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By Rita Vainius

Stephanie Novatski's earliest memories play like a scene in a Norman Rockwell portrait: she sits contentedly in her mother Ruth's lap. Ruth has gathered around her pattern books and fabric swatches which she is intently perusing and comparing. Stephanie confirms that her childhood was a series of just such heartwarming Norman Rockwell scenes.

Stephanie's Studio

Stephanie explains that since her mother "was feeling fabrics while I was in the womb," that is where her own obsession with the fiber arts began! Ruth was an expert seamstress who taught Stephanie how to sew and embroider and by age 5 was doing stamped cross stich on towels and pillow cases. From her mother she also acquired skills in knitting and crocheting and diligently fashioned an elaborate wardrobe for her dolls. Sewing remained Stephanie's first love. In high school she designed costumes for plays and summer stock theater productions. While in college she designed and created wedding gowns and later added stage outfits for rock bands to her repertoire. Increasingly, Stephanie employed embroidery, applique and other embellishments to individually customize each piece to suit the individual and the occasion for which the costume was intended. She also worked in the interior design field, fashioning curtains and other customized window treatments. While in college at Rowan in New Jersey (formerly known as Glassboro State) Stephanie majored in Art Education with a concentration on fiber arts. Her weavings incorporated "found" objects such as bits of plexiglas, shells and nails. She was employed by a professional weaver and learned to dye fibers using natural colorants. She still dyes and sponge paints fabrics for her own designs. (shown left, Wedding Sampler II, shown right, Wedding Sampler I)

Stephanie is an aspiring needlework designer who derives her inspiration from the colors and textures found in nature and the feel and sense she gets from handling fabrics and fibers. In her spacious studio the back splash is entirely obscured by an array of fibers. The Caron Collection threads feature prominently and Stephanie experiments by juxtaposing them with fabrics, beads, ribbons and other decorative elements. Stephanie first glimpsed the "glorious" Caron threads at a local cross stitch shop approximately four years ago and has employed them religiously ever since. She has participated in two of the Caron Collection design contests, winning first place for her second entry, "Red Squared."

Color has always been the factor Stephanie relies on most to set the mood and determine the timbre of a new design. When a theme has been chosen she proceeds to assemble the threads and other materials which will suit her conceptualization. Starting with a small freehand sketch, or a chart if the design is more complex, she begins to stitch. When asked to describe her personal artistic style, Stephanie without hesitation replies: "I don't think I've found it yet. I like to try anything that comes my way." This trial and error approach, she feels, will eventually lead to her own distinctive design signature. She currently favors a "collage" look, employing all the skills at her command combined with a variety of design elements. Many pieces are displayed as banners or wall hangings. Sewing is used in finishing, sometimes to create a patchwork type border. Stephanie will also integrate other needlework such as crochet as evidenced in a collage entitled "Sand," which is reminiscent of a beach vista. Shells, reeds and other shore finds combine with crochet work to overlay a custom tie-dyed background. (shown right Ivory and Pearls)

Stephanie's evolution to date has in a sense already come full circle. Years before, she engaged in crewel work and needlepoint on fine fabrics. After learning counted cross stitch, she immediately integrated it with the other techniques. Initially she was chastised for using "incorrect" methods by doing so. Now she sees that the trend in needlework is to use all kinds of stitches, fibers, fabrics and embellishments combined within the same piece and it seems her earlier efforts were actually in the vanguard of contemporary needleart design.

Patterns and styles employed range widely. Stephanie is as much in her element when designing a very ordered geometric as a freestyle collage or realistic floral. She prefers to give free reign to her whimsy in choosing stitches, techniques and textures and particularly, embellishments. Stephanie does have motif preferences; the themes which appear most often in her work are hearts and flowers. One thing she is adamant about is that her work be decorative; she has no interest in there being a practical application.


 (below, a work in progress)

Stephanie has been self taught in many of her endeavors. She sees her current immersion in Hardanger embroidery as a natural progression from her interest in other needlework areas: counted thread work led instinctively to drawn thread, pulled thread and other Hardanger techniques. She has been influenced by contemporary Hardanger designers, such as Janice Love and Thea Dueck, studying examples of their work and took a class with Linda Barry.

