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Interview with the Mother Daughter Needlepoint Duo

Interview with the Mother Daughter Needlepoint Duo

Meet Elizabeth and Tess, the mother daughter duo who are both needlepoint designers. Elizabeth Nagle is the designer behind “Doolittle Stitchery” and her daughter, Tess Kvale, is the artist behind “Hello Tess Designs.” We are lucky enough to have both of their trunk shows this month. Read on to learn more about their mutual love of needlepoint.
 
Young Tess with mom Elizabeth on the beach
 
Tess and Elizabeth, tell us about yourselves. Where is home for each of you?
 
Tess: Currently my husband and I live in Phoenix, AZ. I have moved around quite a bit, which is probably why I love to travel so much! I grew up in Ossining, NY, went to high school in New Canaan, CT. Moved out to LA in 2008. Lived in the magical Topanga Canyon for 3 years and in Santa Monica for a year. Then I spent a short time living with my cousin in Manhattan before moving down to New Orleans in 2013, which is where I met my husband! It is also where we adopted our sweet cat GreyJoy. From there we moved to Boston. We were there for two years before we relocated to Phoenix. So it’s been a fun and wild ride! Even though a small piece of me calls each of those places home, I would say I call East Dorset, VT home where my parents live and where Casey and I were married. 
 
Elizabeth: I live in southern VT with my husband and three dogs. We live in a fairly small town which is also a needlepoint hub! There are two shops within twenty minutes of me. Most of my friends also stitch. Tarra Ferrone of Pip and Roo lives here and is a good friend. We play paddle tennis and tennis together regularly. Tricia Heaton is another friend who is here part of the year. It’s pretty exciting.
 
Besides my needlepoint business, I also have a pretty solid fine art practice. I paint in the same studio that I run Doolittle Stitchery. My work tends to be abstract which people find intriguing as needlepoint is so detailed and specific. I love both, I love paint and I get to do that in some fashion every day. I am represented by a great art gallery in Manchester, VT. If anyone is interested my website in www.elizabethnagle.com and my fine art Instagram handle is @elizabethnagleart.
 
Elizabeth, what was your first experience with needlepoint. Who taught you to stitch?
 
Elizabeth: My family moved to London, England when I was twelve. I lived there until I was 18, at which point I came back to college in the states. Around fifteen I got my first job and it involved needlepoint. I am foggy on the details, but it was working for a distributor of needlepoint kits. My job was to pull the threads for each individual kit. I was given a “recipe card” on which was written the color numbers and how many strands of each color should go in each kit. Someone there stitched up a model of each design so that they could calculate the thread yardage. I had already learned embroidery and cross stitch and that is where I learned needlepoint. My mother also needlepointed and sewed quite a bit. 
 
What led you to start working in the needlepoint industry? How did that experience inspire you to start your own canvas line?
 
Elizabeth: Ever since that first job I have been involved in the needlepoint industry on some level. I attended the San Francisco Art Institute and worked for Dede Ogden as a copy painter during that time. Dede taught me a lot and she was very particular about her work. I was often sent home with pieces to correct! Like Tess, I moved around quite a bit but I had this needlepoint painting skill so I was always able to find work with either a designer or a shop. I painted my way through a few years in LA and then worked many years in NYC for shops such as Woolworks and Erica Wilson. Eventually I moved out of the city, married, had my family and spent many years working at The Silver Needle in Chappaqua and The Eye of the Needle in Larchmont. Both were retail stores at the time and I mainly did custom work for them. I stayed with The Silver Needle through their venture into wholesaling and a few different owners. I created their Adirondack line as well as many of their city and state canvases. 
 
 Tess in her booth at a needlepoint trade show
Tess, how did your mom's love of needlepoint influence you growing up? Did she teach you to stitch? How has she influenced you as you've launched your own business?
 
Tess: I have so many memories as a young girl of my mom painting needlepoint canvases. She always had a desk or studio space set up in the houses we lived in. I always loved watching her paint. I remember this one time when we lived in Ossining, we came home and all the dogs were up on top of her painting desk and had pretty much ruined what she had been working on. 
 
I also remember when she worked for the Silver Needle in Chappaqua, NY. I used to go with her to the shop when she worked there! I LOVED the colorful walls full of fiber. It was really fun for me. Weirdly enough, it took me a lot longer than you’d expect to try needlepoint for myself. But the day did finally come! I was living in New Orleans and was going through a rough time. I was on the phone with my Mom one day and she suggested I try stitching. She explained it had relaxing and meditative properties to it. So, I gave it a go and that was that. I was hooked. Soon after that phone call I made a trip to VT to visit the family and that is when my mom taught me how to stitch paint. She put me to work with painting one of her ski mountain rounds and I LOVED IT. It was a really exciting thing for me because I was craving some sort of creative outlet and wasn’t sure where I was going or what I was doing. Everything sort of fell into place from there. I always say that needlepoint sort of saved me. And that was all due to my mom. 
 
