“I remember painting the letters of (my son’s) name onto wooden blocks for his room and I felt something powerful about mark making with a paint brush”.
Kate Biggs is a painter. That is, when she’s not caring for her family, or dyeing up variegated embroidery threads (floss) in the Cottage Garden Threads dye room.
@katebiggsart calls herself an intuitive artist because over the last 10 years she’s taught herself to paint as a visual diary of her life’s journey.
You might be wondering what paint has to do with thread? Other than us at Cottage Garden Threads being proud of our talented team member, Katie recently invited Kate to collaborate on a project that celebrates mark making in both paint and embroidery thread (floss). We are excited to share the results and invite you to pick up a paintbrush and try it for yourself. Keep reading for a step by step tutorial.
But before we introduce you to our special Kate Biggs / Cottage Garden Threads collaboration, let’s pause and consider Post Natal Depression (PND) for a moment.
Did you know that PND is a form of clinical depression that affects up to one in seven Australian new mums? Yes – it’s that common. And it was the birth of Kate’s son in 2013 and her experience of acute PND that prompted her journey into abstract colour.
As part of her recovery, after Kate returned home with her son, she picked up a paint brush and started painting.
“I remember painting the letters of (my son’s) name onto wooden blocks for his room and I felt something powerful about mark making with a paint brush. After that, I started going to the library to borrow books on how to paint a landscape. At first, I’d just follow the steps, but as I went on, I abandoned that rigid style of painting and started to put my own spin on things and I found that the act of painting really helped with what I was feeling - so I kept on doing it.”
As Kate says on her Instagram feed: “intuitive art in my opinion is all about layers. Adding something different, whether it be a different colour or using a different tool/brush each time as the layers build….with each layer you add a story to your painting – you may be thinking about something that is going on for you in the moment or a past experience or memory as you paint – with each layer you are processing, releasing and healing in the most gentle of ways.”
In 2022, a local doula contacted Kate and invited her to present a class for some young mothers. “I was absolutely terrified – especially of talking in front of people,” Kate recalls laughing. From that one class, many more have followed, and Kate has grown to love the connection this way of working together can foster.
“A lot of people will say at the start: I’m not an artist! But by the end of the class they’ve created something amazing and they’re really proud of it. And that’s why I love doing it - because I can see the transformation in others. I hope that they continue in their own time – because they’ve gone through something in the class that I think is very special.”
Says Kate: “I don’t paint every day – I can only do it when I need to. Stuff builds up and I can feel it – and it's then that I will feel that I need to paint. It’s taken me a while to work out that this is my process – my way of working. It’s when my body tells me I’m ready to work through something. Creativity is not everyone’s way to deal with stuff – but I believe that everyone has the innate ability to create and express themselves through art.”
Kate created two pieces for our collaboration titled ‘Junk of the heart’ and ‘Let your light shine through’. One for Katie to stitch and one to give away to one of our lucky readers along with a beautiful palette of threads (floss). (Giveaway now closed). The colour palette contains lighter versions of the tones that Kate would normally use. Her favourite colours are teal and turquoise but she finds herself drawn to any shade of blue. Yellow isn’t a colour she uses extensively – but she says she “was feeling it” the day she did her Cottage Garden Threads designs and that it signifies joy.
There’s even a heart in there, but it’s a “wonky heart” according to Kate, “because I don’t like things that are too symmetrical”. She’s delighted by the idea that her mark making in paint has been overlaid with Katie’s mark making in thread(floss) and stitches rather than brushstrokes. “It adds to the story – it’s a collaboration – I love it – I think it’s really cool.”
When we asked Kate for a simple distillation of the images she painted for CGT - she responded in her wonderfully quiet way: “You’ve got to look for the good to get through everything else.”
“I have been a student at Kate’s abstract painting workshops and as I add layers to the pieces I continually see stitches and threads,” says Katie, “I knew I wanted to collaborate with Kate because the underlying theme of mindfulness runs through both worlds of art and needlework. I found solace through my own depression with textiles. Stitching on painting is not something I’ve done before but I approached the project with the same philosophy that Kate teaches – to feel it from the heart rather than think it with the head.”
Kate has used acrylic paint on a pre-stitched canvas, allowing the paint to dry between layers which creates a wonderful texture. Use different sized brushes, palette knives and even your fingers to apply the paint.
Here are the steps Kate recommends for connecting with your intuition as you paint:
- Gather your supplies -
- Pre-stretched canvas (for the collaboration pieces Kate has used 20cm x 20cm (8” x 8”)
- Acrylic paint
- Assorted size brushes, palette knives or applicators
- Water to wash brushes
- Hair dryer for quick drying between layers
- Before you start painting - Close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths.
- Set an intention to be with the energy you have and be receptive to any emotions that come through.
- First layer - To overcome any “blank canvas” fear, paint some brushstrokes that are free and child-like. Just get some paint on the canvas. This will be covered up by more layers of paint.
- Continue to build layers of shapes and patterns, using a hair dryer or setting aside to dry between layers. You can rotate your piece to get a different perspective too.
- The most asked question other than “how do I start?” is “how do I know when it’s finished?” It helps to put the piece aside somewhere you can see it and let it sit for a little while. When you walk past it you will notice that it needs a bit more here or there. If you plan on stitching over the top, you can always add more colour, pattern or texture with stitches.
Now that you have your artwork ready to stitch - let’s have a look at Katie’s process for embroidering the painted canvas.
- Gather your supplies.
- size 22 crewel embroidery needle
- Assorted Cottage Garden Threads
- Photocopy or photo of artwork
- Greylead pencil or pen
- Sketch out ideas of stitches on a printed photo of the artwork. Unlike fabric, a painted canvas is not forgiving and leaves needle holes so you do need to plan ahead a little. Intuition still comes in with colour choices and adapting the plan as you go.
- Embroider the painting using a size 22 crewel needle and 6 strands of your chosen colour. Katie has used groups of french knots, couching, seed stitches and straight stitches. You can pre-poke holes using the photocopy as a guide if you find it hard to know where you put the needle.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working on the beautiful canvas of Kate’s artwork. It was a whole sensory experience, the beauty of the colour, the sound of the thread popping and gliding through the canvas and the feel of the stitches on the painting. You can’t help but want to touch the 3D texture created by the stitches,” says Katie.