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It seems to me as though embroidery has always been in my life. I was born in Holland and there it was natural that every woman had some stitching ready to while away a few hours in the evenings after the housework was done. My mother was always stitching or mending, my aunts and grandmothers embroidered, and I started working with floss and fabric when I was very young. I also loved my colouring pencils and special sketch pads which I received every St. Nicholas Feast Day. I have many special memories of warm and cozy evenings drawing by the coal fire, my mother stitching and my brother reading or listening to the radio.

   I have learned a great deal in the past few years. I have learned that making mistakes is part of being human, however hard I work at perfection; I have learned to have a deep respect for our Suppliers and Needlework Retail shop owners who work very hard at making needlework accessible and exciting; and finally, I have learned that I have an unbreakable bond with the many stitchers who spend their own precious time on the designs I produce in my studios. You make my work a joy! - Thea :)

In 1957, my family emigrated to Victoria, B.C. Canada. We learned the English language, become Canadian citizens, and we all worked hard to make this country our own. I met and married my first husband, Peter, in Victoria in 1974 and within a few years we had two daughters, Dori and Petra. While the children were young I'd while away the "waiting" hours with floss, linen and old patterns given to me by my mother. I especially loved charting and making up birth samplers and home sweet home samplers to give away to my friends. In the late 1970's I discovered some patterns in a little shop near my home, and was thrilled to find some designs I didn't have to make up myself. At that time, the needlework industry was just swinging into high gear, cross stitch was the rage, and I was in heaven.

As the girls grew up and needed me less and less. Wanting to expand my horizons, I tried working in a bookstore part-time, began to write a bit, and continued to sing in my semi-professional chamber choir. However, I was always happiest working with my stitching. In the fall of 1988, I designed a small (very small!) cross stitched picture of my friend's house for her birthday. Encouraged by her praise, I resolved to try designing a cross stitch picture of the Legislative Buildings in Victoria, package it, and try to sell the kit to local craft and embroidery shops. The following year I turned 40 and sold the first kits under my first company name, Lampost Designs. At first they sold slowly, but I  drove them around to the various crafts shops, was persistent and finally successful in placing them in a few stores which sold crafts and tourist souvenirs as well. Lampost Designs has been a rewarding and fulfilling stage of my business.

One of my first clients was the owner of a then brand new shop called "Fancyworks". She asked me to help in the shop, and I was there when it opened in October 1989. From the first moment, I loved helping her and working there! The contact with people who loved needlework and treated it with respect was an eye-opening experience. The shopowner was an inspiration with her uncanny eye for beauty and good design. Over the years, my co-workers (Debbie and Yvonne) became great friends, supportive, encouraging and loving.. The members of the guild who shopped in the store were always thirsty for new ideas. I empathized with the many customers looking for lovely affordable charts. I designed a few small samplers for the store and these were met with an appreciation which I found addictive.

At that time, all of my charts were made by hand, inked carefully with architect's pens, which took many hours to complete. I cut and pasted my typed instructions and charts and diagrams on cardboard sheets as my layout templates, and then brought them to my local photocopy shop in order to print multiple copies. The photos were pasted on at home on my dining room table. I guarded those original templates with my life! I didn't really start designing with computers until the late 90's, and even then it was a step by step learning curve for me to master all the programs I needed to produce the products and kits that you now see in your stores! It's so amazing to me now to realize how much manual work I used to do for each design!

I also made all my kits at home. Buying flosses from a local distributer in skeins, cutting them up into 21" lengths, tying them one by one in the numbered holes in my homemade cardboard organizers, and cutting the fabric as straight as I could, folding it, and placing all of it neatly in a zip-lock bag. I photographed my designs as well as I could, had them printed at the local camera shop, glued them on to card stock which I had designed for the 'front' of my kits. It was a labour of love, as my husband said. One day he figured out that I was making about $.03 an hour!! ;) He suggested then that I should try to work at another job that would be more lucrative, but I persevered for at least 3 years this way, gradually building up my stock, and enjoying the challenge.. Of course I still worked at Fancyworks at least 3-4 days a week, had my now teenaged girls to look after (sometimes not so easy!), the meals, the garden, my singing, the house, and the entertaining that was part of my husband's life as a realtor. I was lucky I didn't have to support myself with my designing during that learning time!

In the fall of 1992, on a rare trip to Paris, France to visit a good friend, I had an irresistible urge to create a white on white sampler for Christmas. A few months later, I published the White Christmas in chart pack form under the Lampost Designs logo, and it made its way to the USA. When I began receiving phone calls from shops and distributors in Canada and the USA I realized that "White Christmas" was a hit! Many orders followed, and it became evident that I needed to revamp this new sampler business if I was not going to be worn out putting together individually photocopied chart packs!

The Victoria Sampler was born in 1993. I began to travel and teach more frequently, went to a few trade shows in the USA with my distributor at the time, discovered how to work with an off-set printing company, and cut back on my work at the needlework shop. It was a wonderful time of discovery, learning the business, and learning NEW stitches..!! Creating samplers including many different stitches was so much more fun to me than making pictures from cross stitches alone. I poured over all the stitch dictionaries I could find, and bought many of them for my library, in order to practice them all on my doodle cloths. I especially loved cutwork, both drawn-thread, and Hardanger, and used them often, as I loved their effect together with other stitches. I also loved soft pastel colours, metallics, and beads.. and my first designs really show that.

