I have been putting off writing this article for a very long time. Because it’s going to be loooong. Grab yourself a cuppa and get cozy because today I’m divulging the creative process behind making this deck
So firstly apologies for the quality and editing choices of the first couple of these images. This was 2017 and I had no idea what I was doing on Instagram and it shows. Usually I’d take new photos but all the hoops I made for this deck were sold in the Kickstarter campaign so we will have to make do with my awful original pics.
The idea for the deck
Let’s start right at the very beginning, how does one even decide they are going to embroider an entire tarot deck in the first place? Well the answer is sort of by accident. Early 2017 I was deepening my knowledge of tarot and I also wanted to learn how to embroider. I would do one and then the other but they were both very time consuming and it felt like I was being pulled in two different directions. One day whilst meditating the idea of doing both hit me: I could learn how to embroider and I could draw designs based on tarot. I could research each card whilst I embroidered. No longer was I being pulled in different directions but instead they both worked together to pull me down the rabbit hole of a very long creative project. I was also painfully depressed, I wasn’t leaving the house (I worked from home) and my life had become very small and ‘safe’ embroidering tarot cards opened up my life and it began to bloom again.
So I would meditate on the card I was designing, draw and sketch my ideas and finally I would transfer these onto fabric. The longest part was the embroidery itself but it quickly became a labour of love. I would listen to audio tarot resources like Kelly-Ann Maddox’s Tarot Trainee series and also monthly readings by She bear, SarahVrba and The Quietest Revolution. I also had a tarot journal and would write down new meanings that had found me along the way.
The Fool, truly the beginning
So we reach the first card: The Fool. For all those with OCD they will be happy to know that not only is The Fool the first deck in tarot but it is also my first ever embroidery. Ever. I embroidered the robin separately before figuring out how she was going to arranged in the card. This meant technically I embroidered 2 hoops for this card. Time consuming and yes I learned my lesson. I redid The Fool card so many times. At the beginning I was going to watercolour the background and then apply the embroidered animals over the top and then use pressed flowers, but it looked really messy like a junk draw, too many mediums and choices made it hard to understand and the meaning was lost. Ah the downsides of The Fool: rushing in to a new project and getting stuck/a victim of my own naivety. I decided to use embroidery as my only medium, the threads will be what tells the story.
Thanks to these redos I had a clearer vision of the style. Once I finished the embroidery I printed the card and foiled it with a toner printer, hot foil and a laminator. Totally unnecessary step but for me I was having a hard time explaining this concept of embroidered cards to family and friends. After creating a physical card I would hand this over and say “This but printed professionally” I would post these on Instagram and this helped people understand and they quickly gor on board with the project.
This video below shows my printing and foiling process (though the card is from my new project The Embroidered Graveyard Oracle)
Disclaimer: This is the process for my prototype cards. The cards you receive when you purchase from me are professionally printed not hand cut and foiled by me)
And so we have our finished Fool, a Robin laying her eggs on the ground within a vintage teacup. The surrounding daisies and daffodils hint at spring and new beginnings. The ground is not safe for birds and this is the naive danger element of The Fool.
The Magician, Discovering the magic of art therapy
Embroidering The Magician was the first time it really clicked for me. I researched the card, and began to look for animals that represented this card’s energy. It was Fall and I was watching Autumnwatch and they featured a stoat. These little guys are tiny but so ferocious. Proportionately they have a bite force that could rival an alligator, they can adapt to live in almost any habitat, they eat anything and are very resourceful. They have been known to predate a bird’s nest and then after a free meal they’ll live in the nest and raise their own young. They are the ultimate animal to personify the quote “when life gives you lemons.) The Magician alchemises, he uses the elements to his advantage and creates the life he wants. So the stoat is pictured here with his coat going from brown (summer coat) to ermine (winter) as the background changes throughout the seasons from winter at the top to Spring at the bottom, he is at home in any season, any environment.
