Backside of the Hoop with Jason Vanfosson
It’s here! The first installment of a new monthly feature on Random Acts of Amy, Backside of the Hoop, is finally here!
Today I’m so excited to introduce to you Jason Vanfosson of Hand Jobs Embroidery! I met Jason on Instagram, and we quickly formed a mutual admiration society of each other’s embroidery. We then became Facebook friends, and the rest is history. Read below for my interview with Jason.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m an embroidery artist living in Kalamazoo, Michigan where I am also working on my PhD in literature. I create studious stitches.
When did you start doing embroidery?
I flirted with embroidery back in the day when I was a young’un. My mom cross stitched on a stamped table runner that she bought in a set with four napkins. I stole one of the napkins and begged her to teach me to cross stitch. It was too tedious. After two days I gave up. I didn’t pick up the needle and hoop again until I was in graduate school.
I started with counted cross stitch and then quickly jumped to freehand embroidery. I was in my first semester of graduate school and I was stressed. I am a type-A-crazy-obsessive-anxiety-prone-neurotic freak sometimes (okay, all of the time). I read that repetitive activities like sewing and knitting could relieve stress, so I had some fabric and floss lying around and just tried stitching things. It was a disaster. I attempted to embroider a whale. It was an epic whale fail. The next day, I watched some YouTube videos, ordered a beginner’s kit from Sublime Stitching and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been stitching ever since.
While I was waiting for my embroidery kit to arrive, I decided I’d try to do some stitching anyway. I later found out I picked the more difficult route and used black fabric. This is something I frequently do. I like to do hard things without realizing there is an easier way. I tore apart an old pillowcase and stitched this muscley-dude with antlers coming out of his head. I don’t know what I was thinking. Technically, this was my second piece, but it was the first that looked kind of like something. The epic whale fail embroidery was sacrificed to the landfill gods.
Where is your favorite place to embroider?
This is a fantastic question that no one has ever asked me. While I enjoy stitching outside and at coffee shops, I’m going to be honest and say I love stitching in front of Netflix. I watch television a lot while stitching and sometimes get inspiration from there. Right now, I’m obsessed with Scandal starring Kerry Washington. Everyone is getting “What did you do,” “It’s handled,” “I wear the white hat,” and “Gladiators in suits,” embroidery hoops for Christmas this year.
I do most of my stitching in my apartment because I am a total 90-year-old homebody on the inside. I have my work chair where I do reading and grading, and now I do my embroidery there, too. I keep my iPad nearby with my Netflix queue at the ready. Of course, I usually have something stitching in my book bag in case I get stuck waiting for someone or need a stitch break when I’m out and about running errands.
Show us your backside…of you hoop!
When I first started embroidering, I knotted everything. Knot-it was my mantra. Starting a new piece of floss? Knot it! Ending a piece of floss? Knot it! Floss too long? Knot it! Not paying attention to my stitching? Knot it! Now, I don’t use any knots on the backside of my embroidery. When I was a young and drunk stitcher, my backsides looked like a hot mess of tangled and confused spaghetti. I think I have improved them so they are presentable and functional. In fact, my backside has become just as interesting to me as the front side.
What is your favorite part of the embroidery process? Your least favorite part?
I really enjoy all the different parts of the embroidery process. From the conception to the final touches and display, it’s all fun. My favorite part, though, is when I’m almost halfway through a project and I can see it the way that I saw it in my mind. There’s this moment when I can see the finished product, and that gets me all excited and leads to non-stop stitching marathons where I stitch the rest of the project in one sitting.
My least favorite, though, is the finishing of a project. I don’t quite dislike it. I would just rather be stitching than framing or mounting a piece of embroidery. It is satisfying when I’m done, but it is also the most tedious part for me.
What are your top three favorite stitches?
1. Backstitch 2. Herringbone 3. Chain stitch
What is your favorite brand of floss? How do you organize your floss?
I use DMC floss because I embroider and cross stitch. Most cross stitching patterns use the DMC floss code, so I have always used that. Though, I have been hearing great things about Jenny Hart’s Sublime Floss. I want to try that soon.
I use clothespins to store my floss. It is not the most effective organizational method, but it does make for a nice piece of functional art on my coffee table. I roll the floss around clothespins, stamp the DMC number on the pin, and then throw it all in the bowl. If I’m looking for a particular number or color though, I usually have to pull all of them out and go searching for the right color. That can be frustrating, but aesthetics always wins over practicality for me.
Do you create your own patterns, or purchase patterns from other artists? If you purchase patterns, what are your favorite places to get them?
I do both. I design most of my patterns now. When I first got into embroidery, though, I bought many patterns. Sublime Stitching has some spectacular patterns, especially the ones that are in collaboration with artists. I have bought a lot of beautiful patterns on Etsy from independent artists as well. Overall, though, I have had to design my own because there are not a lot of patterns out there of what I want to stitch. Many of them are too cute for me. I don’t like cute. Flowers and animals aren’t my thing. And don’t get me started on the inanimate objects—like teacups, pastries, and kitchen supplies—with eyes, legs, and arms. Those creep me out.
What’s up next for you?
I’ve really backed off on my Etsy shop and business because I am super excited about my big embroidery-as-art project that I am working on. It’s called The Hanky Sampler. Let me explain. Before gay men could really be open out about their sexuality, there was a gay handkerchief code that only gay guys knew about. Some historians think this goes back to the 19th century, but it really got a lot of traction in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Basically, guys would use different color handkerchiefs at different places on their body to indicate what they were looking for. In my project, I am trying to create an awareness of this part of gay history by embroidering on the handkerchiefs. I like the idea of taking something that is viewed by a lot of people as a domestic, conservative medium and mixing it with more risqué topics that meaningfully contribute something to gay history and culture.
Thank you, Jason, for being my first interviewee for Backside of the Hoop! Your stitches are so neat and tidy – the backsides of my hoops are not as pleasing to look at! I love your work, it is so very clever. As a Librarian, I especially adore your line of embroidered author autographs. I can tell you think about the author’s personality, and match the best fabric pairing to it. I am so intrigued by The Hanky Sampler project, and I cannot wait to see what comes next!
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