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A Visit With Orna Willis
Be sure to check out her free class, too!

We last featured Orna Willis in October of 1999. Since then she has truly come into her own as a renowned needlepoint designer. We are pleased to present this recent interview and to profile some of her stunning and inspiring needlework.

 Shield of Life ­ Triumph

What prompted you to begin designing jewelry?

I have my hands in all aspects of design. Everything from clothing, accessories, home design. I'm interested in it all. Jewelry has the same respect for detail as does needlepoint. Needlepoint jewelry seemed like the perfect combination. It gives us needlepointers an opportunity to show off our art and it is a challenge to bring about a jewel-like effect by using layers of dimensional needlepoint. In addition to needlepoint jewelry, I design a line of metal and bead jewelry. I have been fortunate to show these pieces in galleries across the country. In 2004 I took an extensive course in lost wax techniques, chain work and stone setting. Studying new techniques enables my love of designing to soar!

Shields of Life ­ Valour

 Shields of Life ­ Courage


What inspired you to write an extensive family biography in Needlepoint Now magazine and then create a design comprised of elements each representing members of your family? It seems to be a rather unusual feature to take on especially as an ongoing column?

It's hard to pinpoint inspiration, but I'll try. Our family is very close although geographically we have always been far away from each other. The distance and the absence makes you think about family members and what they mean to you. During 2001, my family was particularly on my mind because Reid, my husband, and I were thinking about adoption. Having children, biologically or through adoption, is continuing a link from the past to the future. I wanted to try and capture each family member in a small design and, along with the needlepoint piece, tell a story about each of them. I felt that by doing so I would encourage the reader to contemplate about their own families. It was a true labor of love. Just a few weeks after I completed the piece dedicated to my in-laws, my father-in-law passed away. He saw the design and read my story about them and it was a huge comfort to me to have had the opportunity to let him know how much he meant to me.

Kanya Cuff

 Carolina Cuff

How have your new designs evolved from your previous work? Was the change a conscious decision or just a natural progression for you as an artist?

In many ways my designs have changed and yet I think it is still easy to recognize my designs. Color is still my greatest fascination and my designs all begin with color. I have expanded my experimentation with color, more and more, leaving the expected behind and moving on to explore different, unusual combinations. The change is in part a conscious one as I become bored with variations of the same elements and need to move on. Using threads and stitches in non-traditional ways by leaving symmetry and moving to free forms and then returning to study symmetry on a higher level. One of my explorations in the past few years has been of "Tessellations". The name comes from the Roman word Tessella, the small square tile used in ancient Roman mosaics. A Tessellation is a shape of tile that repeats to fill a surface without any gaps or overlaps. I developed a design class using these principles and also designed two pieces called "Tessellations" and "Tessellations Again".


Where do you now get your inspiration for your new designs?

Inspiration comes foremost from places I visit, fashion, theater and from nature. I read and follow the arts and the world of design closely. I like to stay connected and see what artists are doing in other disciplines. My older daughter who lives in New York is a great inspiration. We often talk about trends in design and in color. However I never forget to find inspiration in the past as well. It is always a challenge to bring a modern twist to a piece inspired by an ancient pattern.

Main Living Space
Brimming with Orna's Love of Color

Do you still teach needlepoint?

Yes! I love teaching. Sitting in my studio designing can be lonely at times. It's great to be among people who have the same love for needlepoint as I do. I just got word that I will be teaching at the ANG National Seminar in Baltimore in 2007.

Shiri and Nina (Orna's daughters)
with Shiri wearing earrings Orna designed

Are you currently displaying your work or have plans in the future to do so?

I am currently displaying my needlepoint bags and jewelry at Projects Gallery in Philadelphia. My jewelry is in several boutiques and galleries around the country.

Window in the Old City

What inspired you to write your books: New Art of Needlepoint and My Point Exactly? Do you plan to write any other books?

I do plan on writing another book, however writing a book is such a huge undertaking that I need to wait for the perfect time. I think I will title my next book If I See One More Needlepoint Pillow I'll Scream.

Window in the Old City at Night

What were your experiences like being featured on the Carol Duval Show and also on the Jewelry Making Show of the DIY Network?

Being on the Carol Duval Show was a wonderful experience. Carol has a great respect for needlepoint, and the hours of detailed work and care that the stitcher puts into the piece. Being surrounded by crafts one can do in an afternoon, she sees needlepoint, quilting and beading, in a league of their own. Preparing for a taping of the show is hard work: figuring out how to best explain a technique to an audience that may never have done any needlework. Doing ALL this in a five-ten minute segment is quite a challenge. The taping for me is always great fun! I love the people that work on the show. I always feel very comfortable in front of the camera and spending time in LA is a great perk as well. I heard from many women that they decided to try out needlepoint for the first time as a result of seeing the shows. That is a source of great pride for me. For the Jewelry Making Show I worked with a different host, Jackie Guerra, and while being very different from Carol, she was a lot of fun as well.

Note: Orna was featured nine times on HGTV's Carol Duval show and two times on the DIY channel, Jewelry making show.

Nina's Room with Orna's Work
Peacock Tales, on the Right Side By the Window

(The Wall Hanging above Nina's Bed is an Appliqué
also designed and made by Orna)

All Orna's designs including needlepoint designs, finished pieces and jewelry can be found on her website. For more information, contact:
Orna Willis
Ornaments-designs by Orna
1147 North 4th Street
Unit 2AB
Philadelphia, PA 19123
E Mail:
Website: www.ornadesign.com

To read our prior Feature on Orna Willis go to

Orna has just been featured in Home and Garden magazine (Philadelphia Edition).

She is currently displaying her needlepoint bags and jewelry at Projects Gallery in Philadelphia.

She will be teaching at the ANG National Seminar in Baltimore in 2007.

Orna's very personal and intriguing ongoing series about her family were published in Needlepoint Now from January 2001 to January 2002.
They include:
Jan/Feb - Her Grandparents
Mar/Apr - Shiri -her older daughter
May/Jun - Her In-laws
Jul/Aug - Her Parents
Sep/Oct - Reid- her husband
Nov/Dec - The Future/Adoption

Her piece in Canvas Quarterly was published in the October 2005 issue.

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