The High Priestess, Feeling my way
If there were to be hurdles on the path (which there were) it was not with this card. I dreamed of an owl with the galaxy in her eyes. Crescent moons for feathers and hauntingly looking directly at the reader, captivating them to gaze further and feel their way within themselves. Everything about this card just happened effortlessly. It felt like I simply breathed her into life. There is so much folklore about barn owls, some say they are an omen for death but my favourite is that they are able to see in the dark when we cannot, and so we must emanate the owl and learn to look within and trust our own guiding systems. The High Priestess energy or what?
I experimented with watercolour backgrounds eventually settling for alcohol markers and isopropyl alcohol, the same techniques of diluting colour but with alcohol instead of water. This made the colours bolder and brighter and no chalky residue which would mark the light thread as it pierced the fabric over and over as would happen when I experimented with real paint. This was also my first time doing satin stitch and with metallic thread no less (which by the way is awful stuff to work with, it snaps and tangles so easily as it is plastic and not really thread.) But I lived to stitch another day.
The Empress, creativity squared
For The Empress I went back to my roots. My mum used to breed pet rabbits back in the 90’s so there’s a lot of bunny facts knocking about in this brain of mine. Like the fact that if does (female rabbits) are frightened they will perform infanticide: the act of killing their babies and running away. This is classic prey animal behaviour. See a predator will always take the easiest meal rather than a chase and only a potential meal. My oh my doesn’t this speak of The Empress reversed? Killing our dreams, stifling our creativity with our fear? Well I thought so, I also knew The Empress would be a rabbit because of how many fertility goddesses adore the rabbit, for obvious reasons.
The Emperor, running out of fabric, but not steam
I knew wanted the Emperor to match the Empress in style, so I chose light thread on dark fabric to contrast the Empress’ dark thread on white fabric. I also knew I wanted them both to be rabbits. Finally the Emperor was always going to be the Holly King. It was set, except... I couldn’t find any fabric I liked. Not only dark fabric I wanted it to be cozy, a knitted material for the winter elements of this card. Frustrated I looked down at my dark. blue. sweater. Ah! I whipped it off, ironed some stabiliser onto the inside and began embroidering immediately. Yes all the hoops of this project are sold but the Emperor is still with me and he gets worn weekly.
I love this little detail about him and I get compliments about the sweater all the time. His cute little monocle shows he can see into the future, holly crown shoes his strength and he uses this buck strength to protect his family. Masculinity without the toxicity, so refreshing.
The Hierophant, learning from the seasons
This is the natural world, where organised religions and the traditional meanings of this card don’t really have a place. This is the first card that I took artistic liberties with. I decided this card should be a wise oak tree growing through the seasons, from spring on the left through to winter on the right. In the quietest season, winter, the season for contemplation and introspection a raven sits, waiting to translate the teachings of the wise oak into our language. Ravens can speak, like parrots do. They are also a symbol for wisdom and in this case they serve as our guide through the natural world. This is the only card I kept back for myself. There was just something about it, I think maybe it’s because it shows the job of this deck, communion between person and nature, as a perfect microcosm. Or maybe I just like shiny things and there’s sooo many pretty crystal beads stitched in to this hoop
The lovers, jealous of mice
I started this project in the summer but by now it is deep winter. I longed for hazy summer afternoons whilst stitching this card and I think it shows. Researching dormice (the common field mouse) I was shocked to discover female mice can give birth during hibernation. They have one of the longest hibernation periods (of British wildlife) I just couldn’t help thinking “wow, nothing stops these guys, eating, shagging and sleeping” so it goes that 2 field mice make a heart with wheat stalks and their tales, under the fruitful canopy of ripening field. I’m quite envious of the dormouse, aren’t you?
