned it. Finally inspiration hit when her own brand of deviant of humor kicked in: Mary opened the lead crocodile's mouth and put the bottle between its teeth! Mission accomplished!

To translate an idea into a design, Mary undertakes a great deal of research, test stitching and trial and error experimentation. All of her designs are meticulously charted beforehand. She then paints to the thread on the canvas from the chart. It is of primary importance that each stitch, technique, thread and color make a positive contribution to the whole. Mary will not use any design element just for its own sake and asserts that using a different stitch for each part of a pattern more often detracts from, rather than enhances the design.

Mary's aim is always to create designs that a stitcher can personalize. This, she finally concluded, could only be accomplished through charted designs rather than painted canvases. Charted designs allow the stitcher to choose the preferred counted technique, the desired mesh size and the thread colors. The presentation of her work in charted form made her a pioneer in presenting classic designs done in this manner to the stitching public.

Now semi-retired, Mary continues to design, teach, judge, attend seminars and take classes. Her current design work consists primarily of commissions for ecclesiastical vestments and paraments. She has designed altar cloths and sets of paraments and has designed and stitched embroidered stoles and appliqued banners.

Mary is a senior Master Teacher and Judge certified by the ANG. She is also credentialed by the National Academy of Needlearts through their Level I. Her motto, "Have Needle Will Travel"' comes into play when she accepts a teaching contract. As a teacher, Mary is a maverick because she steadfastly bucks the trend of having beginners work on samplers. She is convinced that it is necessary for novices to be thoroughly grounded in the tent stitch, and familiarized with a limited number of textured stitches as enticements for future growth. The true test of a needleworker's skill is the execution of a piece entirely in the tent stitch, as any flaws in technique will be visible. She counsels her students that few stitches are "set in stone", but it is essential to learn the rules in order to know those which can't be broken, those which can be bent and those which can be improvised upon. One of her greatest satisfactions as a teacher is being able to show a student how to evaluate a given pattern for conversion to another technique. Mary's free pattern is an example. She originally introduced the "Or Nue` Chrysanthemum" as a "Noh Collection Design Medallion" executed in the tent stitch.

Mary met Lois Caron when they were fellow exhibitors at the TNNA trade shows. She was a longtime fan of Lois' work, admiring its elegance and the qualities she valued in her own work- style and elegance. Upon opening her retail shop, she became an immediate customer of the Caron Collection designs and threads. Mary has used the Watercolours and Impressions threads with great success and continues to experiment with other threads in the Caron line.

Descriptions of Mary's Illustrated designs:

An monochromatic exercise in working various stitch patterns on the
diagonal to create a pleasing whole with Medici wool and Krenik metallic braid.
Instructions are also included for finishing and creating the tassels.

A sophisticated interpretation of "Chevron #1". The patterns and
stitches used are more intricate and challenging. Also, it serves as an example of
color and thread balance using Kreinik silk and braided cord, Medici wool and Abula
threads. Instructions for finishing and making the tassels are also included.

Interlocking circles with the pineapples utilize a variety of
patterns and stitches using Medici wool, six stranded floss, Krenik metallic braid
and linen threads.

A collection of authentic Navajo symbols create a layout presented in
the manner of a weaver's rug samples. Various techniques are used with Perle #5,
six stranded floss, Flower thread and sewing thread. The background is couched
with Caron's Watercolours as the laying thread.

5. TAXI!:
A street scene inspired by a design from a Chinese import porcelain
bowl. A variety of techniques are used to develop the design. Among them are
Couching, Pulled Thread, Shadow work and surface embellishments. Major threads are
Medici wool, six stranded floss, carpet and sewing threads.

The fishermen have been hauling in their catch of the day far from
their home shore. To bring this to life a number of techniques are used. Among
them, Pulled Thread, Couching, Detatched Buttonhole, Random Split and Surface
Embellishment. Threads used are Krenik metalic braid, Soîe Perlee, Soîe D'Alger,
six straned floss and sewing thread.

The width of Krenik metallic ribbon chosen as the laying thread for
this piece was done so because the resulting random schrunching created the effect
of shantung which was the desired goal. This is a very real challenge for those
who enjoy working the Or Nué technique. Not because the design in itself is so
complex, but because of the number of needles which come into play in order to
execute it. Threads are Soîe Perlee as well as the metallic ribbon.

A chatelaine which uses Perle cotton and exposed canvaswork to
create a distinctive personal accessory. Complete instructions are given for

Note: All designs shown remain the exclusive property of the designer and are protected as such under the U. S. copyright law.

© 1997 The Caron Collection / oice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

CARON email: mail@caron-net.com