Friday, September 25, 2015

An Interview with Cross Stitch Designer - Jo Gatenby from Xs and Ohs Design

Crafty Fridays

By Pamela James                          

         X's and Oh's Designs

MM: Give us some backstory on how you became a cross stitch designer?

I always say it was my husband's fault, LOL.  I would need a
wedding sampler for friends, so I'd take some flowers from this design, a hummingbird from that one and lettering from a third design, and put them together to make my sampler.  He kept saying "why don't you just design your own?".  So I sat down to make a list of design ideas (to prove I couldn't do it)... but when the list got to about 3 pages long I decided maybe he was right, and I began working on my own designs.  Funnily enough, hardly any of those first 3 pages of ideas have ever been turned into designs - and after 20+ years, we now have well over 300 published designs!

When we started there weren't all the wonderful design programs for the computer that we have now - we drew our charts by hand on huge sheets of graph paper (large enough to read easily) then copied and reduced them to put them into charts!  It might take 6 months to create a small 8x10 design... now I'm releasing at MINIMUM of 24 designs a year, not including the work I do with magazines!

MM: How did you become a designer for X's and Oh's?

X's and Oh's is my own company, so I started out as the sole designer.  I now work with several designers (who publish under X's & Oh's), and I also work with a number of artists, licensing their work and converting it to cross-stitch!  We came up with the name by saying "you make the X's and wait for the OHHHH's".  I also designed my logo... I scribbled a drawing on a piece of paper and gave it to Bill and asked him to google something like that.  He looked at the paper and handed it back to me and said "What about this?", LOL.  I cleaned it up a bit, and our little girl stitching an x's & oh's game has been with us ever since.

The only problem we have is in England, as they say "knot's and crosses", so they don't get it, LOL. 

MM: What is the most complicated piece you have designed?
Until recently I would have said it was the first conversion I did for James Lorimer Keirstead (Keirstead Mill)... 

but I am now working with Catherine Simpson, and her artwork is soooo detailed, it takes longer to convert than it does to stitch!  So my new 'most complicated' is "BEST FRIENDS", .  

MM: What is the easiest design you have done?
Hmmmm, that might be harder to decide... I like sayings - I collect them, and they often find their way in to designs.  Since the saying itself often inspires the rest of the design, they are usually pretty easy to create... Of course size and detail make a difference as well... I guess I would say a little shamrock design I did as a Little Leaflet (the design fits inside a 5x7 frame).  It only has 4-5 colors, so worked up very quickly...  

MM: If you could sit down with three other designers. Who would they be and what would you ask them?

I have been lucky enough to meet some wonderful designers at different needlework events I've attended in the past.  I still remember meeting Teresa Wentzler for the first time, when I hadn't been designing very long.  She said "Oh, I like your stuff!", and I went around for the next week saying "TW knows who I am!", ROFLOL.  Jeanette Douglas is another designer friend whose work I admire, as I don't do much in the way of samplers myself, but her's are gorgeous and would tempt me to stitch one

Of designers I haven't had a chance to sit down with, I think someone outside my own field, like Alyssa Anda, whose needlepoint deers I recently saw on a website - she takes taxidermy molds and covers them with needlepoint, then finishes them with actual antlers, so they're life sized!  I would want to ask her what gave her such an outside-the-box idea, I love it, LOL.

#2 would be a designer whose work I have always admired for it's grace and beauty, and that is Marilyn Leavitt Imblum.  Her lovely ladies have been around for years, and I never got a chance to meet her before she passed away.  I would ask if I could see her artwork for the pieces!

#3 Finally Sue Hillis, who I have actually 'spoken to' on-line, but never met in person... I love Sue's designs, they are usually bright and funny, and I just think it would a blast to sit and swap ideas.  I can honestly say Sue is one of the few designer's who makes me say "oh, I wish I'd thought of that!" .

MM: Is there a family member who has passed on that you wish could see your designs?

My mom was raised by a great aunt and uncle, who have always been like my grandparents.  My uncle died just before our second daughter was born, so he was gone before I ever decided to start my own company.  I think he would have enjoyed seeing the work I do... and I'm also sorry he never got to meet our youngest DD.

