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Once upon a time there was a little girl, named Jennifer, who didn't stay "little" for very long. As soon as she discovered that crayons weren't for eating, she began creating images using a rainbow of colors, depicting the fantastic characters and their exploits that she saw in her mind's eye: dragons, castles and princesses tucked away some tower.

The Maiden and The Unicorn

Jennifer L. Aikman-Smith grew up in Montreal, Quebec in a family of 5 that fed her fantasy life by recounting treasured stories of all kinds: tales of secret gardens, buried treasure, castles and giants to books by C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle. She wrote and illustrated her own stories, but says, "I always got lost in making the pictures. I used to love it when my mother read aloud because the words would paint pictures in my head." Jennifer's mother made sure their home was always full of arts and crafts supplies and encouraged her children to explore their creativity, especially around the holidays. "Mum would pick a new project each year and we would all join in," Jennifer clarifies, "Whether to draw Christmas shapes on foam meat trays or to glue beans, barley, peas and seeds to neon-coloured posterboard shaped and threaded them with variegated yarn. Can you tell I grew up in the 70's?"

Why Hoard Gold

When Jennifer was 11, she was the only Canadian child to win the Jack and Jill magazine contest for young artists, sponsored by The Saturday Evening Post. She won a 4-day trip to Indianapolis, IN and got to tour the publishing company. She recalls, "I'll never forget the moment we walked into one of the studios where 2 grown men stood, surrounded by art supplies, planning out a colouring book... In that instant, I realized that I wanted nothing more than to earn a living by sharing my images with other people. Almost 20 years later the dream remains as strong."

Fantasy Wedding Blessing

Jennifer received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, where she met her husband, Nicholas Smith. They married and settled in Moncton, NB. Jennifer began to slowly build a freelance illustration business while working full-time as a copywriter and voice talent for a local radio station. From there she went to work as the Art Director for a local ad agency and became computer-literate on the Macintosh platform. Throughout, she continued to send illustrations to freelance markets, selling a cartoon here or illustration there, while still drawing fantasy images for her own pleasure. She even incorporated her own company in anticipation of self-publishing her artwork someday and named it DRAGON DREAMS.

Dragon Dreams

In 1992, a very good friend pestered Jennifer and her husband to try cross stitch. Jennifer reports, "I had always wondered what could be so much fun about making a bunch of little X's on cloth." But she dutifully picked out a Lori Birmingham design and marched off to the craft store for supplies. She recalls, "They tried to talk me into starting with a fridge magnet or other little project, to which I replied, 'Look, I'm an artist who has tried almost every craft under the sun. If it isn't challenging, I won't stay with it!'" So Jennifer stitched her first piece over 2 on Zweigart® Lugana® with lots of quarter stitches and heaps of backstitching... and much to her own surprise, got hooked! But halfway through stitching the piece, a funny thing happened - Jennifer began to see images in her head, but this time they were made up of little Xs! She made up a grid on the computer and began to doodle. In no time, she was sending designs off to magazines and stitching up models of them. Local stitchers were soon requesting to purchase copies of charts that hadn't yet been submitted and, with some advice from another Canadian designer, Charland, Jennifer began to produce and wholesale her own chart packs. Jennifer explains, "One of the things that I love about cross stitch is the fact that no matter what type of design you prefer to stitch, be it samplers or angels, florals or dragons, it is all made up of the same basic little stitches and wonderful materials."

A Castle in the Clouds

With the birth of their first child, Erin, in 1995, Jennifer decided to take the plunge and work completely from home. When their second daughter, Bethany, was born in 1999, things got quite a bit more hectic. A typical day can now include anything from logo designs, translation work, documentary writing, illustration, voice work, packing up kits for shipping, stitching a model or doodling out a new design... all with Erin and Bethany joyfully underfoot.

