The queen of cross-stitch: She is leather and lace

November 22, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau

London -- Julie Hasler looks like she should be designing motorcycles instead of needlework.

But Miss Hasler -- heavily tattooed, leather-clad and sporting rings in her ears, nose and navel -- is Britain's most prolific needlework designer. And she's just been nominated for the second time as one of Britain's women of the year.

Right now her best seller is probably her book of cross-stitch designs based on the ineffably sweet children's books of the Victorian illustrator Kate Greenaway. Her "Kate Greenaway Cross Stitch Designs" has sold 48,000 copies in Great Britain. Dover books has published two of her other Greenaway books in the United States; one is in its fifth printing, another in its second.

"She's very popular," says Dover's New York spokeswoman. In addition to the two Kate Greenaways, they have six more of Miss Hasler's books in print.

And here she sits at a luncheon in the very formal banqueting hall of the very plush Savoy Hotel dressed from head to toe in leather adorned with buckles, studs and zippers -- no doubt shaking up about two centuries of extremely proper British ghosts. Her hair is crewcut on top and shaved on the sides with what looks to be a Kwatkiuti motif.

Miss Hasler's latest books, "Silhouettes in Cross Stitch" and "Cats: A Cross Stitch Alphabet" published by David Porteous, are book club selections in the United States, brought over by Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

She's published 22 cross-stitch and needlepoint books, more than any one else in Britain, including"The Little Tale of Benjamin Bunny," "Cuddly Cats and Kittens in Cross Stitch," "Little Tale of Tom Kitten," etc., etc.

Despite those titles, there's nothing dainty or quaint -- or as the English would say, "twee" -- about Miss Hasler. She's got a Harley Davidson 883 Hugger motorcycle parked in her living room. But her Hugger is as clean and polished as the silver tea services perhaps favored by her needlework admirers.

She learned needlepoint when she was 16 during a three-month stay in the hospital after slamming her 60cc trail bike of the moment head-on into a truck.

"The guy I was going out with then brought in this needlepoint kit," she says. "I always hated needlework. I couldn't do it at school. I was still making the thing they gave us in the first year five years later.

"So when he brought me in this needlepoint kit, I said, whoash, I can't sew. I'm not a sewing person. Take it away. But it cost him a lot of money so I thought I better do it to keep him quiet.

"It took about a year," she says. "But I was so pleased with it, just, like, a countryside scenery picture. I never thought I could do it."

She worked her way through kits and existing Dover needlework books.

"But I couldn't find any decent designs of cats. They weren't quite right," she says. "I really like cats. So I started doing designs of cats for myself to sew up.

"And I sold them to a monthly craft magazine."

After writing for magazines a couple of years she sneaked into a publishers' trade fair, took her designs to the Dover stand and ended up with her first book contract.

She's 30 now and she's got six cat books in print, plus a whole menagerie of dogs and puppies in cross stitch, Peter Rabbit iron-on transfer patterns and teddy bears in cross stitch, not to mention wild flowers, wild animals and whatnots.

"I like to think my designs are quite sophisticated," she says.

They've tended to become more complex and interesting over the years. They often require a high degree of skill from the needleworker. She works from a palette of about 400 shades of thread.

"I spend 10 to 12 hours a day designing and writing," she says. "I work seven days a week. I've got work up till next September, new books lined up. I get a concept in my head of what I want to do. And I do a rough sketch."

She traces it on graph paper, and then fills in thousands of squares with tiny symbols coded for the colors and the stitches needed to work the pattern.

She chafes at the unadventurousness of needlecraft publishers.

"I have some modern things I want to get published but they won't touch them with a barge pole.

"Oh no, they say, your market is, like, old people between 50 and 60, retired women, housewives. They don't want bright modern things. Our market research says, you know, blah, blah, blah.

"I said, 'All right, in 20 years' time when those people are dead, then where's your new market coming from if you don't do modern stuff to get the young people interested in now?' But they don't seem to get that on board. They go for a sure sell."

She would like to expand her repertoire to include tattoo designs, but her publisher says no way. "I get their point on tattooing," she says, resignedly. "I suppose it is a limited sales market.

She drew the design for the tattoo that covers her back, a lion with a dragon's head, from a Victorian ceramic tile designed by William De Morgan, a follower of the arts and crafts movement. She's a collector of antiquarian design books.

"To me, like, my body is like a plain canvas and I want it all covered with nice designs. I think it looks beautiful. I've got to fill it. Plain skin to me is very boring.

"I still have all my legs to do and my front," she says. "I'm not going to get my bum done. It's too painful."

And she gets a little tired of the cracks she still gets at her local pub.

"I think it's so rude to comment about people's appearance," she says.

"It's bloody rude. I wouldn't go up to somebody and say, Why don't you have any tattoos? You know you look stupid without tattoos. Go get some tattoos."

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