Backside of the Hoop with Maria Featon


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I’m excited to introduce you to Maria Featon! She comes from the land down under (I’m sorry…but I had to! And now I have the Men at Work song in my head). I met Maria on Instagram, and enjoy seeing the beautiful pictures she posts of her work and the gorgeousness that is Australia. Let’s get to the good stuff and read Maria’s interview!

Tell Us About Yourself

How exciting! Thank you so much Amy for choosing to feature my work in this interesting series. I’m absolutely delighted and honoured! I’ve always loved making things. I’m happiest when I’m creating something with my hands. My mother Vilma was a very talented seamstress who taught me to sew at a young age. My love of needle, fabric and thread started right there. In my day job I manage the sewing and craft section of a local department store. I love getting to chat with creative people all day and help with their purchases of fabric, yarn and embroidery supplies.

Maria with her adorable daughter Holly

Maria with her adorable daughter Holly


I have a lovely little family: a husband, daughter, stepson and a 16-year-old black cat (Matt, Holly, Jayden, and Jasper). We live in beautiful Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia. It’s springtime here and we are looking forward to the Carnival Of Flowers in our city later in the month. The parks and many private gardens are full of amazing floral displays. They always leave me full of inspiration for my embroidery designs. I just have to remember to take my antihistamines!

My business is named after my mother, the woman who taught me how to live a creative life. Suosaari is Finnish and was her maiden name. Her father immigrated to Australia from Finland early last century. I mainly create and sell embroidery hoop art and jewelry, but have plans to add some different items to my Etsy store in the near future. They will all involve fabric and thread in one way or another. My style sits somewhere between bohemian and granny chic. I’m a very keen thrifter and I enjoy including vintage materials in my work. I love the idea of taking an item that was discarded and repurposing it as something beautiful to be treasured by someone new. There is nothing quite like the buzz of finding a gorgeous vintage sheet with a two dollar price tag on it!




Facebook: (Facebook name changes are a pain!)



Periscope: @suosaari_

When Did You Start Doing Embroidery?

I vaguely remember learning a little bit of embroidery as a teenager in the 80’s. I didn’t keep anything I made unfortunately. I was more into sewing clothes back then. In 2014 I was going though a very difficult time, which led to me picking up embroidery again. I lost both of my parents within two years (Mum in July 2012 and Dad in February 2014). I was looking for ways to cope with my grief when I discovered an online course with Brave Girls Club called Soul Comfort. It was basically about how to nourish your soul and be kind to yourself. Part of the course involved learning hand embroidery as a relaxation tool. I quickly fell in love! There was just something so soothing about the repetitive motion of needle through fabric. For months I spent most of my days in a comfy chair, stitching while I watched TV or listened to podcasts. I learned most of what I know from video tutorials I found online.


I’ve long been interested in Buddhism and Eastern spirituality which inspired me to use mandalas as embroidery patterns. I made them as pretty and colourful as possible. I felt a need to surround myself with colour and it really helped me to feel good again. I started to experiment with other designs including flowers and text. I made a few hoops for myself and also as gifts for friends. People began to admire them and asked if I’d create hoops for them. I thought I might as well open an Etsy shop so here I am! My store is only six months old and I do have to work around my day job, but I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far.

Where Is Your Favorite Place to Embroider?

My favourite place to stitch is under a tree in my back yard. Our climate is quite warm and I can sit out there about nine months of the year. It’s a deciduous tree and I love the watch the leaves change colour, fall, and grow back. It’s also a great spot because I’m near my daughter while she plays on her swings and trampoline. My second favourite spot is in a recliner with Netflix on. Right now I’m hooked on watching Mad Men.


Show Us Your Backside…of Your Hoop!

If I’m creating a hoop for myself, I just gather the fabric at the back by hand sewing and leave it like that. For hoops I’m giving away or selling, I will gather the fabric, insert a circle of polyester wadding and then hand sew a piece of white felt onto the back. I haven’t tried any other ways of finishing them. To be honest, the idea of using glue scares me a bit. I’m worried I might make a mistake. I’m a bit clumsy and remember some disasters with glue from my scrapbooking days! I like the slightly padded feel my hoops have from the wadding inside. I also like the neat appearance of the felt backing.


suosaari_4What Is Your Favorite Part of the Embroidery Process? Your Least Favorite?

My favourite part of the process is when I’m about three-quarters of the way through a hoop and I can see it all coming together. I am not fond of the times I finish a design and realize I could have done part of it better. I guess that’s just part of the learning process and most creative people have moments of doubting their work.