Jennifer, Bethany, Nick and Erin

Jennifer's husband is one of her best stitchers and had repeatedly inspired/begged her to create many of the designs in our collection that DO NOT have a lot of backstitching. He is back in the classroom after spending 3 years as a Computer Mentor, helping teachers use the computers in the classroom as active teaching tools instead of bookends! Now he is busy putting all of his technology know-how and creativity to use in his own 5th grade classroom. Not only is Nick a dedicated stitcher, but men in general have taken to the themes Jennifer incorporates into her designs, especially the big dragons. One store recently informed her that 5 of their male customers had formed a stitching group to work on DD-43- A Fairy Tale Sampler, which carries an inspirational poem that Jennifer wrote, which ends "The Questing Soul Discovers That The Hero Lies Within."

A Fairy Tale Sampler

Jennifer aims to offer stitchers designs that are just plain fun and reflect her artistic style which incorporates large doses of whimsy and imaginativeness. She states, "As one of my favourite authors, Madeleine L'Engle, wrote in her book, Walking on Water, "The artist, if he is not to forget how to listen, must retain the vision which includes angels and dragons and unicorns, and all the lovely creatures which our world would put in a box marked Children Only. "

Tooth Fairy Pillows


Jennifer sees herself as an Illustrator who took up cross stitch as a hobby and then began to see all her ideas through a different lens. She explains, "The special fibers were like a new box of crayons to play with. Suddenly the fibers would let me create an effect I could never duplicate in watercolour drawings." Many of Jennifer's design ideas are spawned when she least expects them, so she keeps a sketchbook handy. Nick is fond of saying that it can be like living with a gerbil if an idea hits in the middle of the night. There's always a pen and paper handy and Jennifer doesn't even need to turn on the light. As Nick describes it, he just hears the "scritch, scritch" in the dark!

Bearly a Wizard

When Jennifer was new to cross stitch, her initial works included much tonal variation and as many as 30 colours in each design. As she advanced in knowledge and technique she began using specialty stitches and more diverse fibers. She says, "The beauty of Caron's colours and the texture of the fibers themselves are what first attracted me. Here were threads that I could stitch with and suddenly the colour varied like magic! It gave my dragon's wings and bodies far more mystery and subtlety without any extra work on my part to blend threads!! I fell in love with them right away! I also love the stitching process itself. Nick and I stitch most of the models ourselves. ... most of our large dragons - I just can't bear to let someone else see it come to life and fondle the fibers!"

Moonlight Guardian

In an interesting aside, Jennifer jokes how appropriate the fantasy theme is to her personal life. She declares, "I come from a family of Giants!" Her father is 6"10" and everyone else in her family is over 6' tall. She also chuckles when she admits that even though Nick is over 6'5", he is the tallest in his family, so there might be a recessive short gene lurking somewhere! But both Erin and Bethany are already well above the average height curve. Before Bethany was born, Jennifer was an avid seamstress and made clothes to fit her statuesque 6' 5" frame. She hopes to delve into quilting in the future, but for now has promised Nick to hold off until she's 40. He apparently is convinced that Jennifer will begin by designing Dragon quilts... no doubt, he's right on

Dragon of the Winter Moon

Dragon Dreams Inc.
112 Highmeadow Drive, Moncton, NB, CANADA, E1G 2C4
Phone: (506) 852-9017
Fax: (506) 855-5828
E-Mail: dragondr@nbnet.nb.ca
Website: http://www.DragonDreams.accra.ca

Castle of the Mist Bellpull

Here's a treat that the near future definitely holds in store - coming in 2001 is an exciting fantasy trilogy. This collaborative effort between Jennifer Aikman-Smith, Teresa Wentzler and Karen Weaver (Black Swan Designs), will include a dragon designed by each of them in a single leaflet! Dragon Dreams leaflets are available to stitchers through needlework retailers in more than 7 countries! Jennifer has just begun teaching at some festivals and plans on doing more of that in the future as well.


© 1999 The Caron Collection / Voice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

CARON email: mail@caron-net.com