We met Emily Baier (another Emily!) of Tako Fibers pretty early on in the opening of Assemble. We found her at the Urban Craft Uprising, an awesome bi-annual craft and DIY show in Seattle. Assemble fell in love with her work and commissioned her to teach workshops at Assemble, plus sell accompanying crewel embroidery kits. She even had an art show last year! When she's not making and selling gorgeous, interactive crewel embroidery kits, she's at her day job distrubuting letterpress cards and gifts at another place we adore: Egg Press! We love, LOVE her and wanted to introduce her sweet personality and incredible work to our readers:
Assemble: First of all, how do you pronounce Tako Fibers, and what does it mean?
Emily Baier: Tako is a Japanese word that means both "octopus" and "kite", and is pronounced similarly to the word "taco." I wish I had eight arms -- seven to do all of my hobbies, and one more to fly a kite!
What is crewel embroidery?
Crewel embroidery is a textural kind of embroidery that uses wool yarn. It is a kind of "free embroidery," meaning you are not counting stitches or filling in a grid. The images are "painted" onto a fabric surface with stitches, and are very filled in. Remember those crazy tapestries and wall hangings from the 1970s, the ones you can still sometimes find in thrift stores...? Those are crewel work! The thick yarn makes a project go quickly, so you have the satisfaction of finishing a project much faster than some other crafts.
I started making kits in 2009, after visiting friends who had a collection of vintage yarn art on their walls. I thought they were SO cool, and I wanted to make my own, but there weren't very many crewel kits available, and most that were available were not what I would want hanging on my walls. I have been an artist my whole life, and thought, 'hey! I can design my own!' And so I did. After getting great feedback at my first craft show, I decided to continue making them, and have been ever since!
What's the thing you love most about your job(s)?
I love making embroidery kits because I love to help people be creative. I think that taking on a new hobby can be intimidating, and so a kit can be a helping hand in the right direction. The entire process of making a kit (which I will go into in a second!) is creative and fulfilling, and knowing that it will be enjoyed by someone else makes the process even more exciting.
While it would be lovely to be making embroidery kits all day every day, I do have an amazing day job. I spend my days shipping out letterpress printed greeting cards from Egg Press. I work with such creative people, and it is always exciting to go to work. I studied printmaking when I was in school, and even though I am not in the printing department just being around the presses makes me very happy!
What goes into the development of a kit?
It starts with a drawing in my sketchbook. I keep my book with me all the time, so whenever I have a great idea I can sketch it out. Each pattern is hand screenprinted onto fabric, so I need to make a negative from the drawing. I sometimes scan a drawing and print it out on transparency paper, but my favorite method is painting the sketch onto acetate with black ink. If I am not sure about the design, I'll transfer it to a piece of fabric and test-embroider it before printing a bunch of them. Some wonderful drawings just don't translate to embroidery very well. But sometimes I have a good feeling and will jump into it right away!
After I make a screen with the new image, I screenprint it onto fabric. I use a few different types of fabric, depending on the kit -- some kits have a beautiful flax colored linen-cotton blend fabric, and others have a natural cotton fabric flecked with speckles.
Then, its time to test embroider! I pick out my colors, and start embroidering. As I embroider, I keep track of how much yarn I use so I can make sure to include enough in the kit. Sometimes I'll rip out the test a few times, other times its perfect right away. I take notes as I embroider as well, especially if there is a tricky part that I want to make sure I go into in the instructions. I then take my notes over to the computer, and scan in a copy of the negative. I use Adobe Illustrator to make a stitching diagram, and I write out detailed instructions on exactly how to stitch the piece like I did. This is harder than it sounds, and is the most time consuming part of the process.
After I am satisfied with the instructions, I'll pass them on to a friend to copy edit them and make sure they are clear. I also prefer it if I have another person embroider the piece before I release the kit.
Then its assembly time! All OF the kits come with the screenprinted fabric, yarn, a crewel needle, a small hoop, instructions, and also instructions on how to do each stitch. Someone who has never embroidered before should be able to start stitching right out of the box!
What's your favorite kit, and what is your fan favorite?
That is a really hard question to answer! My favorite might be my new geometric sampler that I'll have ready in the next few weeks! My most popular kit though is Mr. Party Fox. I'm not sure if it is because he is a fox, or because he is ready to party, but everyone loves him!
Now for Assemble's favorite questions:
What do you like to do in your off-time?
When I'm not stitching I am... still stitching. In addition to my own personal embroidery pieces, I also knit, and I sew a lot of my own clothes. I also sing a lot of karaoke. Oh, and I also love to make pickles and jams and kim chi. And I love to make soup. It has just occurred to me that I am always doing one of those things.
If you could be anything in the world, what would you be?
Well, I do like who I am quite a bit, so I am quite content with being me. But if I could be anything else, I think I would want to be Boo, the world's cutest dog. Because really, who wouldn't want to be Boo? What a life!
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Is it silly to say right where I am? I live in Portland, Oregon, but grew up in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is the best! I love Portland and Seattle and travel frequently between them.
If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Probably tacos. Or spaghetti. Or Teriyaki. I can't decide! I hope that situation never happens.
Take a look at Emily's in-stock kits here, (more coming soon!) and sign up for her workshop if you are interested in a great time with crewel embroidery. Thank you, Emily!!