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

Helen Cowans
Purple Moon Designs

Featuring designer, embroiderer, tutor and textile artist Helen Cowans whose work encompasses an intriguing mix of ideas, influences and styles, which constantly evolve as Helen Cowans works her magic with needle and thread in cross-stitch, freestyle embroidery and creative textile art!

Helen with son, Richard

Helen was born an only child in the West Midlands ­ almost in the centre of England. At school she took an interest in most subjects and loved art and needlework. She still retains a pair of cushions that she embroidered when she was about 13 years old ­ and which she actually still uses.

Silk Bowls

Helen's art teacher in school was wonderful. She emphasizes, "He gave me all the encouragement I could have needed, both in pure art and in photography. When it came to choosing subjects for further study at 16 years old I was persuaded to drop art and concentrate on biology and science. My art teacher couldn't believe that I wasn't going to continue studying art at college. I wish that I had continued with my art studies ­ now there are so many opportunities to take combined degrees ­ but when I took mine you couldn't be an artist and a scientist. Ideally I would have studied both art and biology."


Helen graduated with a Biology degree and had very little opportunity to engage in stitching for several years. Her scientific training has proved a great asset and has provided her with the ability to look at the natural world and to be inquisitive and question everything! She adds, "It also helps when I write up my instructions as I was trained to write scientific reports." She still loves to draw and says, "I have always drawn. Once upon a time as a child I would have said that I wanted to be an artist (is that where I have finally got to?). I also love pastels and watercolours. Photography is a big part of my life."

Blue Lace
One Thread Kit

Georgina's House

After University Helen moved to London and worked as a scientist in research laboratories. After marriage and living in London for 5 years, she and her husband decided to move 350 miles to the northeast of England -- out to the countryside and almost to the Scottish border. It was a place where they had often spent holidays to escape the daily grind of city living. Helen declares, "This was a dream come true. After the move I worked for 5 years in sales and marketing traveling throughout northern England. Two and a half years ago, after much searching we found the house we had always wanted: a Victorian railway cottage, with the original signal box in the large garden. After altering the property to make a larger kitchen and three extra rooms we moved in ­ just 2 weeks before the birth of my son Richard. After Richard was born I gave up full time work and worked occasionally as a wedding photographer (something I was doing part-time whilst working full time). However after the end of 2002 I have decided not to take any more wedding bookings and concentrate on my son and my needlework."

Garden Bees

It was while Helen was pregnant with Richard that she began to stitch again. She needed something to make her stop, sit down, and be still! She soon found out that although there were lots of kits that she wanted to stitch, that she also wanted to design and stitch her own. Helen enjoys both cross-stitch and freestyle embroidery and happily swaps between one and the other. She purchased cross-stitch design software and a very large tin of coloured pencils. Following Richard's birth she grabbed what spare moments she could to stitch and design. In June 2001 she sold 5 designs to Coats Crafts, which are for publication in 2 UK magazines. Even though she's still waiting to see them in print, these sales provided the incentive to continue designing and in February 2002 Helen attended her first trade show -- the International Craft and Hobby Fair ­ formerly known as "Stitches."


When queried about how Helen comes up with her design ideas and what inspires them, her reply is simply, "Everything!" Her One-Thread Kits have been inspired by Turkish rugs, patterns on china, the colours of the threads or simply by playing around with patterns on the computer screen. Her Cross-Stitch Charts are inspired by the countryside around her: Rose Cottage is based on her own house (before the extension), Margaret's Sheep was inspired by the sheep she sees dotting the countryside all around, "Almost everyday I go for a walk through my friend's farm and this is what I see." Her Freestyle Kits are also inspired by her surroundings: the flowers at different times of the year and the changing colours of the seasons. Helen says "My kits and charts are a little 'different;' there are few freestyle designers and even fewer that work with pure silk threads. Variegated threads are still a novelty in the UK to lots of embroiderers."

Spring Garland

Helen remarks, "The biologist in me is fascinated by the natural world." Beautiful threads and fabrics also furnish inspiration, She loves the vibrant colours of the Caron Collection and the feel of silk threads. Helen insists, "I do know that I fell in love with them straight away and I have a huge collection! Indeed, without the Caron Collection threads there would be no One-Thread Kits. The whole idea of the kits is that only one thread is used making them especially suitable for beginners or whilst traveling: no colours to sort out, only one symbol to follow. I also use the Caron collection threads in my charts as they add that extra special touch." Helen's design style is fluid and constantly in a state of flux, varying from opulent, bohemian styles to country charm and cute sheep! She admits, " I am still evolving, learning and being surprised by my designs!"

Winter Reflections

Currently Helen is studying for City and Guilds Embroidery and is learning many new techniques as well as amassing novel design ideas. She elaborates, "I love the loose creative needlework that City and Guilds teaching encourages. This has inspired me to design a new range of kits using a variety of threads and dyed fabrics. I am a part-time adult tutor and I teach a variety of embroidery classes ­ from one-day workshops to courses of 10-30 weeks." Helen has since discovered that by teaching is another great way to learn -- from ones' students.

Honey Bees

Helen's work can be viewed in a few shops in England and at Willow fabrics (www.willowfabrics.co.uk) and Sew Exciting! (www.sewexciting.com), as well as on her own website. The One-Thread and Freestyle Kits will be exhibited on the Sew Exciting Stand at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Harrogate from November 21 to 24th, 2002.

One Thread Kit

She has recently been awarded a bursary (scholarship) to further her City and Guilds studies. The bursary is awarded to only about 4 students in the UK each year. Helen has been invited to exhibit her work at the Fashion and Embroidery Show in October 2003, billed as the UK's most exclusive textile and embroidery event. She states, "Although this will be a showcase for my creative embroidery and textile work it will no doubt influence the kits I produce. After this show I intend to work towards a local exhibition of my work." Additionally Helen writes magazine articles and will be published in Quilting Arts (www.quiltingarts.com) in this upcoming winter issue (December 2002).

Margaret's Sheep

So what does Helen see in her future? "The future looks busy! If I could wish for one thing it would be more time! But I don't want to do too much so that I miss out on my son's first few years. When he is at school (2 years time) I will be able to devote more creative energy to designing. In the meantime I have plans for several new kits - both Cross-stitch and Freestyle and the new range of creative kits. Oh yes, as well as completing Part 1 of the City and Guilds Course and going onto part 2 (the diploma).

Helen Cowans
Purple Moon Designs
The Crossing, Haugh Head, Wooler,
Northumberland, NE71 6QS, UK
Phone: + 44 (0) 1668 28393
Fax: + 44 (0) 1668 283194
E mail: enquiries@purplemoondesigns.co.uk
Website: http://www.purplemoondesigns.co.uk

© 2001 The Caron Collection / Voice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

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