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Meet Needlepoint Designer Orna Willis of Philadelphia

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Meet Needlepoint Designer Orna Willis of Philadelphia

Orna Willis

Orna Willis

For as long as she can remember, art was Israeli-born Orna Willis’ passion. She would spend hours drawing, experimenting with clay, stringing beads and flipping through art books until they fell apart. Orna was quite young when she took a needle and thread and attacked a pair of old jeans, making an outfit for her little sister. Her parents were very supportive. “Your hands can make what your eyes see”, they loved to say.

Orna later studied art and through the years expanded her creative pursuits into interior design and jewelry making. It was not until 1995 that Orna first came into contact with needlepoint. Orna said, “Wow! The threads, the colors, the possibilities, I was hooked!”

She spent the next year in a stitching frenzy, learning everything she could from books and experimentation. One day, looking around she saw her needlepoint creations laying around her home, filling every drawer in her studio, and that's when she began designing uses for them.

When Orna’s needlepoint handbags were noticed by a gallery owner, she was offered her first solo show and from there the ball just kept rolling.

Today Orna lives in Philadelphia and offers her unique designs through her website, Orna Designs which includes a shop, gallery and instructions for reproducing her colorful, geometric designs.

Orna's Interview, continued...

When did you first start doing needlepoint, and what inspired you to start?

In 1995 I was on a “girls trip” with my good friend Dena when she stopped at a needlepoint shop in Northern Michigan to pick up some fiber. I walked into the shop and was blown away by baskets full of threads, walls full of designs and textures everywhere. I could not leave the shop without buying a bag full of fiber, canvas and some tapestry needles. I began with a charted design from the Rainbow Gallery collection. Very soon afterwards I felt a need to experiment on my own. My inspiration came from the colors and the textures of the fibers, but also from my desire to see how an identical design can change completely when using different fibers. What happens when I change this ribbon to a stranded fiber? How does a dark hue instead of a light one affect a design? Every trial I stitched just led me to the next one, my curiosity had no bounds.

What is your main source of inspiration?
Color and shapes. My love has always been geometrics. I love interpreting the world into shapes, the rectangles of a city scape, the triangles and circles of a bird, everything is a combination of shapes. Geometric needlepoint allows me to express my vision. Having been born in Israel, Middle Eastern aesthetics have been a great influence on my work. While I am attracted to intricate Moroccan tile work or the richness of a Turkish Kilim, I still love to stay in touch with modern design and trends. If I had to label my design style, I would say Contemporary-Ethnic.

How many hours per day do you stitch?
One of the prices of having my own business is the time I need to spend taking care of business. I keep up my website and my blog where I share my inspirations and design process as well as glimpses of my life. Consequently, I do not have the luxury of stitching during the daytime, but once the dishes are done and my daughter is in bed, I absolutely savour the moment when I collect my threads, my current needlepoint project and curl up on the sofa with the TV on in the background. I spend two to three hours in that position, stopping only for some overindulgent snacks and a change of channels.

How many hours per day are spent designing?
The hours I am awake are the hours I spend designing. For me, it's not “on your mark, get set, design”. It's a process that at first goes unnoticed by me. Things I see or the way I see them begin trickling into my mind, until a spark occurs. I design on the canvas, never ahead of time. I begin to work on the canvas and one element bring on the next. Only on the canvas can I see what the colors look like, how the light touches the fibers and how their texture comes into play. I tend to work on more than one design at a time, switching back and forth. When designing geometrics, one of the challenges is knowing when to stop, when a design has come full circle. I continue to learn.

What are some of your favorite subjects?
Since I rarely venture beyond shapes, texture and color, I would say that my favorite subjects are patterns. Repetition, symmetry, sequence, these are my favorites. They allow for endless variations.

Is there another needlepoint designer whose work influenced or encouraged you to start designing?
Kaffe Fassett's work intrigued me from the start. Not only his work in needlepoint but his quilting, tile work, and his staging of elements, (table scapes, garden scenes, etc.). I felt a kinship with Kimberly Crum's work and admired the intricacy of Tony Minieri's pieces.

Do you belong to a needlework club or guild?
I belong to several ANG and EGA chapters, and one of my New Year resolutions is to come to meetings and participate more.

Do you teach as well?
I teach quite a bit. I enjoy teaching at the National Seminars and meeting fellow stitching addicts from all over the world. I also enjoy the smaller, more intimate classes I give at local guild chapters or shops. I appeared regularly on the Home and Garden television Network and well as the DIY Network and enjoyed the challenge of teaching an audience, and introducing many of them to needlepoint for the first time. I will also be teaching a new CyberWorkshop on my own website.

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