Friday, June 5, 2015

Laura Jenkins Thompson

Laura will be teaching classes at the Valley Forge Retreat (October 8-11, 2015). She takes time out from her busy life to answer some questions and give us a little background on her sewing history.

1.      Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?  I learned how to embroider as a child about age 8.  I would go shopping with my great aunt and we would buy stamped pillowcases and dresser scarves from Woolworths. (I wish I knew what happened to them.)  I learned how to sew on the sewing machine on my grandmother’s treadle machine around the 4th grade.  (My mother was afraid I might run over my finger with an electric machine.)  The first thing I made for myself was a plaid skirt.  Do you think those plaids matched?  Ha!

2.      What is your favourite form of embroidery? It used to be picture smocking but now it is needlepainting.  I also love creating monograms using different techniques.

3.      When do you find time to embroider/sew? For fun, at night while my husband watches TV; under pressure, every waking hour.

4.      What inspires your designs?  Color, especially bright cheery colors, flowers, nature, anything beautiful and classic, antique techniques, especially French.

5.      Do you attend classes and workshops as well as teach at them?  I have had the opportunity to take numerous classes in Paris as well as in Ireland and Italy with the help of my dear friend Marie Yolande. 

6.      On average, how long would you say it takes for you to complete a piece, from design concept to end?  Sometimes months.  I have to think of the idea, think about it some more, dream about it, sketch various versions then plan the design, plan the colors, decide on the appropriate stitches, write the instructions while I stitch, redo what doesn’t work.  It is quite a process because I want each piece to be better than the one before.

7.      Do you belong to a sewing guild of any kind?  Yes, the Low Country Chapter in Charleston, SC.  I have served as president twice.  The first time was for 4 years from 1983-1986 and then again for 3 years in from 2005-2007.    My chapter made me an Honorary Member so I don’t have to pay dues.

8.      Do you smock? Oh yes.  That is how I got my start in the world of SAGA.  Picture smocking was my  first love.  Having an only child who is a son back in the 80’s, I ran out of plates for boys so I started designing my own. I still get asked to teach picture smocking.  It was the very first class I ever taught for National SAGA in San Francisco in 1986.   I designed “Beginner’s Duck” to include all the things that can go wrong in stacking and also includes color changes.  My book, Perfecting Picture Smocking, is my class step-by-step with detailed illustrations.  It was updated and is available in specialty heirloom shops as well as at

9.      Where is your favourite place to stitch? In my den, cuddled up on the left side of my high armed Sheraton sofa with an apothecary lamp over my right arm listening* to my favorite period movies such as Marie Antoinette, Barry Lyndon, and other favorites. * (I am very near-sighted, in fact legally blind, so I stitch without my contacts.  I can see close-up like a magnifying glass, but everything else like the tv is a blur.)

10.     Are you married? Yes, I have been married to my husband, Joseph Francis Thompson, Jr. for 38 years.  He is the Dean of Administration of Business and Administration for the School of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina.  He has always been so supportive of what I do.  He is a great cook, loves going to the grocery store, and makes my life easier.   Children?    I have one son, Jenks, who has just finished 12 years of medical training and advanced specialties in cardiology/electrophysiology.  He has just taken a dream position with Sanger Heart and Vascular in Charlotte, SC.  Pets?  We have Oliver, our precious King Charles Spaniel, who rules our house.  He is the first pet I have ever had and I can’t imagine life without him.

11.     What is your most favourite sewing tool?  My fingers.  In Paris, Mdmms. Malbranche and Rosenthal commented [in French] to each other about how nimble my fingers were.   

12.     What sewing tool do you carry everywhere and why?  A pair of very sharp embroidery scissors with a fob given to me by a friend.  I do not like seam rippers and never use them.  I use my tiny sharp scissors for everything.

13.     What other hobbies/interests do you have?  I have a B.A. degree in Fine Arts so I love to paint.  Right now I am working in oils and trying to become more loose, more impressionistic in my painting.  This is very hard for me especially when I am doing a lot of detail work stitching and drawing illustrations. 