The chariot, fusing energy and meaning
Oh how happy this card makes me. A little ladybug has fashioned a walnut carriage, pulled along by 2 caterpillars. Little acorn wheels kick up dust and stones as this gang race about the forest floor. The Chariot card is all about movement, quickening the pace. To me this card is ‘school sports day’ energy and as the school’s champion sprinter, when this day came around it would always make me excited. I wanted that fun energy here, the caterpillars aren’t bound by reigns, they are not slaves to the ladybug instead they are participating with their own free will, each a valuable member of the team. The carriage wouldn’t pull if they went in their own directions, all 3 work together and so the walnut race carriage is able to achieve these exciting speeds. The ladybug is the symbol for joy and caterpillars symbolise transformation, so this card shows us with a positive mind frame we can transform anything we decide to AND have fun at the same time.
Strength, fully in my power now
By now I was very used to the style, process and timescale. From here on the designs happened very quickly. I was in my stride and power, I began to get ideas for future cards with ease. I stitched a stag with blossom trees for antlers and a hawk owl to symbolise strength, all stitched onto pink velvet because of the luxurious vibe it brought
The Hermit, when trying new things backfires
Ah the hermit. This card is actually 2 layers and 2 separate embroideries fused. The eyes are from a lynx (a very secretive and elusive creature) I then embroidered the trees on a new piece of fabric, cut the hole inside the trees out, added the branches (pipe cleaners wrapped in grey thread) and then applied the eyes behind them. This card was exhausting and I burned myself with my hot glue gun. Again the energies of the card were showing themselves in my craft: cutting holes in embroidery is NOT the done thing, I diverted from the path to follow my own, it worked eventually but I learned the path that is least traveled by is usually overgrown. Being a ‘trail blazer’ means being the one to do all the hard work hacking through the bush carving the path. No tutorial or embroidery blog could help me here in these unchartered waters.
The Wheel of Fortune, back to it
Back in comfortable territory this card soothed me after my hot glue gun stress. Join me as we follow a humble pansy from seed through its phases perfectly in harmony with the seasons and watch a microcosm for the circle of life.
Justice, enjoying tiny details
Justice was a really sweet card, 2 kingfisher perch on a branch balanced on a rock (nature’s weighing scales) at first it looks uneven one kingfisher has the fish but is also higher up away from danger. It on closer inspection we see the kingfisher at the bottom is larger, his belly full of fish weighing him down. The lighter bird in need of food is able to eat because the larger waits for him patiently. It speaks about the complexity of fairness and justice, the difference between equality and equity.
The hanged man, frustration and the card reversed
I struggled with the hanged man, you can probably see the finished card is quite different from the hoop. A Luna moth will make a cocoon out of leaves and disguise themselves whilst they wait to transform. Moon flowers surround the cocoon on a backdrop of the crescent moon which in the end didn’t make an appearance. When I put this on a card it was very tiny, y removing the moon I was able to zoom in to the cocoon. I sat with this card for a long time, uncomfortable and frustrated not really knowing how to fix it. I started over but came back to this version choosing to honour the discomfort I felt, after all the card asks us to wait for the lesson and it finally came. Months after this deck was printed I finally got it: it’s not about chasing perfect, it’s about being. I’m glad I kept this version of the card, it’s hard for the eye to figure out what this even is, readers must sit with the card and check the guidebook if they want to know. Most will pass it by and not connect with it but those that stick around and do the work are rewarded. They have physically acted out what the hanged man teaches us.
Death, the pressure of the ‘favourite’
I put a lot of pressure on myself for this card. The death card is my favourite in the entire deck. It was Valentine’s Day when I stop agonising and instead committed to this design and began stitching. The adder is the only venomous snake in the U.K. and she weaves herself through the skull of an owl, deadly nightshade berries and flowers protect her, all stitched on a backdrop of red. I adore this card, from the crosshatch shading on the skull to her textured scales, this was the moment I truly fell in love with embroidery. I had been trying it out, experimenting but completing this card felt.. right. It was at this moment I knew this is what I wanted to do for a career for the rest of my life and in my free time
Temperance, balance in tarot and in life
Between the death card and temperance there was a very big gap, I had been completing 1 card a week on average but between these hoops it was over 6 weeks. I was doing a lot of overtime and insomnia had resurfaced after being dormant for years. I worked and slept. I had been feeling really positive but this new situation exhausted me and depression threatened to return. I had to find balance, as the temperance teaches us. I had the call with work to quit the overtime, regulated my sleeping habits and little by little I became cheerful again. Seeing that I needed cheering up I researched otters, they can live on land and water, fresh and sea water. They know when to play and when to hunt. I stitched a sea otter on the left with waves, star fish and sea life and a land otter with flowers, leaves and butterflies.
