Bags... Evening Bags, Handbags, Clutches
and Carpetbags. We're delighted to present a designer with a real flair
for bags as well as all kinds of innovative needlepoint
By Rita Vainius
Without a doubt, Julie
Pischke is one of the most creative and eccentric design talents on the
needlework scene today. Her effusive personality shines like a beacon through
her work. Alternately referred to as the "Mad Genius of Needlework"
and "Our Lady of Contradiction" by those who really know her,
Julie's designs embody bright color, bold shapes, funky flair and luscious
sensuality. Despite the juxtaposition of dramatic color and eclectic motifs,
her work exudes a feeling of compelling ingenuousness. (Julie's style comes
through loud and clear in her FREE PATTERN for a handbag, shown left, for our web visitors.)
Julie's design talents became apparent as a teenager working in her mother's
needlework shop, The Silver Web. By age 14 she was indispensable for filling
the special orders and custom design commissions. Some of her first designs were featured in a Charity
Needlework Show organized by Louise French. Julie also came to the attention
of Jean Ready, the originator of "Deux Amis," a high-end line
of hand painted canvases. Jean was so enthusiastic about Julie's work that
she took them to display in her booth at a TNNA Show.
After opening her own store, Island Needlework in Key West 21
years ago, Julie had her hands full running the business alone for 18 years.
It wasn't until Tracy O'Neal appeared out-of-the-blue in 1995 that Julie
was able devote some serious time and energy to her true passion for design.
In 1996, both Julie and Tracy spent two weeks at the Woodlawn Plantation
designing needlepoint and decorating a little girl's room in the 1802 Manor
for a Christmas Show, transforming it into a sunny fantasy of subtropical
colors: acid green, periwinkle blue, royal poinciana red. 1997 brought
a request to design an ornament for the White House Christmas Tree. As
with much of her work, this design was symbolic. It shows President Clinton
playing his sax on a field of deep blue which incorporates several references
to eternal life: the four gospels of the New Testament, the three notes
of the Trinity and the dove on the sax which holds the key to eternal life.
Julie and her beloved Lab and one of her famous carpetbags
on her right.
Another project which Julie tackles head-on is designing an original work
of art for the Annual AIDS Auction. Each artist is presented with a theme
to be integrated within their piece. The motif for the 1997 show was a
chair and Julie's imagination soared. Her mixed-media contribution was
entitled "Life is but a Game." The focal point is an Adirondack
chair representing the Chair of Judgment, which she envisioned suspended
from a tree in the woods. The chair spins on a lazy susan base in tones
of green and brown, akin to the forest floor, while the leaves tremble
on their branches. The brown leaves are labeled with the seven deadly sins;
the nine fruits of the spirit are depicted on the green leaves; the natural
linen leaves identify the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Scrolled along
the sides of the turning platform is the message:
"The Game We Play of Truth or Dare
is Simple at the Start
But With Each Question Your Soul Will
Until We See Your Heart"
The seat of the chair is a needlepoint game board
done in Wildflowers threads and the game pieces consist of gold and pearl
buttons. Along the side borders of the seat can be seen a series of characters. Only by holding
up the mirror provided can the word GOD be discerned in a repeating refrain.
The back of the mirror states, "Check out your reflection. What do
you see? Good or evil you can be." Coins litter the wheel and a pair
of dice await a throw. Perhaps life is a game, but what's more to the point
for Julie, is how the game is played.
For this year's AIDS event the theme is "Ten Years of Helping Hands."
Julie's contribution to this event, which is still a work in-progress,
will be a pillow filled with down to form a meditation cushion, evoking
a Zen-like quality in mood and color ( muted gray, brown, and charcoal
tones). It reveals her personal conceptualization of the hands of the Trinity
each identified by one of the Greek words for the different types of love:
Eros, Agape and Filia, executed in needlepoint.
Julie designed a piece of art consisting of painted canvas and needlepoint
for a Valentine's Day Show. Titled "My Love is Silent," it is
a self-portrait showing a white figure in a red dress. The dress is shown
slipping off the shoulder, baring one breast and hinting at disrobing.
The figure hold out her arms which are adorned with Julie's signature silver
bracelets. With fluid grace, a red scarf is draped across her face obscuring
the mouth. The symbolism is subtle, but encompasses many levels. The intensity
of color, texture and dimension Julie accomplished with her threads makes
it appear to be an oil painting unless one scrutinizes it at close range.
Julie approaches needlepoint as a true form of artistic expression, she
prefers designing items which can be used, not just passively enjoyed.
Among these are pillows, bags, belts, shoes and slippers, address books,
rugs and footstools. She is best known for her carpetbags which originated
when a good friend asked her to make one which she could carry on board
the plane to accommodate her needlework, jewelry and other valuables, during
her frequent trips abroad. The original bag was made to conform to detailed
specifications down to the brass feet and buckles and leather trim. This
first bag featured a pattern of exotic tropical flowers. Many of her other
designs also depict the native flora and fauna of her hometown paradise.