At the shop, I also helped people with their canvas-work for the local guild. I drank in all the beautiful effects and this early canvaswork training has influenced my designs a lot. Just look at the Silk Wysteria Sampler, with it's large gazebo at the top, or the 3 gifts of the Magi, all influenced in style by the canvas designs I'd seen.

After 1996, my daughters finished their high school, and both had moved on. My first husband and I had grown apart in our goals, and we separated and divorced. It was a time of great change, and sure didn't do much designing! I had designed and marketed 10 sampler leaflets by that time, and after the divorce, it became amply clear that had to work in order to support myself for the next half of my life. I considered becoming a realtor, or opening up a shop of my own but took some time to think about things first.

That summer two wonderful things happened: I was featured in the Cross Stitch and Country Crafts magazine, and I met Richard. We instantly saw eye to eye on so many things. I confided in him my decision to try making the Victoria Sampler a business that would support me, and his unstinting encouragement and practical help were the positive influences I needed in my life. I determined to give up my part time work at Fancyworks, and give at least 2 years to turn Victoria Sampler into a business. The article in the magazine brought us much needed inquiries, and so we incorporated VS in the summer of 1997, hired a very happy Lisa as an assistant, and decided to distribute my designs and future products exclusively.

It's now been almost 12 years since we made that decision together. What a lot of things I've learned! My original goal was to have a business, enough employees so that I could have meaningful work, allow ample time for design and to have the business support me. Long before the second year it looked like I would reach my goals and more!! At first, Richard worked full time for the company as an advisor and consultant, but he has since moved on to his own pursuits in Vancouver. However, he still is my port in a storm, and I rely on his advice and support.

I could not have built the Victoria Sampler without his help, as well as the help of other special people over the years. Gabor is our awesome IT man.. we call him the G-force..! Cathy works with the inventory, ordering, and all of our clients and has blossomed into a designer in her own right, with her lovely primitive Cross Stitched designs! Lisa works as our bookeeper and layout artist, and has become an awesome finishing designer. My friends Marietta and Ginger help to run and monitor our ongoing online Cyberclasses, and there have been many other people who have supported me unstintingly. I'm very grateful to all of them.

I began to teach again, but not too often, so I was able to keep up with the company's main business of publishing and distributing. I usually spend at least 10-12 hours a day during the week designing, photographing our designs, overseeing layout of the charts and diagrams, overseeing the website, managing marketing, accounting, kitmaking and employees, and corresponding by email with customers, stitchers, shopowners, and all our part time staff, including our Cyberclass teachers. On weekends, I often design, but do try to keep Sunday as a day just for myself.

I love designing my samplers and kits, and have learned to work with my stitch program on my computer, called EZ grapher. I design best while stitching... not merely on the computer, so I don't usually enlist the help of paid stitchers to work the original design. I spend the time working out each stitch and placement and colour right on the linen myself, making choices as I go, and only using the computer to fit them together, or change their position on the chart. My designing works for me because I stitch them all first, just like a painter paints his own canvases. I do have the help of many wonderful stitchers, who help me test my thread usage, and work new models for our company. They are invaluable!

I've found my colour palette has changed over the years.. moving from pastels in the greyed pinks, purples and teals, to darker shades, and then into the more rustic golds, rusts, and olive colours. I find them all fascinating, and don't really have any favorites. Now I feel I can move from one to the other palette and enjoy the change to rejuvenate my interest. Just like any stitcher, I also need the relief of working on a variety of things, using a variety of colours, to preserve my interest and excitement... Pressure is the one thing that stops me from designing my best, so I work far ahead, often designing pieces 6 months before they are released. The challenge of creating according to our business schedule and deadlines is not easy! At the time I write this, I have published and produced over 120 sampler designs, and approximately 350 designs as small or larger kits.

All my stitching time is spent designing original work. I don't seem to have any time to work other designer's pieces, no matter how gorgeous I think they are. The reason is that I really love what I do, and design and stitch for fun, not for work! My excitement at starting a new piece often is followed by despair that it is not good enough, followed by elation at it's progress, and then again, despair that others may not like it, etc. This emotional rollercoaster is common in any creative work I've found, and rest and meditation and long walks allow me to relax and believe that it will all work out somehow. It's so wonderful to have such an amazing staff who all keep the company and the sales going, and who are so competent. Without their abilities and dedication, I would not be able to design easily.

My life is full of fun and rewarding work! I make time to travel to teach at least a couple of times a year and lately, I've begun to Webcast some classes online. In my spare time (if I can find some!) I love to enjoy time with my two daughters Dori and Petra, being part of my Mom's later years, and also spending time with Richard who now lives in Vancouver. I read a lot, enjoy hiking and excercising, try to eat healthily, meditate, and travel for enjoyment.

I have learned a great deal in the past few years. I have learned to have a deep respect for teachers, suppliers and independent retail shopowners who work very hard at making needlework accessible and exciting. I have learned that making mistakes is part of being human, however hard I work at perfection! And finally, I have learned that I have an unbreakable bond with the many stitchers who spend their own precious time on the designs I produce in my workroom. You make my work a joy!


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