What Are Your Three Favorite Stitches?

  1. Back stitch because it’s neat and versatile.
  2. Chain stitch, because it has a lovely texture and reminds me of Indian saris and other textiles.
  3. Lazy daisy, because I can remember Mum teaching me that one when I was young.


How Do You Store Your Floss? What’s Your Favorite Brand?

I mainly use DMC thread because it’s a lovely quality and has such a great range of colours. I also like Cottage Garden Threads, an Australian brand. They make variegated threads in the most gorgeous colour palettes. After trying a few ways of storing my threads, I now keep them on wooden pegs, strung across a cork board that hangs on the wall. I can see all the colours easily that way and it helps me to make my colour selections quickly. It’s easy to remove the board from the wall and take it into another room if I need better natural light to make choices in.


Do You Create Your Own Patterns? Or Purchase from Other Artists?

I create the patterns for everything I sell and have just started to design my own mandalas. Urban Threads, Sublime Stitching, and Polka and Bloom are my favourite places to buy patterns. Sometimes I just like to make something pretty for myself which is when patterns come in handy.

What’s Up Next for You?

This November I will be holding my first ever stall at The Handmade and Vintage Expo in Toowoomba. They held their first market here last month and it was a huge success. The selection of stalls were lovely and there were plenty of customers. It has such a great vibe, and I’m excited to be a part of the next one! My Etsy shop is quite low on stock so I’m madly designing and making to increase my inventory for both. Instagram is the best place to keep up to date on what I’m doing. I love to follow other creative people on there, make sure you leave me a comment if you visit so I can check out your feed too!

Thank you so much for sharing your embroidery story with us, Maria! I loved learning more about you and your process. I am so happy to call you friend, even though we’ve never met in person.

Next month on Backside of the Hoop I’m featuring Claudia Jäggi of Weissfeder! Claudia’s interview will publish on Friday, October 23, 2015.


Do you want to be featured on Backside of the Hoop? Or do you know someone who you think would be perfect? Either drop me an email at randomactsofamy {at} gmail {dot} com, or fill out the form for your opportunity!

Backside of the Hoop with Amy Byrne


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Amy Byrne Backside of the Hoop row

On this month’s Backside of the Hoop feature, I’ve interviewed myself! July 2015 marked one year and 12 interviews I had done for Backside of the Hoop, and I realized I had never shared my story. Usually I use this introduction to introduce the person I interviewed, and explain how I met/know her/him. Since I’ve known myself all my life, I’ll jump right in!

Tell Us About Yourself

I am a Library Branch Manager, and I love my job! I work for a progressive and dedicated Library District with a great boss and awesome co-workers. I don’t get to be a Librarian as much as I’d like to since I’m running the Branch, but I find a lot of satisfaction in what I do, and in working with the people I work with, many of whom I consider friends.

I’m Mom to Logan, my nearly 26 year old son (I KNOW! I don’t look nearly old enough to have a nearly 26 year old son, but it’s true!). Logan is an author of YA novels, and you can buy his books here. I am incredibly proud of how independent he is, although I do wish he’d visit more often. I’m wife to the best husband in the world, Todd. We get along so well, and complement each other so much. He’s a pet store manager, and learns a lot of information about pet nutrition and behavior. We were married on 09.10.11, and call ourselves Team T-n-A. We’ve been together for 7.5 years.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know all about Zuzu, my Chihuahua “dog”hter, who is the love of my life. She’s six years old. Rounding out our little family is Mina, Retreiver mix who is 12 years old, Sidney, another Chihuahua who we guess is somewhere between 5-8 years old, and Karma, our beautiful long-haired, black cat who is 13 years old. I also have three fish: Mollie, a Black Mollie, Jesus, a Bleeding Heart Tetra, and Shere Khan, a Tiger Stripe Guppy.

Logan, Me, and Todd

Logan, Me, and Todd

Retriever mix chihuahuas

Mina, Sidney, and Zuzu

Karma the black cat

Karma, our beautiful kitty

I have a hand embroidery business, Random Acts of Amy, that I work on when I’m not at the Library. My husband and I sell at local markets, I will soon have some necklaces at Culture Shock in Rockford, IL, I sell via an Etsy shop, and I am researching how to get my items in other stores. I recently purchased a Silhouette Cameo, and I’m expanding a bit into vinyl decals and other items along those lines.

I publish Friday Instagram Finds on the Feeling Stitchy blog. It’s a weekly curated post of embroidery and stitch-related artists on Instagram. I have discovered some amazing embroidery artists while doing this feature. Like Backside of the Hoop, I find a great deal of pleasure in lifting up other people, and helping them to feel good about themselves and their artwork. The world is full of plenty of negative, and I think we should all try to do more positive.

