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


Judi Kauffman
By Rita Vainius

Born the daughter of two painters and the granddaughter of a tailor, a seamstress and a blacksmith, Judi got a jump start on the artistic passions and skills that would come to dominate her life's work. Making things, almost from "day one", was an integral part of her childhood, surrounded as she was by the process and fruits of her family's creativity. Not surprisingly, she learned to sew, embroider, knit and crochet as soon as she could manage the tools. Her fervent wish, at any holiday that involved gift giving, was to receive craft and needlework supplies. Even at school, she would "beg out" of recess on order to decorate the class bulletin boards.

Because of her environment, which fostered and encouraged self expression and creativity, Judi developed an early confidence and the freedom to experiment with all manner and shape of materials. At Cornell University, she dual-majored in Printmaking and Government. Acclaimed printmaker, Arnold Singer, was her favorite professor and remains a friend. Judi has taught art at all levels from elementary school through college for the last thirty years. For most of those years she also worked as a (self-taught) graphic designer. These two pursuits are very portable, making it easy to move when her husband Frank's journalism career took them to a new city. She received a Master's Degree in Fibers from Antioch University in the early eighties. For a time she worked as a weaver, selling her designs at small shops and occasional craft fairs, but graphic design was much more lucrative and threads, again, took the back burner.

Her path to a career in needlework and craft design began by accident. Judi was a regular customer at a local yarn shop, The Needlework Attic, which Julie Hubbard, a friend of hers, owned in Bethesda, Md. While in the shop, following her natural inclination to help a fellow customer choose yarn colors for a sweater, Julie offered her a job. Judi's reply was: "Minimum wage, ME? I don't think so...When do I start!". She began by working retail one day a week and teaching all the shop's needlepoint classes and workshops. This re-ignited her own passion for needlework, and she began designing in needlepoint. Before long her work came to the attention of "the powers that be" and she received magazine assignments. At this stage, she did not have charting experience, which she taught herself later by trial and error. To this day she still stitches first and charts from her finished piece.

Judi's reputation has grown by leaps and bounds in the past eight years. She currently designs for numerous magazines and manufacturers and has written three books and produced two videos on stitching techniques and silk ribbon embroidery.

For the past six years Judi has been working with 300 women in rural cooperatives in Guatemala converting woven, embroidered and sewn local crafts into products for the American market. The group, Mayan Hands, produces clothing, accessories and greeting cards for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, as well as retail shops and mail order catalogs.

Judi's design ideas germinate from a confluence of experience and imagination. The pattern of a Cathedral floor was used as a background pattern in one design; the shape of a leaf became the template for the curve of a collar in another. She uses her other interests: cooking (because it involves mixing ingredients to produce texture, flavor and color) and quilting (because it makes use of playful combinations of fabrics and threads, and in the case of crazy quilt patchwork, all those wonderful embellishment possibilities) as inspiration. The major key to her prolific creativity, Judi attributes to drawing . At all times there is a sketch pad at hand in her purse, her car, her bedside table and next to the easy chair. Not only can she record her impressions at the moment inspiration dawns, but by doing so, she guarantees the idea won't elude her memory and vanish into thin air.

Judi's preparations for designing are minimal, starting with a few lines on canvas, fabric or paper, with her sketch nearby for reference and perhaps some color notes in marker or pencil. This allows her design to evolve. The editors Judi works with allow her the liberty of letting her work unfold in unexpected directions. They might request particular color combinations or suggest some general guidelines for the pattern desired.

"Heavily patterned and intricate", is the way Judi describes her personal style. It is not unusual for her to use forty or more colors in one pattern alone. Combining techniques such as cross stitch with ribbon embroidery, applique with crewel work or needlepoint with surface embellishment and beadwork are just her "cup of tea". She finds her work is becoming more complex. This is due to her recent philosophical inclination to understand how the mind works, and the ways internal and external dialogue develop, are conducted and overlap. She finds the mechanics of how information gets ingested, processed, and transformed to take shape as speech, gestures or ideas fascinating. This metaphysical approach is the direct outcome of a major health crisis endured five years ago, which altered her way of thinking and seeing the world and life. She became almost blind in one eye for two months and, as a visual artist, this "shook her to the roots". Her trend toward intricacy and the appeal of tiny beads, fine mesh canvas and lush silks was awakened when she realized she might lose the ability to use them in her work. Another aspect of her introspection is putting pen to paper and writing short stories, though not for publication.

Judi has been using Caron threads since before her professional design career. She discovered them at The Needlework Attic. She loves Waterlilies, Watercolours and Impressions. In addition to their exquisite visual appeal, they just feel wonderful, and this is an integral part of the joy of stitching. Judi is ecstatic that someone with such a fabulous eye for color and feel for texture as Lois Caron embodies, has devoted her own career to inventing, developing and hand-dyeing fibers for devoted and avid needleworkers such as herself. Her favorite use of the Caron threads is to combine several colors to create a dappled effect.

Judi's intricate, personal work is sold only by commission but her needlework, stitchery and craft designs are published by fifteen different magazines and five manufacturers and are available as kits, project sheets and published charts. The "Peacock Feather Box" is a chart that Sudberry House makes available with the box for which it was designed. Judi continues to teach at trade shows and on request at private shops. Her specialties are needlepoint, ribbon embroidery and foundation piecing.

Many of Judi's needlework and cross stitch designs are available from Sudberry House @ (800) 243-2607. Her pre-printed foundation piecing POSSIBILITY PANELS are available from HTC Handler Textile @ (800) 666-0335 or at your local quilt, fabric or craft retailer. Be sure to look for her designs in current and back issues of craft magazines such as "Arts & Crafts", "Cross Stitcher", Better Homes and Gardens - Special Interest Publications, Harris Publications, "Crafts Magazine", "Quick and Easy Crafts", McCall"s Quick Quilts" and more. For information about her upcoming trade show teaching schedule, Judi may be contacted via e-mail at judineedle@aol.com .

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: None of these designs can be reproduced or distributed in any form (including electronic) without the prior written permission of Judi Kauffman.

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