Gypsy Floral Anniversary Sampler

Other artistic interests in photography and framing come into play. Some of her photographs have been printed on canvas to simulate a "painterly" look. Customized framing is used to further enhance a piece, whether it be a photo or work of needleart. Stephanie hand decorates the matting, sometimes employing lace and ribbons. Frames are covered with fabrics or with sponge painted patterns. She finds doing the matting and framing to be a wonderfully creative outlet for her imagination, as well as giving her work the ultimate finishing touch.

Stephanie has designed a series of cloth dolls named after flowers. The individual flower motif determines the style of hair and clothing, as well as the color scheme. This series includes Ivy, Rosebud, Violet, Jonquil, Pansy, Daisy and Maraundia, among others. The rag dolls were initially created to special order. For example, as a gift for a new baby, the doll would have matching hair and eye color. Since these custom orders were so time intensive and could not be made ahead of time, Stephanie came up with the flower theme so that they would make versatile gifts for many different occasions. Each face is individually hand-painted and the hair is sewn on, one strand at a time. Completed, each doll is 18 inches tall, sports a calico dress, a heart with her name stitched underneath and real baby shoes.

Stephanie belongs to a group of about 20 stitchers who originally "met" each other on the Internet about 3 years ago. After several months they met in person and now congregate regularly. They work each group project in their own stitch and color combinations, using their own choice of embellishments. Stephanie maintains that the Caron Waterlilies are a favorite with the group.

Fortunately for Stephanie, she has been married for twelve years to a wonderful man who appreciates and encourages her creativity, design fervor and needlework "habit" wholeheartedly. On the other hand, Ed, who is a carpenter by profession, is able to indulge his own compulsion for cars without fear of reprisals!

Much as Stephanie would have loved to indulge in her passion for art as a career, the need for a steady income led to her career with the phone company, following in her father John's footsteps. Her position as an engineer for application design development and deployment entails quite a bit of traveling on the East coast to run training sessions for other employees. Stephanie's ultimate goal is to go into full time needlework design and her plan is to retire from her job in about five years. If her work is received favorably that schedule may be adjusted! Stephanie, in fact, prefers surprises as much in real life as in her art. Her most pressing criterion at the moment is keeping her husband Ed in the style and manner to which he has become accustomed!

 Description of Stephanie Novatski's designs:

Ivory and Pearls - Inspired by antique buttons, which are used for embellishment with Hardanger Embroidery

Gypsy Floral Anniversary Sampler - Made to celebrate 20th wedding anniversary of some good friends using her friend's favorite flowers (lilacs, pansies, forget-me-nots, red roses and impatiens) as choice for thread colors.

Wedding Sampler II - Designed after the couple's wedding invitation with double border and hearts in corners.

Wedding Sampler I - Another sampler to commemorate friends' wedding

Sand - Collage piece done on tie-dyed linen in variety of fibers, from straw to wool, decorated with shells and starfish to give feeling of water washing up on beach and the shells that are left behind.

Green, Yellow and Purple - are each part of a color series using pulled and drawn threadwork, surface embroidery and a variety of counted thread stitches. Embroideries will also be made in orange, red and blue to complete the series.

Dolls - Ivy, Violet and Rosebud, clothed in lace and calico. Faces are hand-painted. Clothes include bloomers, dress, apron, lace-trimmed socks and real baby shoes. Their hair matches the flowers they are named after. Other dolls in series include Snowdrop, Viola, Pansy, Tulip, Crocus, Zinnia, Peony, Gazania, Jonquil, Fern, Carnation, Poinsettia and Holly.

Studio picture shows Stephanie's thread display which she calls her "Inspiration Wall."

For a look at Stephanie's designs in our contest pages got to: http://www.caron-net.com/galleryfiles/galfeb.html and http://www.caron-net.com/galleryfiles/galloct.html

For more information on Stephanie Novatski's designs, please write to her at 29 Lloyd Road, Morganville, N.J. 07751 or e mail her at stefny@bellatlantic.net


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