Unique wooden embroidery pendants from NZ – the Clementine And Thread interview
In the city of Papamoa, New Zealand lives a yarn dyer, embroidery maker, and teacher of crafts. Meet Jo from ClementineandThread! As someone is was bitten by the knitting and the embroidery bug, her shop is a treasure land: the wonderful colors of yarn, the brilliant tiny wooden brooches, keyrings, and pendants – I could pack my cart all day long…
Enjoy the ClementineAndThread interview!
Hi Jo, I’m glad to have you here! Could you give us a short introduction so my readers know who you are?
Hello! Well, I’m Jo, and I live near the beach in the lovely Bay of Plenty in New Zealand with my wonderful hubby Dave, and fabulous twins Cole and Immy, who are 11. We moved here just on a year ago, and it’s a bit amusing to now be living all of 10km from the hospital where I was born after spending most of the last 10 years living in various places overseas.
I’m an ex law lecturer and policy analyst, but Clementine & Thread is now my full-time hustle, so I spend my days (and often late into the night…let’s be real!) throwing color onto yarn and designing and packing embroidery kits. It’s not a bad gig!
How did you find your way to embroidery? Did you learn it from a family member?
Embroidery was something that I came to by myself, with a bit of subterfuge to get there, it has to be said! My mum is a fabulous knitter and sewist, but has always been very much a utilitarian maker – she’s incredibly supportive of me and what I do, but secretly I think she’s still a little bemused at why I would want to spend my time stitching just to make something pretty, when in the same amount of time I could have sewn a practical item of clothing or some curtains!
When I was 10 I was determined to try hand embroidery, but mum couldn’t see the point. So, I sneakily went and spent my birthday money (thanks Nan & Pop!) on some embroidery thread – I could afford all of three skeins of floss! I remember my first ever embroidery was on a scrap of offcut fabric, and it was my attempt at a freehand floral design with deep pink flowers and leaves done in a variegated green. I felt like an alchemist, making images with needle and thread! I never looked back, and whilst my stash is now rather significantly more than 3 skeins, the feeling of being a part of something magical is still very present when I stitch!
It’s always a huge step to start your own business especially a creative one. How did it come to this decision for you?
Clementine & Thread came about a few years ago whilst we were living in Australia. I remember having many conversations with friends about how I really wanted to work for myself and do something that would marry my wealth of textiles teaching, my love for creativity…and that would be sustainable and work around a young family, but I kept putting it off.
I ended up getting the push I needed when I was unexpectedly made redundant from my part-time public sector policy position. In hindsight losing my job like that was a blessing because it forced me to *either put up or shut up* – I needed to give it my all and make it work because I needed to make up some of the shortfall that suddenly going to 1 income had created, but at the time there was an awful lot of angst about it too…I’m a bit of an overthinker at the best of times, ha! Thankfully, it is all going swimmingly… I look back now and am so thrilled and proud with this little business, and how it is evolving.
You are dyeing all of your knitting and embroidery yarns yourself. Which part of the process is your favorite?
Oooh, good question…and hard to answer! I think seeing the color in the pot always gives me butterflies, and I have to confess there is nothing quite like rows of skeins upon skeins hanging in the dappled light to dry…that’s pretty cool!!!
The wooden embroidery keyrings you make are adorable! How did you come up with such a unique idea?
I’ve done quite a bit of embroidery teaching for beginners, as well as for teens and kids, and one of the things my students often found so frustrating was how unforgiving fabric can be when you unpick some of your stitching. Sometimes the fabric just doesn’t bounce back, no matter how carefully you unpick, and that can be demoralizing for new stitchers. So I started thinking about materials to work with that would be forgiving but still appealing. I also was very keen to develop something that wasn’t going to be huge investment in time to complete, had an end use, and appealed equally to absolute beginners and to the more experienced stitcher who just wanted something a bit fun. It was a tall order, but I eventually settled on this gorgeous bamboo, which is tactile and textural and in keeping with a modern aesthetic. It’s fabulous to work with, lovely to look at, and is such a fun material as a base for a brooch or keyring or magnet etc, plus it’s Forestry Stewardship Certified (FSC) so as a bonus there’s no eco-angst!