I was a guest summer blogger on the &Stitches blog. My first post was about combing watercolor paints and embroidery, and you can read that here. My second, and final, post will publish Monday, August 24, 2015, and you can read that here.



Instagram: @RandomActsOfAmy


Periscope: @RandomActsOfAmy


When Did You Start Doing Embroidery?

My first forays into hand embroidery were when I was 11 or 12 years old, which means 1980 or 1981. I have known how to sew since I was a young girl. I received my own sewing machine, a child-sized “Sew Perfect” machine, when I was around 5 years old. Until I was 10 years old, my dad was in the Navy, and we didn’t have a whole lot of money. My mom is an excellent seamstress, and she made many of our clothes. Naturally, I wanted to do whatever mom was doing, and I learned how to sew. I also wanted to learn how to do whatever dad was doing, too, and I’m pretty handy with tools. I still have some of my first pieces, and I even blogged about my “Stitchaversary” here.

embroidery-collage home-sweet-home

Where is Your Favorite Place to Embroider?

My favorite place to embroider is in a chair with ottoman I bought at Ikea especially as a stitchin’ spot. It’s quite comfy, and I can stick needles into the arms since it’s fabric. On one side I have a white, circular side table that I use as my floss holding area for floss that I’m working with, and on the right I have a three-tier rolling cart that holds many of the embroidery supplies I regularly use. My must have accessory is that fabulous Ott lamp. I got it in an amazing sale at Joann’s on Black Friday a couple of years ago. I have to have that natural, yet bright, light shining down to see my stitches.

My favorite place to embroider

My favorite place to embroider

Show Us Your Backside…of Your Hoop!

I’ve tried various methods of finishing off the backs of my hoops. This first picture shows my favorite method. In it, I use an inexpensive white fabric as the backing, and cut that layer of fabric after it and the piece are in the hoop so it just fits inside. I then cut the fabric that’s embroidered to about 1/2″ – 3/4″ inch, and hot glue it to the inside of the hoop. I believe this is the most secure way of finishing off the piece, and it keeps the fabric more taut than other methods.

backside of an embroidery hoop finished off

My preferred method of finishing off the backside of hoops.

I’ve had phases where I glued felt to the back, either flush against the piece or cut to fit the hoop, and glued on so it’s almost like a drum, but it was my experience that the felt would leave bumps on the front of the fabric sometimes. And cutting the circles of felt to fit more like a drum was tedious. I don’t have any pics of that method, but the first one down is the felt laid inside the hoop.

backside of an embroidery hoop with felt

My felt stage

I use the sewing and gathering method for vintage metal hoops because I just can’t bring myself to “wreck” the hoops with hot glue. I should probably just try it once, and once I get a nice stockpile of vintage metal hoops, I’ll experiment.

backside of hand embroidery hoop art

I knot and tie off on the backs of embroidery

Vintage metal hoop backside

Vintage metal hoop backside

What Is Your Favorite Part of the Embroidery Process? Least Favorite?

My favorite parts are coming up with the design and embroidering. I love to pick out colors, which was the hardest part for me when I started to embroider in earnest because I had done more cross stitch, and cross stitch tells you what colors to use. I was so afraid I’d pick the “wrong” colors. I soon realized that I could make anything any color I wanted! It was liberating.

My absolutely, positively, without a doubt least favorite part is finishing the pieces off! At any given time I have a stack of many, many pieces that are embroidered, but not finished off. I have tried and tried to find something about the finishing off process to like, but I just cannot.

What Are Your Three Favorite Stitches?

Backstitch: It’s such a clean and classic look.

French Knots: I LOVE French knots! They are so fun to embroider, and I like how they feel when I touch them.

Chain Stitch: Another fun stitch to do!

I created this for my husband after his 101 year old Grandpa died in June. This was one of Grandpa's favorite sayings.

I created this for my husband after his 101 year old Grandpa died in June. This was one of Grandpa’s favorite sayings.

bloom where you're planted hand embroidery hoop art

French knots and Backstitch

I got 99 problems but chain stitch ain't one hand embroidery hoop art

I got 99 problems but chain stitch ain’t one

French knot embroidery hoop art

French Knot Frenzy!

How Do You Store Your Floss? What’s Your Favorite Brand?

