HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN NEEDLEWORK?
A question I have been asked many times during my nearly 40 years of classroom teaching is how I began to do needlework. Unlike many others, I did not learn to work with a needle and thread at the knee of my grandmother or mother. My grandmother was a marvelous cook but never put a needle in her hand. My mother had little time for handwork but she did love beautiful fabrics and high-fashion clothing so she was one of the early buyers of Vogue couture patterns.
In my 8th-grade home-economics class, our project was to make a simple gathered skirt, but I would have nothing to do with that plan. I picked a pattern with 27 pleats which meant an incredible amount of accurate measuring and 270 tailor tacks. I received an A+! My adventure with a needle and thread had begun.
Knitting was all the rage at the University of California, Berkeley, but I used a needle and thread only for chores, such as replacing buttons. After graduation I used my first paycheck from being a probation officer for a designer suit and the next one for a sewing machine. Except for my beloved pastel calico cat, Samantha, I lived alone, so had time to make clothes. I was the happiest when I had my hands on a beautiful English or European silk or wool fabric. I would go to Saks Fifth Avenue and carefully examine the insides of the garments from Chanel, Dior and St Laurent so I could use the same tailoring techniques. I spent much time in the library, searching publications on the techniques of European hand-tailoring.
I taught tailoring classes to friends and their friends in my small apartment. From the Parisian Le Femme Chic magazine I discovered St Laurent's newest fashion, the pant suit. It came the year after the English mini skirt. I made five pant outfits immediately; except for capri pants and bermuda shorts women did not wear pants at this time. I wore a different outfit to my office for five consecutive days. Then I received an order to report to the department chief on the fifth day. He told me that women do not wear pants to work. But I was prepared. I unzipped my lovely wool knit pants, dropped them to the floor and then innocently inquired, as I stood there in a mini-length tunic, does this look better?
Once my wardrobe was complete, I looked for something else to do with my needle. During my first trip to Europe, I discovered the Needlewoman's Shoppe in London and purchased my first embroidery kit. A few years later I discovered The Knittery in San Francisco with its rooms of persian wool, cotton threads, canvas and books. To this I added acrylic paints, colored markers and drawing paper and my adventure with needlepoint began.
I stitched night and day and found my daily job an unnecessary interruption. I must have worked at the pace of a sewing machine for it was not unusual to complete a 20" x 30" piece within a week, executed on 14-mesh canvas in wool threads. While the Basketweave stitch was always a favorite, I loved the use of different stitches: scotch, cashmere, eyelet, brick, encroaching gobelin and many diagonal and straight gobelin variations.
Harlequin Muscians - 20" by 25" on #14 mono canvas in Paternayan Persian wool. (1971)
Mademoiselle - 12" by 16" on #16 mono canvas in Nantucket Tapestry wool. (1972)
Still Life - 14" by 19" on #18 mono canvas in Nantucket Tapestry wool and some pearl cotton. (1971)
Unnamed "flora and fauna" design inspired by the painter Rousseau - 19" by 17" on #14 mono canvas in Nantucket Tapestry wool. (1971)
Wild Horses - 18" by 21" on #14 mono canvas in Paternayan Persian wool. (1971)
SHARING WITH OTHERS
Our only local needlework shop fired its teacher after her first class session. The owner convinced me that I could teach the remaining seven weeks of a needlepoint stitch sampler. I managed to keep one week ahead of the students and soon quit my secure job. For the next few years I taught for three local needlework shops. At one point I had 18 classes per week going - morning, afternoon and early and late Friday evening. I soon put together my first canvas work book.
About this time I met Chottie Alderson, who believed that if it's not fun, it's not needlepoint. She introduced me to the Embroiderers' Guild of America. Chottie was chairman of EGA's 3rd national seminar in 1973 which I attended. While I am basically self-taught, I was greatly influenced and inspired by several teachers - Audrey Francini, Muriel Baker and Elsa T. Cose.
Soon I joined the EGA national teacher staff. This led to teaching for Callaway Gardens School of Needle Arts, the Valentine Assembly, the Embroiderers' Guild of Canada, the National Embroidery Teacher's Association (NETA), the National Standards Council of American Embroiderers (NSCAE) and finally the American Needlepoint Guild (ANG) in 1983. I had the privilege of being the first teacher for EGA's School of Advanced Study in 1987. I traveled the country for many years teaching a wide range of techniques, including all forms of counted work and my special love, silk and metal embroidery on fabric - in particular, goldwork.