They meet each other paw in paw within a heart depicting balance. Once again this project was teaching me and healing me.
The devil, play
It’s spring now, the magpies are so noisy in our garden that of course my attention turns to them. With this card we counter the myth that magpies steal shiny things, the devil is intelligent like the magpie, and sometimes a little naughty too. With this guys I wanted to show the beautiful shine of magpie feathers, they aren’t just black and white, there’s a world of colour depends these hues. Just like life isn’t good or evil. The devil teaches us to control our addictions and not be controlled by them, he also teaches us to relax and play in the sunshine
I had fun making jewellery for the magpie to hoard. The necklace pictured is real and also embroidered.
The Tower, dramatic change but also moving on
The tower has always been a tricky card for me. I knew I didn’t want to make this all doom and gloom. The lightning strikes the tree and the top of the card is very scary but afterwards we can see at the bottom the card is peaceful. A little someone has moved into this dead tree and made it a home. Yes change is drastic and scary but sometimes it’s for the best. Also sometimes with the tower card we are not the unsuspecting victim tree but instead the lightning. What needs zapping and changing in your life? You weild that power. Thus the tower card is one of empowerment. I channeled a lot of my depression in this card. I was happy now but I realised I needed my tower moment to take me from depressed to where I was now
The star, the (star)light at the end of the tunnel
I was almost finished with the major arcana. Which I knew was going to be the majority of the work because I knew I wanted pip style minors (one hoop for each suit.) I was amazed at how I had stuck to a project because I’d always been flaky up until this point. I wanted the star to feel like a calming salve for the eyes: peace doves lift a wooden bucket of water as stars twinkle on a galaxy background. Hope and faith, the star card has a beautiful meaning and I really wanted to do it justice
The moon, uncertainty
I wanted to love the moon, I wanted it to be amazing. Like with the death card I put pressure on myself but this time I was unhappy with the outcome. I remade this card many times. The final one featuring a badger and hawk moths under a full moon sending their way in the dark, seemed at the time to be the best of a bad bunch. Looking back now I’m unsure why I felt this way because this card is one of my favourites. It’s one of those times where chasing perfection always leaves us feeling short changed.
The Sun, enjoy
A baby fawn rests in the shade of a sunflower patch. Warm, safe and happy with nothing but a long sunny afternoon to look forward to. I waited for a sunny day to stitch this and one finally came along. I sat in the sun and stitched this on Beltane and it felt magical. By this point I had 20 prototype cards which I would lay out to look at and photography for IG and I kept having waves of happiness as I realised I was going to finish.
Judgement, first criticisms
I wanted the judgement card to reflect the death card because they have always had a strong relationship. This is a pine marten a very rare creature only found in the Scottish forests. They are part of the mustelid family which means they are related to our stoat magician, just like judgement card is related to the magician card. See the magician is about being resourceful in life, the death card is about accepting death and judgement is about relinquishing control of what happens afterwards. All we really have is our word and how we choose to spend each day. How we judge ourselves and how we view the judgement of others. This cards upset at least one person. I was DMed and asked not so nicely asked to redo this card else this person would not be purchasing this deck (by this point I had began to kick around the idea of using Kickstarter to print a small run of decks) I politely responded that this card was supposed to be uncomfortable and that art is supposed to make us feel a range of emotions.
I did not change this card
The world, the end of the majors
As the world card is completed I remember feeling a sense of completion and happiness with this card, a golden egg filled with floral texture is surrounded by a crowned green snake Like the green wreath in the traditional RWS deck.
The pages of each suit greet the world, but these brooches were added much later because I hadn’t picked them yet. I knew I wanted an animal to represent each suit but I still wasn’t sure on who. So I photoshopped the brooches onto the card plain and waited.