I have a few methods for storing floss. The colors I use most often are on a wooden spool holder alongside my chair. I wind the floss around three of my fingers and loop it here. I also have floss wound around bobbin cards, and arranged by color in plastic containers. I used to arrange them in numerical order by their DMC number, but then I had an epiphany, and decided to arrange them by color instead. I also have a photo box of floss organized by color in Ziplock bags. These are my stock up colors that I get when Joann has big sales. I very rarely use all six strands of floss, so the extra floss lengths get wound up and put in a neat, vintage, metal tray, arranged by color.

My two favorite brands of floss are Presencia from Spain and Cosmo from Japan. They’re hard to come by for me, so I tend to hoard them. Their nap is so smooth and fine, that they’re very easy to work with. The brand I use most often, and that I really like, is DMC. I can buy it at any craft store, and they have an extensive range of colors.

embroidery floss storage

Colors I used most often

embroidery floss storage


embroidery floss in vintage metal bin

Embroidery floss bits I can still use


Do You Create Your Own Patterns, or Purchase from Other Artists?

For the most part, I create my own patterns. My embroidery is heavily text driven, but I don’t have very neat handwriting. In order to get a more finished look, I purchase fonts for commercial use and use those. I will also purchase clip art for commercial use and incorporate elements from them to create designs. I create in Photoshop Elements, which I taught myself, print out, and transfer to my fabric via my light box.

I will also sometimes use other artists’ patterns, such as Sublime Stitching, of which I have applied for and been accepted as a licensee.

home is where my dog is hand embroidery hoop art

My designs: Unconditional Love line

Bouquet of flowers in a Dandelyn mini hoop

Bouquet of flowers in a Dandelyne mini hoop


adventure awaits hand embroidery hoop art

Adventure Awaits: My own design

What’s Up Next for You?

I have a great event coming up that I’m super excited about! On Saturday, September 12th Todd and I will be vendors at Urban Farmgirl’s Main Street Market on the grounds of the historic Midway Village Museum in Rockford, IL. This is Urban Farmgirl’s third market, and it’s our third time being there. You can find out more information on the official website, or on my Facebook event. Todd and I were married at Midway Village, and it is a beautiful location.

September Vendor

In September, I’m teaching an After Hours Embroidery class to several of my coworkers. I think this will be so much fun! I’m always going on and on about how great embroidery is, and now I’ll get to spread the love.

One of my dreams has come true! I am going to be an artist who has her artwork shown during Rockford’s Fall ArtScene!!! I have always wanted to be a part of either the Spring or Fall ArtScene, and this year I am. I will have embroidered hoops of Rockford landmarks at Lucette Salon and Spa in downtown Rockford Friday, October 2nd and Saturday, October 3rd (which also happens to be my birthday!).

Todd and I hope to be asked back to the Rockford Handmade Market at the Rockford Brew House on Thursday, December 3rd. The applications haven’t gone out yet, and I’ll let everyone know via social media if we’re accepted.

I’m trying to become better and more intentional in all aspects of my business. I’ll be honest here. I came thisclose to deciding to quit my small business at the end of 2015. I started Random Acts of Amy as a small business at the end of 2013, and I don’t feel as though I’m where I should be for being in business for two years. BUT, I have since changed my mind. I’ve decided to ease up on myself. I am taking steps to being a better and more intentional small business owner. A couple of the steps I’ve taken recently are signing up for Merriweather Council’s Etsy Training Course, and I am signed up for Little Farm Media’s Bossy Biz Ladies Course. I am networking more with other creative makers, and focusing more on being organized.

If you’ve struggled like I have in your small business, PLEASE connect with me! Let’s build each other up and help each other. There’s enough room in the world for artists and makers of every style, and we don’t need to claws out compete with each other.

That’s it! That’s my Backside feature. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my story and process, and seeing my embroidery. I love to connect with other creative makers, so please connect with me and let me know you read this interview.

Next month on Backside of the Hoop I’m featuring Maria Featon of Suosaari! Maria’s interview will publish on Friday, September 25, 2015.

Do you want to be featured on Backside of the Hoop? Or do you know someone who you think would be perfect? Fill out the form for your opportunity!


Backside of the Hoop with Jill Shivers


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Jill Shivers of Cabin Fever Goods, July 2015

Jill Shivers of Cabin Fever Goods, July 2015

This month’s Backside of the Hoop interview is with Jill Shivers of Cabin Fever Goods! Jill and I met on Instagram, and became fast friends.We’re a part of an online group of ladies who have a lot in common with each other. She creates beautiful cross stitch and hand embroidered pieces. She also creates the most adorable cross stitch patterns. I am personally in love with her sideshow series.

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