On the last Tuesday of every month, I feature a fellow type lover from the Richmond, VA area.
How do you make lettering 10x cooler? By embroidering rap lyrics with flowers onto pretty fabric. Andrea Molzhon does exactly that (among other projects) through her side business Stitchin' in Richmond. Learn more about the process and inspiration behind her quirky products.
SARAH BARTON: How did you get into embroidery?
ANDREA MALZHON: This one is a longer answer than you might expect! I’ve always been into crafting; as a kid, I took a cross-stitching class, actually took home-ec. and middle school art during summer school just for fun (nerd alert), and took Art and/or Crafts (best class ever) as my electives all through high school. I started on Studio Art my first semester of college, and that kind of made me realize I’m definitely a crafter at heart — not a traditional artist. I love making functional art using materials that I can find anywhere, and I feel like I get that out of embroidery. I’ve ripped up shirts and old shower curtains of mine because I liked the pattern and wanted to stitch on it! A few years ago, I was in a real rough place financially, and that — weirdly — is what got me back into art and crafting in general. I had weddings and baby showers and secret Santas and no money for gifts! So I started designing patterns and stitching up custom stuff just for my friends out of materials that I already had or that were wildly inexpensive. Turns out, people like custom gifts! I realized the business potential, and the potential for me to release years of pent-up creative juices (ew?), and things just took off from there.
SB: I love the juxtaposition of floral embroidery and risqué quotes. How did you come up with that and what made you decide to start selling your work? Where do you get your inspiration and ideas?
AM: That’s a great question! So great in fact that I, too, would like to know the answer. I’ve always been kind of a goofy, corny kid. Honestly, I think the first time I thought of doing a “funny” embroidery was when I was in my kitchen, cooking up some dinner, sprinkling on some salt and pepper and rapping the intro to “Push It,” as one does. I thought, man, it would be great if I had some wall art for my kitchen that depicted rapping cartoon salt and pepper shakers for such occasions. So I made it! From there, it was like the flood gates opened in my head and I started thinking of ways to embroider every funny thing or rap lyric or whatever popped into my head. Now I have a shop of about 60 items, with about 20 more that aren’t currently listed, and a folder on my computer with a couple dozen ideas for new designs. Basically, other people of the world are funny and creative, and I get to piggy-back off of them. (Fun fact about that salt and pepper item: it was removed from my shop by the reps of Salt-N-Peppa, so that makes me feel kind of badass.)
SB: What does your creative process look like from idea to final product? How long does it take you to make a typical embroidery piece?
AM: I start with an idea, and typically I will Google-image some buzz words in my head to get inspiration. Once I have a good sense of direction, I design images on my computer and play around with it a TON to make sure I like the color scheme, the font style, and the positioning of the letters and design elements. Then I pick a fabric and hoop size, get the image on the screen to match the size of the hoop, and literally trace my computer image onto the fabric (I honest to God stretch the fabric over the screen and tape it down). When I’m done stitching, I have to go through the process of setting the fabric in the hoop (“hooping it”), cleaning it, tagging it, packaging it, etc. — it’s a whole thing. The time it takes me from start to finish varies immensely. For an item that I’ve already designed, with a fairly simple design and few colors, I can knock it out in about 2-3 hours. So, with 2-3 hours being the minimum, you can image how long it takes to finish a complex custom order (think more like days/weeks).
SB: Are most of your designs freehand or do you use fonts as guides?
AM: Both! All of my non-type designs are freehand/personal graphic designs. I do rely on a lot of available fonts for the type elements of my designs, but I’ll doctor them a bit to make them flow better with the images they’re paired with and with the overall design.
SB: Is there a certain kind of stitch that's better to use for the lettering part of your pieces?
AM: Yes! For the cleanest lines, always go with the basic back stitch. If you want thin clean lines, split your floss into fewer threads. For thick clean lines, double-up on the stitches. However, I think if you want a good, “bold” looking letter, your best bet is the split stitch. It makes lines appear thicker, and it gives the look of lettering an overall more impressive quality even though it’s a really simple stitch. I’ve used some trickier stitches like rope stitches and satin stitches for letters before, but my heart will always belong to the simple back stitch when it comes to lettering.
SB: Is it easier to stitch a certain style of lettering (cursive or regular ol' serif/sans-serif)?
AM: Easy answer! Sans-serifs are the easiest, flowy cursive script is harder than tight cursive script, and serif fonts (especially serif-y cursive fonts) are the worst! It’s hard to explain why without going into boring stitching detail, but trust me on that one.
SB: Do you have any best-kept secrets about embroidery?
AM: Two: 1.) Embroidery floss is made up of 8 independent lines of thread. Cut a long strand of floss, hold on tightly to the end of that strand (I put it in between my knees), and gradually pull the thread apart, starting from the top. You can create as thin or as thick of a line as you want if you take advantage of the thread count in floss! 2.) YouTube. I never would have figured out the simplicity that is the wagon wheel stitch (those pretty circular flowers that look like roses) had it not been for YouTube, and, more specifically, the calming sensation that is Mary Corbet. Look her up!