I didn’t have to wait long, I decided each suit would have its own animal and flower that interacted with the element of that suit. Pentacle’s element is earth, cup’s is water, wand’s is fire and sword’s is air. So I chose Hares and daisies for pentacles for their down to earthiness, swans and lilies for cups for their grace upon water’s surface, foxes and sunflowers for wands for their fiery colours and finally bees and dandelions because bees sort of carry around small swords and dandelions rely on air to spread their seeds.
The whole of the minor arcana was stitched as 4 hoops, one for each suit. This meant I ‘finished’ the stitching quite quickly. There were a few elements that I kept the same so the minors were fluid: the ace of each suit has the animal curled up asleep in a ring of the corresponding flowers. Each flower represent the object and would contain the right number 5 of swords becomes 5 dandelions, 3 of pentacles is 3 daisies etc.
The page of each suit is embroidered as a brooch. I like the feeling that these brooches are little gifts, and aren’t the pages a gift of their suit? I made about 45 of these brooches for the Kickstarter.
I worked on the pentacles hoop first. I tried to select fabric which would match the feel of the suit. So I picked a very rustic hessian style linen, which by the way was completely opaque and I couldn’t trace my sketch like usual so instead I had to freehand this onto the hoop, which lead to some sizing problems (in the finished hoop I have nipped the edges off the ears :( and didn’t realise until after I glued it down 🤦♀️ of course this doesn’t affect the art for the deck just the one off hoop which was created. Once again lesson learned
Of all the minor the cups are my favourite. Though I am told over and over by you guys how much you love the wands (foxes) for me, my heart is in cups. I used a beautiful teal fabric to act as the water and stitched little puddles and waves. Swans are so graceful, so loving and of course we all know they are life partners.
These fiery foxes and cheerful sunflowers are so bright and vivid. I stitched them on the same pink velvet I had used for the strength and judgement cards and I love the silky luxurious feeling it adds.
I knew that swords was going to be a challenge because I somehow wanted to add a weightless/see through feel to the fabric but of course it’s going onto a card which is opaque. I decided to try clear organza with white paper underneath and this made the embroidery have the most delightful shadow. I couldn’t believe my first experiment worked so well. It gave a subtle blue hint which balanced the deck nicely and added to that airy element. Though my first time stitching on organza wasn’t easy, this is when I learned that organza rips easily and doesn’t support weighty stitches which meant no more than 2 strands and not a lot of them. Which was fine for our little bees, it worked in their favour to make them appear weightless.
After this I had to finish the back of each hoop of which there were 27, another lesson learned. Do this as I finish each hoop next time. I had been turning each hoop into a card as I went along. This meant all that I needed to do was colour correcting, drawing the silver foil layer, finalise my font choice (which I stitched myself and turned into a typeable font) fix any last minute changes and they were ready.
Of course I had to design the back and a logo too.
At this point I launched the Kickstarter expecting to sell maybe 10-20 decks. It was over 100. I couldn’t believe so many people connected with this deck I was speechless. Due to the amount I maxed out the local printer and I was able to have this deck printed professionally. The importing fees and red tape of this process are really quite complex and boring but if there are any budding deck creators out there (UK based because tax and VAT differ so much per country) let me know via the contact form and I’ll get to work on that. Trust me though it’s boring
So really I think that’s it for the creation process. Thank you so much for sticking around if you made it this far. I hope you enjoyed this and got something from it. What I really want to convey is that big projects are daunting and scary at first but we just need to break it down into one step, one card at a time. If I can create a business around the very slow art form of embroidering a tarot deck with no prior embroidery skills, no business skills and no clue how to use Instagram then you can do your thing. Whether this is embroidery, tarot or not even art based. You don’t have to do it perfectly, just start. Seriously just google each step. The first step to writing a book is a single word. If I can you absolutely can
Thank you so much to my backers on Kickstarter and everyone that has supported me and cheered me on through this journey.