 
 Tess with Elizabeth and members of the Needlepoint.Com team
 
 
We love seeing you both together in a shared exhibiting space at trade shows. It must be so fun to have someone you are so close to, to bounce ideas off of and get inspiration from. Do you all work together at all as you paint for your own canvas lines?
 
Tess: Yes! It is so fun having each other at the trade shows. A lot of laughing occurs.  And we definitely work together A LOT as we design our separate lines. We are on the phone at least once a day! I would say my mom is my needlepoint mentor/therapist. We are always discussing new design ideas, etc. I pretty much bounce everything off my mom. She’s been doing this for such a long time and I always learn a ton from her. She’s the best resource. 
 
Elizabeth: I LOVE exhibiting with Tess at the trade shows. It’s a really special time for me. We have the best time with lots of laughs. There’s never a dull moment. I am really proud of all that Tess has accomplished in such a short amount of time. It’s actually quite remarkable. While it took her a long time to finally nibble on the needlepoint line I was dangling, when she did it was with 100% enthusiasm. Painting needlepoint is not easy. There are many factors that have to be learned and mastered to do a really good job. Tess took to it so seamlessly. She is a very good painter. She must have been absorbing it along the way! She is also a great designer. She has a unique use of color and pattern and a definite aesthetic that she strives for in every design. 
 
One funny story is that Tess’s kindergarten teacher was concerned because Tess was blowing on her drawings as she made them. When you paint needlepoint at times you have to blow the paint (at least I do) to make sure it doesn’t clog mesh holes - she was mimicking that!
 
As Tess said we speak daily about needlepoint. We might discuss our lines, fellow designers, shops, industry goings on, painting services, new designs, Instagram feeds, trunk shows etc. I really value Tess’ opinion, so I bounce all my new ideas and designs off her. I know she will be honest and that is so valuable to me. With the give and take and feedback we both benefit so much. 
 
Tess and Elizabeth, how have your styles evolved over time?
 
Tess: For me, painting needlepoint canvas has definitely been a learning experience. The more I paint the better I get at it. I used to be rather slow when I first started. I’m a pretty meticulous painter and stitch painting inherently takes a long time, so it definitely takes practice! I think as the years have gone on, I’ve honed in on what I like to design and I’ve also learned a lot about what works and what might not work on a needlepoint canvas. Needlepoint is interesting in that way - not everything will translate. You have to think of things in a more “pixelated” way than you would with regular painting on canvas. 
 
Elizabeth: I launched Doolittle Stitchery right after moving to VT in 2014. I had been percolating this line of Ski resort canvases for quite a while. I knew I wanted them to have a common format so that they would hold together as a line. I think settling into a quieter place with more breathing room allowed me to figure out the look I was going for. Once I did my first one, which was Stratton, the rest came pretty easily. 
 
I recently completed a line of Zodiac pillows and ornaments/inserts which I am super excited about. These canvases are the closest I have come to combining my fine art style with my needlepoint style. The current pandemic has affected my being able to fully showcase them, but they are in production. I believe people will like them as much as I do. Again, these are designs I have been thinking about for a long time. I have notes and design ideas dating back to 2000!
Elizabeth in her booth at a needlepoint trade show 
Where do you each find your inspiration?
 
Tess: I find inspiration everywhere! I’m a very visual person so Instagram and Pinterest are a constant source for me. Sometimes just seeing a cool color combo or a group of words will get the creative juices flowing. I have always loved typography as well. I get a lot of inspiration from nature and botanicals. But I would say my inspiration mainly comes from textiles and graphic prints. Turkish Kilim, Mexican patterned blankets, Moroccan rugs. Those textiles are all so aesthetically pleasing to me. I love seeing how I can translate those into needlepoint. 
 
Elizabeth: Like Tess, I am also drawn to textiles and graphics. While I do have some random designs in my line, I tend to think more in series. I do think that I might see more of my fine art practice seeping into my needlepoint designs. I’m contemplating some abstracted still life and landscape designs. I think there are so many great designers out there that it’s hard to come up with something unique. 
 
Do you have a favorite canvas in your line?
 
Tess: It’s hard to choose just one. I’d say my favorite canvases in my line are the Turkish Kilim Pillow, The Turkish Kilim Clutch Bag, the geometric purse canvases and I’m digging the little plant rounds I created recently. 
 
Elizabeth: I’m really excited about my zodiac squares. I can’t wait to see what people do with them in terms of stitches and colors. I designed them so that there is plenty of room for a stitcher to add his or her unique touch. 
To shop Hello Tess canvases, click here. 
To shop Doolittle Stitchery canvases, click here.

 

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