MM: Who would you like to thank for their help and always being there for you?

Huge kudos to my DH, Bill, who has been soooo supportive over the years.  After many years of working my business evenings and weekends, taking the plunge into designing full-time was a risky move... and not something that would ever have supported the family (very few needlework designers do this full-time, most have a 'day job' to pay the bills) ... but when I was laid off from a job I didn't really like anyway, he told me "you wouldn't quit to do this, but you're free now, so try", and so I did, and have been ever since ... I told you it was all his fault, right?

MM: What are you looking forward to in 2016?

Sooo many new designs to work on!  I have some stunning artwork sitting on my desk calling my name... and I recently became intrigued with designing some miniatures, so we'll so how that goes! And we're also hoping to get in a trip to Alaska...

MM: Do you have a favorite quote?

I LOVE quotes!  I do 2 newsletters every month (one for shops and one for stitchers), and as part of that I pick a theme and share a handful of quotes - usually funny, but not always.  Not sure I could pick just one... but if anyone wants some people to search for quotes you'll love, you can't fail with Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Albert Enstein, and Maxine, LOL. 

OK, my new favorite for this month is a Maxine... "I'm learning Spanish... I started with burrito, and I'm up to Tequila, OLE!", ROFLOL.

MM: Now for some fun get-to-know-you questions.

What is your favorite song, oh, another hard choice... but ONE of my favorite's is "What if God's blessings come thru raindrops" by Laura Story.
movie, OK, I also LOVE BAD movies, LOL.  But my favorite is actually pretty good - my DH made me a CD of really bad zombie movies as a joke gift, but one of them was so good we've watched it several times - it's an absolute hoot, called COCKNEY'S VS ZOMBIES.  Second favorite would be a little known comedy called NOISES OFF, which has sooo many stars in it, you'll wonder why you never heard of it!  The first time we watched it my DH fell off the couch laughing, .  Of course, a bottle of wine while watching is a big help too .
shows to binge watch, Actually, we just watched a whole season of ONCE UPON A TIME, getting ready for the new season to start, LOL.  I also love WALKING DEAD, though Bill DN care for that type of show, so that one is my private vice!
meal, mmmm... homemade lasagna - I make my own noodles, sooo good!
dessert, I have a weakness for butter tarts (shhh, even talking about them makes my hips swell)...
place to vacation We head for Florida a couple times a year, as we have a timeshare down there... but our favorite vacation was one of our trips to Spain... I have an aunt who lives there, and the first night we arrived she took us in to Alicante, and we walked along the beach boardwalk until we found a little cafe they like, and we were sitting outside about 9 at night, drinking wine and eating little snacks, watching the full moon on the mediterranean beside us, and I said "OK, that's it, I'm staying here!"  Unfortunately I did have to come home eventually, LOL.
and way to unwind? I am an avid reader (Bill built me a 2-storey library that is stunning - did I mention he's definitely a keeper?) ... and I also like to write, though I haven't done as much of that lately as I would like. 

When our girls were younger there weren't all the wonderful fantasy books for teens that there are now, so I wrote them a series of books with a girl as the hero (also not a big thing back then), who had to rescue her brother from a wicked sorcerer.  The girls loaned them to all their friends, and I had all of them write reviews, LOL, so the front of the books now have real reviews and everything.  My DH is always after me to send them to a publisher, but somehow I just never got around to doing that... though you can read the first chapters and purchase a PDF copy on my website.  Maybe writing will become my 'retirement' job, as I'm not getting any younger .

Lastly, tell us why X's and Oh's is special to you?

Well, I am X's & Oh's, and X's & Oh's is me... it has allowed me share my creativity with the world, and I am lucky enough to have a following of stitcher's who enjoy my vision of life and the world around me.  I love to hear how one of my designs has touched someone, and hope to continue to share my talents with stitchers for many more years.

Thank you very much.


  1. Jo - great interview!

    I love your designs - esp. the fantasy ones, Though those caution signs caught my eyes when I pulled the link to your site just now!

    1. Thanx Terri! Always nice to hear someone likes my work - it's what keeps me going!


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