I read you are teaching embroidery to primary school kids. That’s awesome! How is it like teaching the younger ones in a craft that involves patience?
I’ve taught small groups of primary school aged kids before – both knitting and embroidery – but this year is my first time teaching whole class loads of senior primary school kids (so 9-11-year-olds), and it’s been great fun, and a little crazy! I first spent a term teaching cross stitch, and then this last term taught a group of 35 weaving. Teaching kids is fabulous and fun and frustrating and hysterical. There are an awful lot of kids out there who have had no contact whatsoever with textile craft, and whilst that means sometimes that you spend 3 hours before everyone gets the hang of threading a needle – and which end of the needle to thread, it’s also this amazing opportunity to introduce a whole new world. One of the things that really tickled me though was to see how, as far as these kids were concerned, handcraft is no longer regarded as that slightly fusty old-fashioned naff thing like it was when I was their age – but rather something exotic, mysterious, and very desirable! Getting asked enthusiastically what crafty skill I’ll be teaching next term is such a delight!
Miss Jo, my string has come out of my stabber again!
…hands down, my favourite quote in that class. It came from a 10-year-old boy who was loving the process but his needle and thread kept parting ways. He clearly had had no exposure to handcraft before, but he worked away at his cross stitched piece, persevered with rethreading that stabber, and ended up with something that he was so proud of it – the finished piece was nearly as beautiful as his brilliant smile when he showed it to me. It’s pretty special to be able to share in those moments!
Let’s dive into the embroidery related things!
Many embroidery people are struggling with storing their embroidery threads. What’s your system (or non-system), would you share your secret-sauce with us?
Hmm, I had to think about how to explain this, ha! I have 3 systems I guess. My personal stash (ie pre C&T) is lovely and orderly in floss boxes, with each skein of floss wound around little floss bobbins that are each labeled with the color code and sorted in numerical order, and I have 1 box for DMC, 1 for other brands, and 1 for variegated and metallics. Then I have a pile of Tupperware type containers, with 1 each for different perle weights, silk ribbons, and finally a large shoe box for all those other embroidery threads that don’t quite fit the other categories.
Work threads and ribbons are a bit different, because of the volumes involved.
And finally, I have *that basket* which is where thread etc that insists on coming home with me (I’m not alone in this, right?) hangs out until I find it a home, reskein it etc. That basket is rather voluptuous at the moment…I have next to no personal stitching time right now, and yet somehow my thread acquisition skills are still topnotch!
Do you have favorite embroidery stitches or techniques you enjoy doing over and over again?
I adore french knots and bullions…but I don’t really know that I’ve ever met a stitch I didn’t enjoy. It’s a bit ironic given that I spend my time these days designing specific embroidery patterns, but I am most comfortable doing freehand embroidery. A bit of fabric, some thread and I am a very happy pudding!
Which embroidery project was the most challenging one you have ever encountered?
Erm…this is tricky. I have a large and complex stumpwork piece that is 75% complete…and has been that way for a decade! I didn’t find the stumpwork itself too challenging, but the challenge comes in finding the time to reacquaint myself with the techniques I need to finish the dragonfly wings and all the crazy intricate components that I thought were a great idea to start way back when. Clementine & Thread takes up all my time and then some at the moment (we joke that the business is going through its desperately clingy toddler stage!) so I don’t know when I’m going to get the chance. Of course, if I were sensible, I’d just put that 15” hoop and its contents out of sight until I have time to tackle it, but I am quite pleased with what I have done, so it’s perched on the wall, in all its unfinished, fraying edge glory, reminding me!
There are so many embroidery techniques and materials out there. What would you love to try out one day that you haven’t done yet?
Ooh, that’s so hard to narrow down! I’d love to do some more experimental work with unconventional materials, as well as thread painting and mixed media work. And I’m keen to play with scale, using utterly enormous stitches, and very tiny stitched imagery. There’s so much out there to try…
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self who has just started to embroider that you wish you had known back then?
This is your work, you can bend it and shape it to your will and make it your own. Experiment more. Be brave with color. Have confidence and have fun – it’s not rocket surgery, but it can change your world if you let it!
Thank you for taking the time answering my questions! Where can we find you to see more of Clementine & Threads?
I can be found on: