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365 Circles

How did I get started with embroidery? It started 20+ years ago in college, where I stitched as embellishments on felted works. I majored in Formation Arts, focusing on Fibers, at the University of Central Oklahoma.

While raising kids, I did what I could to still be creative with the limited time I had. I started making and selling stuffed animals made of mismatched fabric. They were very cute and I successfully sold well over a thousand of them (and recently saw one come up on ebay as "vintage"). But after a dozen or so years, I was absolutely bored with them. They turned into work and I didn't feel like I could get paid enough to want to keep making them, so it was time to stop. I still don't enjoy sewing on a sewing machine, but I'm hoping that will come back someday.

So while I was selling my dolls at Deluxe Winter Market in 2015, I decided to start a year-long embroidery project where I would stitch one one-inch circle every single day the entire year. The circles all had to be different and be based on that size, but there were no other requirements for what they looked like. I had no idea where this would go, but I needed something different for fulfill me creatively.

I had a little pin that I would attach to my cotton fabric to stitch around. I had no plans for what I would do that day. Sometimes I had more time than others so I could do something more elaborate, and other days I really didn't have the time for it so they were kept minimalistic. As the days went by, I would be inspired by holidays, notable events or deaths. If you remember 2016, it seemed like there were an abnormal amount of very popular figures dying unexpectedly. Prince and David Bowie both had their memorial circles.

I have always had a special place in my heart for anything space-related, so I planned to do several space-inspired circles, like the planets, the sun, and the moon. 2016 was the year of the spacecraft Juno reaching Jupiter, so there was a circle for that. I also did one of the iconic photo of Neil Armstrong by Buzz Aldrin for the anniversary of the moon landing.

I had no idea what thread painting was and didn't know any special embroidery stitches. I've sewn since I was a kid so it came pretty easily to me to figure it out as I went. The circles only used straight stitches and some couching, but I really had no clue about embroidery other than that, I just knew how to make marks with threads.

As I finished up the year, I wanted to keep going with things I'd learned and enjoyed. I decided the next year that I would do another daily project with food. I wanted to help my community and inspire others to help theirs, so I committed to give all 365 food embroideries away in exchange for a donation to helping hungry people. I didn't want to be a gatekeeper on how that help was given and trusted people to do what they said they would, so I left it up to the individual what they wanted to do to help. Some made monetary donations to hunger organizations, some bought groceries, some donated to individuals. I ended up sending foods to all 50 states, many countries, and 6 continents.

I wanted my own record of this project, so I did an additional yearlong project where I stitched all of the foods on one piece of fabric. It's called 368 Foods because I ended up having extra people sign up.

Embroidering the foods gave me a lot of practice focusing on thread painting. It carried over to other works I wanted to create. I just completely fell in love with the process. I still didn't know there was any sort of technique other than what worked for me, and I surprisingly still feel that way now that I've been doing it and teaching it for years. I'm a big fan of enjoying what you do, and if you're not enjoying something, maybe that's not the technique or medium for you.

The circles eventually had their big moment at ArtNow 2019, co-curated by Alyson Atchison and Patrick Reynolds. They took up the entire Circle Gallery at the previous Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. It was a huge highlight of not just my career, but my life! It was incredible to see an entire year's worth of my work in tiny embroidery hoops hanging in a round room. It also won the People's Choice Award!

You never know where a whim of an idea will lead you.



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I enjoyed reading about your creative journey!

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Darci Lenker
Darci Lenker
Sep 03, 2023
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Thanks, Amy! ❤️

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