SB: What has been your favorite project and why?
AM: Oh man! I can’t pick a favorite, because I have so many items that are my favorites in different ways. I love a couple of my pet portraits, because I love that I got to try out some more artistic concepts like shading and contouring but with floss. That’s always a challenge, but I think I’ve been improving with practice! Really, I love many of my custom items for weddings or babies or anniversaries because I feel like I’m creating something that’s helping people celebrate and commemorate one of the most special events of their lives. That’s really meaningful to me. But, I also love some of my punny ones, and some of the pieces that contain rap lyrics that always, every time, make me start singing/rapping lyrics around my house.
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SB: Given your art background, do you have any other creative outlets like drawing or painting, or is most of your work embroidery?
AM: I used to draw a lot but haven’t done much of that lately, but I still paint from time to time. This is really silly, but to be honest, the other thing I funnel my creative energy into is handmade decorations. I’ve made a black-and-silver city skyline for a new year’s party, dozens of hanging banners, tons of wall decorations for baby showers, birthdays, bachelorette parties, etc. I really go all out when it comes to party decorating. I think it’s sort of an odd thing about me; like, it doesn’t necessarily jive with my personality (I’m the least sentimental person I know, and not a huge Pinterester), but we’ve all got our things.
SB: You exhibit at lots of craft shows and you also have a pretty steady following on Etsy. Which selling method do you prefer and why?
AM: Hm, how to answer this? Honestly, I like Etsy because it’s more financially consistent, and I can work on orders as they come, in my own time. In that sense, I could say I prefer online sales, but I’m not really sure that’s true? On the one hand, preparing for a craft show is just an all-out bitch, I’m not going to lie to you. On the other hand, it is so freaking fun and motivating to get to talk to customers, laugh with them, and see them react to my work. Plus, it’s really amazing to be part of a crafting community — and you get a great sense of that community when you do shows. Honestly, if someone were to give me the option of making 10 online sales today or 10 in-person/show sales, it would be a no-brainer: in-person all the way.
SB: I saw that you just got your PhD from VCU? Congrats! How did you manage to have energy for your creative pursuits while going to school at the same time? What do you plan on doing with your degree and will you still continue Stitchin' in Richmond on the side?
AM: Oh goodness, yes I am a crazy person and take on too much! I’ve actually been done with classes for a few years and just working on my dissertation, and I’ve been working full time for a while. I still work full time, but now I don’t have to worry about going to preschools to collect data in the mornings before work (developmental psychology), and writing when I get home! I actually have more time to stitch these days, but have found that my free time has also taken on greater meaning to me now that I actually have some — so my motivation to use all my free time to stitch has gone down a bit (thus, the two breaks my shop has already taken this summer). As for what I’m doing with my degree — my other life — I work at the VCU Children’s Hospital and run a multi-site program that helps teens and adults with cystic fibrosis cope with anxiety and depression. It’s pretty cool!
SB: Are there any fellow Richmonders whose work inspires you? Non-Richmonders?
To start with, Clara’s hand lettering is beautiful. I don’t think I’ve told her this, but I have been inspired by some of her earlier work with florals, and I still get inspired by the way she positions her letters and her overall design sense. (NOTE FROM SB: Check out my RVA Q+A with Clara Cline!)
Meredith, James, and Adrienne are all rockstars when it comes to creating beautiful wall art that’s based on a landscape or piece of architecture. With Lightbox and Sit Pretty, they both take images, get rid of all the noise and unnecessary elements, and seem to isolate and highlight the parts of the images that are most important and most beautiful. My painting and drawing style is very detailed, so I have to work pretty hard to streamline images and isolate the important elements (particularly in my custom house portraits), and I think seeing their styles really has helped me to re-conceptualize my design style.
In terms of non-Richmonders (What? There are people outside of Richmond?!), there’s a great, growing community of stitchers on Instagram that inspire me on the reg. A lot of these folks have styles that are largely different from my own, but I find their work to be amazing and beautiful. I recommend checking out the items listed with the hashtag #modernembroiderymovement to see some of the great work being generated from around the globe.
SB: What do you love most about being a creative in Richmond, Virginia?
AM: The support that Richmond shows it’s crafters, and the sense of comradery among the community of local crafters. It’s like we all have this thing that we love in common, and that’s a powerful uniting force. You don’t have to work on the same kinds of crafts to share the same joys and struggles of other crafters; we’ve all “been there,” and we all have a shared understanding of the process and of why we do what we do.
SB: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next few months?
AM: Right now I’m working on a super-secret project that I’m really excited about! The general details are: it’s the first time I’ve done more of a landscape piece, and it’s a Richmond landmark. It’s going to be a gift so I can’t talk any more about it, but I can say that working on it has inspired me to want to do more Richmond landmarks! So, you might be seeing a landmark or two pop up in my shop.