14.     How often do you travel to teach?  For over 20 years, I used to teach once a month out of town.  That was when flying was fun. I flew so much I could upgrade to First Class.  We used to be able to take 4 to 5 suitcases full of goodies to a chapter.  I loved staying with so many interesting people and getting to know them and their families and have made life-long friends.   Because of all the increasing restrictions since 9/11, I have had to limit most of my travelling to places where I can drive.   I don’t want the ladies to be disappointed by my not being able to bring a lot of samples, for the kits to not be delivered on time, etc.  Additionally, family responsibilities at home have made me hesitant to make long term plans.

15.     Have you a favourite location where you most enjoy teaching? Yes, in my home town of Charleston, South Carolina where I have been hosting Stitchin’ Charleston Style for now 20 years.

16.     Where can we get to see your projects (magazines, stores etc.)?  It makes me very sad that Sew Beautiful is no more because I was a regular contributor.   My website is a mess and I need to update it desperately.  I would love to see SAGA take over for Sew Beautiful and Creative Needle.  SAGA published  The Smocking Arts prior to both of these magazines and it was our only publication.

17.     What do you do with your completed projects-frame and keep, give away, etc.?  OMG!  I have garments and samples dating from the 1980’s plus a large collection of antique garments, including over two dozen Ayrshire Christening gowns.  Of course, I have to keep them all.    My antiques are bequeathed to the Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in America.  If I lived in France, I could start my own museum and charge admission but I don’t see that happening.  I am not sure what I will do with all my samples but I will never get rid of them.  They will NEVER show up on Ebay.

18.     Do you have a favourite colour(s) that you tend to use more than others?  I do tend to use the same color scheme over and over.  I love bright, cheery, clear colors with a range of all the primary and secondary colors. 

19.     Have you had another type of career other than in the sewing area? Many people may not know this, but I have taught school continuously while I have been teaching for SAGA since 1986 –i.e “Don’t quit your day job”.  I have a Masters Degree in Special Education and in the 80’s and 90’s I taught full-time in the Gifted and Talented at our Academic Magnet in Charleston.  For the last 25 years, I have been teaching art to grades K-8 part-time.    I have been blessed that my principals have always been very supportive of my “other life”.  I also taught as an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston for several years.   In my needlework classes, I often mention how having two careers helps to make one realize that the grass is NOT greener on the other side.  Every job has problems.  When I am at odds with my job teaching art, I say to myself “I don’t need this, I am a “famous” designer and teacher in the sewing world.”  When I am upset over what is going on in the sewing world, I say to myself “I don’t need this, I am an art teacher who loves inspiring children.”  It really puts everything in perspective.

20.     How do you see the future of your sewing career?  I feel strongly that I want to continue to keep the love of needlework, and especially antique techniques, alive.  We cannot let our fast-paced world steal that from us.   I love teaching but I hate travelling, especially flying.  (Being “randomly” frisked at numerous airports gets really old.) When I can’t teach anymore, I want to write books with beautiful photos and lots of instructions with illustrations.

21.     What do you do to recharge your creative spark?  Going to Europe.  France ruined me.  

22.     What technique still can’t you get the hang of……..      ?  I have a mental block with bullions. I can do them and teach them but I do not like them.  (This goes back to stitching one of the very first smocking designs for my son.  It was an Easter design with bunnies holding bullion carrots.  When it was washed, the bullions all unraveled….)

23.     What accomplishment are you most proud of?  I received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest award given to a citizen in South Carolina, for my volunteerism.  I wrote and illustrated a hardback children’s book, Joseph’s Charleston Adventure, whose proceeds of over $100,000  in the first year all went to charity.  The book is still in print and all proceeds continue to go to charity, in particular to disadvantaged children.

24.     What is the biggest enemy to your creativity?  Paperwork and everyday life.  I find that when I have lots of deadlines in those areas I will go into my own world and begin to create.  I have been like this my whole life.  Rather than studying for an exam in college, I would want to draw.  Rather than working on our taxes, I would want to paint.  You can’t stop your creativity when its calling to you.
Thanks Laura and you can find more information on the classes Laura is teaching and the other classes and events at the SAGA website,

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