GRAPHICS AND BOOKS
I have always enjoyed illustrating, diagramming stitches and graphing charted designs, perhaps an inheritance from my architect father. The use of computers became a natural extension of my illustration work. I taught The Computer and the Needleworker at two EGA national seminars, which was a challenge.
I have written and self-published 26 needlework books, most recently the first two volumes of The Small Books Series—Needlepoint. Several years ago I took publication to another digital level and offered a series of 3 CDs, Needlework Through the Ages. I am EGA-certified in Silk and Metal Thread Embroidery (1978), wrote part of the original EGA Counted Thread Embroidery Master Craftsman program, and wrote and then chaired the EGA's Master Craftman program in Silk and Metal Thread Embroidery for 13 years. In 1988 I was awarded the title of Honorary Professional Fellow of ANG's Master Teacher Program, the second of three teachers who have received this distinction since the program's inception over thirty years ago. ANG also honored me with its Literary Award in 1996.
In 1991 Tonie Evans, another needlework teacher, was kind enough to write the following in an EGA Needle Arts article: Clearly, Jane Zimmerman is a complex individual. Once involved in a subject she works to master it completely. She throws herself totally into the task at hand, whether it be needlework, computers or defending Plàcido Domingo's position as the world's greatest tenor.
My passion for opera is another story....
Jane D. Zimmerman 2008
Griffen, adapted from a 6th-9th century BC Persian stone "lion roundel". Executed in 1976 on a silk ground, primarily in gold and silver Japan metal in addition to silver kid, gilt and silver twisted cord (tarnished) and silver twist over multiple layers of felt to produce the sculptured appearance. I have always considered this piece of work to be my needle's "finest hour".
Exploring Metal Thread Embroidery - Callaway Gardens School of Needle Arts seminar, 1982. The ram's head was executed in Japan metal and tubular braid, sculptured with cord and layers of felt on a silk ground.
I became fascinated with historical needlework and in 1977 spent many weeks in several English museums, entranced by the unusual accomplishments of needleworkers in past centuries. In 1984 I taught my first history class and since have focused on that subject with EGA. In 1983 ANG asked me to teach a new subject for the needlepoint world: traditional Western and Eastern silk and metal thread techniques on canvas. In the fall of 2008 EGA celebrated its 50th anniversary and I my English Needlework History's 8th and final edition.
Exploring Oriental Metal Thread Embroidery - taught at EGA national seminar, 1988. This course incorporated the exquisite oriental technique of metal-embroidered background and a variety of western metal threads, including tambour, crinkle and jaceron in this original 5" design on silk ground. Note the background couching is the rarely-used spiraling pattern, not the typical pattern of bricking.
Untitled design of a horse's head embroidered in a wide variety of silver and gold metal threads, including Japan metal, jaceron, twist, twisted cord and silver kid. A modest amount of felt and cord padding was used for this original design executed on a silk ground in 1979.
Silken Butterfly - my project adaptation from Phase IV of Japanese embroidery taught by the Tamuras in the mid 1980s in the San Francisco bay area. Note, as in the butterfly design above, I used the spiral patterning rather than the bricking couching technique commonly found in modern Japanese embroidery.
Stumpwork - a particular area of historical embroidery which has fascinated me for decades. Taught at EGA national seminar in 1990. This original design, adapted from the 17th-century English work, was executed on a silk ground in silk floss with metallic accents. Varia-
My original little leopard, worked in fine split stitch in silk thread over many layers of felt padding, is still waiting for a stumpwork design to call home.
Departing my final EGA national seminar banquet in September, 2008 I found that my friends (who shall remain nameless) had wrapped my scooter in toilet paper while I was eating dinner!! (This comradery and sense of fun is one part of the on-the-road teaching I shall miss the most.) Photograph by Gay Ann Rogers.
Happiness is getting my yearly Placido Domingo "fix". Backstage after the Los Angeles Opera performance of "Un Ballo in Maschera" 9/14/93, with THE man himself!
© 2008 -2012 Jane D. Zimmerman. All rights reserved.