Orders are often customized to a client's particular taste. A recent floral
pillow constructed for a gal from NYC sported a leopard spot fabric border.
Another pillow with a similar design might be accentuated with a border
of raw silk, brocade or red leather. Sizes of pillows can vary dramatically
also; some are large enough to be considered pieces of furniture in their
Not only does Julie customize her work, she also adapts her activities
to accommodate her clients. Because some are hearing-impaired, Julie studied
sign language. One of her creations is a derivation. The two figures in
this piece are "Mangels" (Julie's word for her visualization
of non-prettified, non-sexed angels), depicted "signing" the
phrase, "It's a Wonderful Life."
inspiration hardly seems necessary to get Julie going, Key West provides
fertile ground. Against a background of exotic blooms, turquoise blue waters,
unrivaled sunsets and funky artistic residents, Key West is always offering
up something to inspire and intrigue. The stunning hues which clothe the
birds, fish, reptiles, fruit and flowers add a riot of color and whimsy
to Julie's work.
Since many of her designs are so "far out" in some respects,
Julie gravitates toward a balance by designing items that exemplify her
firm faith. Her "scripture line" includes a belt inscribed in
needlepoint with the verse: "Cast not your pearls before swine;"
a pair of slippers showing a white dove hovering on a red background remind
us that, "We walk by faith, not by sight." Some of Julie's favorite
commissions are ecclesiastical in nature. She has designed kneelers for
churches in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale and her church in Key West where Julie
teaches confirmation classes and belongs to a study prayer group called
"Daughters of the King."
Tracy is now a vital part of the business and design collaborator. She
and Julie plan to combine their talents for a future line. This venture
is still in its early stages. Because of the overwhelming demand for Julie's
designs, it is impossible to keep up with the orders. She and Tracy have
begun to explore the possibility of reproducing some designs through the
medium of silkscreen. This technique presents definite limitations as only
some designs can be produced this way. Julie has reservations, sensing
an element of blissful spontaneity would be absent in designing for a mass
market. Her ambition is motivated by her desire to experiment and always
try out something novel: to create, not copy.
that even as a teenage she thought, "...working with color and fibers
is so much fun and so easy, that it can't possibly be a career." NOT!
Julie's forte in design lies in her innate sense of color and form, and
the manner in which she coordinates textures, colors and fibers. She paints
her designs on canvas but has never seriously considered switching her
medium. She insists that she could not achieve the texture desired or the
richness of color that "painting with threads" accomplishes in
any other way. Besides, she admits, "I just don't think I would be
any good on regular canvas. I think in fibers instead of paint." To
go beyond the traditional applications prescribed for needlepoint is a
constant goal, modifying the elements used to suit her vision. Her success
in augmenting this aim places Julie at the cutting edge of contemporary
In concert with
her spiritual inclinations, instead of designing a Christmas stocking to
hang by the hearth, Julie's holiday creation is a tithing bag, symbolic
of a sentiment closer to the true spirit of the season. This bag is shaped
like a bishop's miter (placed upside-down). A series of crosses portrayed
in various styles and sizes and executed in gold thread, is highlighted
by the rich burgundy-red background. A border of gold cord accentuates
the outside of the bag and it is then polished off with a elegant gold
Back at Island Needlework, Julie continues to pursue her self-appointed
crusade to seamlessly mesh needlework with fun and frolic. Her devotees
eagerly await the shop's most extravagant annual event, the Formal Christmas
Tea tailored to a new theme each year. This year they were greeted by Madame
Louise, who resurrected the ancient art of "mehndi," (the hand
painting of symbolic designs on the hands and feet with henna), which has
its origins in India and Morocco. Iced tea was served (a concession to
the hot weather), black beans and rice, salsa and ... brownies. Be there
or be square! Rumor has it that Madame Louise seems to resemble Our Lady
of Contradiction. Need I say more?
For more information on Julie Pischke's designs which are marketed under
Island Needlework Designs, call or fax her at (305) 296-6091. The shop
is located at 527 Fleming Street, Key West, Fl 33040.
If you missed the story on Julie's shop, Island Needlework in Key West,
FL, featured on our July website, go to http://www.caron-net.com/storefiles/storjuly.html
Bag ordering info for Julie's Button Bag:
Julie's Button Bag is available from Island Needlework as a do-it-yourself
project which includes just the bag itself, constructed from an 18 ct natural
colored linen. It can also be purchased as a kit which consists of the
linen bag with individually selected and coordinated buttons already attached,
an outline for the embroidered details and Caron Wildflowers threads to
complement the specific button arrangement and color scheme. Each kit is
different and designed to result in a one-of-a-kind accessory when completed.
For pricing information and ordering, call Julie or Tracy at Island Needlework.