About Gloria Shelton

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By inclination and education, I am a scientist. That supports my love of organization, detail, symmetry and predictability. But my first love is needlework of all kinds. My earliest memory is of being taught to embroider by my mother, and I am happiest when sewing. As each new needlework trend came along, I learned and loved it: crewel embroidery, needlepoint, bargello, counted cross stitch, silk ribbon embroidery, etc. Crocheting came easily to me, but knitting is still challenging.

My professional life of 40 plus years was filled with chemistry and engineering. At home I could sew and embroider and crochet, creating the life and wardrobe I wanted one stitch at a time.Working in the field as opposed to in a laboratory. The industrial environment of power plants and refineries attracted me then, and still does now, though in a different way.

A brief spell of unemployment led me to start my first business; Burrows Bay Herbs and Spices. When Ken and I first walked into the house that has been our home since 1990, we were both “gob smacked”, as the English say. What we saw framed in the large windows was Burrows Bay and Burrows Island. That gorgeous view, in every kind of weather, keeps us centered. So when I started my herb and spice business, it seemed perfect for a product line founded in the Pacific Northwest. Since our home overlooks Burrows Bay, the name seemed appropriate.

Even after starting a demanding new job, I kept the spice business simmering on the side. Having a part of my life under my own control provided balance to the precarious and high-pressured corporate environment. While this business gave me a sense of independence that no employer could take away from me, it did not provide the stimulating creative outlet that I get from sewing and stitching.

When I retired in 2010 the search for a new direction in my creative life began. Visual arts education was probably available in the schools that I attended, but my electives were spent in music, either singing or playing the clarinet: the former reasonably well and the latter rather badly! My love of opera, acquired while living in Toul, France for two years remains. My husband Ken and I have had season tickets to the Seattle Opera for 20+ years.

All of my needlework was executed on designs created by others, by artists and designers in their field. It seemed that the next step for me in my progression from artisan to artist was to acquire the education. I had an extensive skill set based on executing the complex designs of others; now I wanted to start creating my own designs.

With the new-found time that retirement brings, I joined several local organizations seeking guidance, information and the company of other creative women. It soon became clear that the most respected tutor in the fields that I want to explore was incredibly near. With recommendations from Anita Luvera Mayer, Nancy Drake, Carol Harrington and others, I sought out Gail Harker and The Center for Creative Arts in LaConner, Wa. I will be forever grateful to those who pointed the way for me and encouraged me to take the leap into this totally foreign world. I was going to play with the big girls!

Staying within my comfort zone, I started with a short course on sashiko embroidery and found the quality of instruction to be excellent. Encouraged by this, I enrolled in the foundation course of the stitchery curriculum, Experimental Hand Stitchery: 5 days of basic stitches and more advanced techniques, plus the totally new experience of dying fabric and threads with Procion dyes. We stitched our own designs in our own color schemes. This was a first for me as a needle worker. I was hooked.

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The summer of 2014 was memorable for two reasons: I had cataract surgery and completed Level 1 Color Studies at The Center. The world has never looked the same since. I have a vocabulary to describe what I’m seeing and and integrated conceptual framework of concepts upon which I can build. Like most people I have favorite colors and color schemes; now I understand why they are my favorites. And I have made peace with color orange! I know now what a bully it can be in a composition and I have the tools to tame it and harness its energy.

Experiment Machine Embroidery was an unexpected challenge. My favorite sewing machine is over 50 years old and wasn’t up to the demands of free motion stitchery. Eventually I bought a more capable machine to support my work. In this course I was introduced to painting fabric and a catalog of techniques to achieve unique effects to be highlighted with machine stitching. I’d always thought of my sewing machine as a work horse and a tool. Now I have a magic to steed to carry me anywhere that I can imagine, with the needle acting as pen and paintbrush.

I entered Level 3 Design with a balance of excitement and trepidation. This is a 2-year program that meets 8 times for a 5-day learning session with hours and hours of homework in between. I knew that I was setting foot in “terra incognita”, but with Gail as my tutor I felt that I was in capable hands. I had no design background: no vocabulary, no data base of concepts, no framework on which to hand new ideas. The program culminates with an exhibit of student work open to the public.

Two years can fly by when you are being introduced to new concepts, a wide range of media, the foundational concepts of design and the fundamentals of the sampling process. The only familiar concept was the use of notebooks as documentation for the exploration of media and techniques. A sketchbook is a small step from a lab notebook used to record experimental variables and experimental results. Both are tools to document what was done, what has worked and what hasn’t. Each is a method for capturing experience and a springboard for new ideas and further experimentation.

I had no idea the internal work that would come with playing with paints and paper! The rules and limitations that I had placed on my creativity were no less difficult to sweep aside for having been self-imposed. I cried over projects that I found incomprehensible and contemplated throwing in the towel several times. Thanks to my husband, my friends and the six other women in my cohort, I graduated and received my certificate in August, 2016.

My husband Ken and I have lived in Anacortes since 1990. I was transferred here by my employer and Ken gave up a good job to move here. We both were ready to leave southern California. Even then it had been “loved to death” as Ken so aptly described it. We’d visited this area on vacation a few years before and we both loved the area. Ken was born in Leavenworth and lived in Moses Lake as a child. I loved the cool weather and the small-town feel. Both of us spent much of our childhood in the southeast, so the return to seasons was welcome. We found a beautiful home with a spectacular view of Burrows Island and the bay.

Fortunately, there is plenty of space for a dedicated sewing room and a large design and cutting table in our family room. In what used to be the processing plant for my spice business, I now have a wet work studio. And part of the garage provides room for a work table and flat surfaces to dry and assemble projects. There’s plenty of storage for all the media and paper, too.