Off the Hook by Susan O’Connor
24th February 2023
Oftentimes in life, it’s the backstory that ends up being the most compelling and intriguing part of our experiences.
It’s one thing to see a work of art and appreciate its beauty in its completed form. To then be educated as to its provenance and discover the trials and tribulations that led to its creation not only elevates your emotional connection to the piece, it also provides an entirely new context from which to enjoy the art.
Today we’re sharing the back story to Susan O’Connor’s latest project ‘Off the Hook’ from Inspirations issue #117.
These stunning highly decorative fishing flies re-created using silk threads and finished off as paperweights, are works of art.
With such a unique choice of subject matter, we simply had to learn what was behind the source of Susan’s inspiration.
The answer? Fish, men and flies is what we discovered was behind it all!
The first part of our story begins with Susan deciding that fish would be an interesting subject to stitch. Fish are rich in texture, come in an endless parade of shapes and designs and are full of shading and colour play opportunities that are a real treat when interpreting in stitch.
Susan was so taken with this idea, she created the blanket titled ‘Gone Fishing’ that was published back in Inspirations magazine issue #60. This amazing blanket features seven different species of fish, eight fishing flies and this wonderful quote from the book How to Fool Fish with Feathers:
‘Fly fishing is for those who hold that the fun in the race of life is in the running, not just the winning, that existence is its own justification…’
The second part of our story speaks to a target audience for stitched fish. In the same way that needlework is an activity taken up mainly by women, fishing is skewed towards men and Susan noted a distinct lack of masculinity when it came to needlework designs.
Fish, fishing and fishing flies are all subject matters that can be a lot of fun to stitch and lend themselves to creating projects that would either make great gifts for any men in our lives, or for the men who love to stitch, a design more aligned with their interests.
Now we’re arriving at the really interesting part of our story. When Susan created her Gone Fishing blanket, she incorporated a few small fishing flies into the design and to ensure they were accurately depicted, she began doing some research.
After visiting several fishing stores in Australia and throughout the USA during her travels, Susan quickly became enamoured with these intriguing lures.
The skill and techniques applied to fishing flies enabling them to realistically resemble a variety of different insects such as crickets, ants, dragonflies and even a mouse (trout eat mice!) is extraordinary.
After all, if a fish sees something fishy, they won’t take the bait.
Susan also purchased a book explaining the art of fly-tying and learned that embroidery threads are commonly used in their construction, which when you think about it, makes creating fishing flies not a world away from three-dimensional embroidery, just with less stitching!
The pinnacle of fly-tying is the ‘fully-dressed’ fly that is not created for fishing, but rather for the sole purpose of demonstrating the particular and exacting skill of the tyer.
Now let’s bring all this back to our current project at hand, Off The Hook.
Off the Hook
With this wealth of knowledge about fishing flies, and having practised stitching them already with Gone Fishing, Susan decided to take her flies to another level and re-create two of them as larger stand-alone projects.
To capture the beauty of these fascinating treasures in stitch, Susan uses stranded and filament silk over a real hook, enhanced with sparkling metallic threads and enclosed in a glass paperweight.
Layers of overcasting stitches build up the body around the hook to really elevate the design off the fabric with the rest of the piece worked in a variety of satin, straight, long and short stitches.
Incorporating a real hook into the design solved two problems – it alleviated the pressure of trying to re-create a hook in stitch, but more importantly it gave them an authentic look and feel.
It’s as if you can use them to actually fish.
The idea of finishing them as a paperweight not only serves as a fabulous way to present your work as a giftable and practical application, it also acts as a magnifier to really show off the skill in your needlework.
Whether you chose the Turquoise or the Yellow fly, all the instructions, materials list and construction information is included in issue #117. Better yet, purchase a Ready-to-Stitch kit that includes all the embroidery threads, needles, fabric, hook, glass paperweight and cork base to save you the trouble of sourcing all the materials.
What a fascinating world Susan has brought to the needlework community. Who knew there was so much involved in fly fishing? For us it’s all about making the world more beautiful one stitch at a time, for a fly tyer it’s all about fooling the fish!
PS – if you were wondering what the writing around the edge of each design means, FD stands for Fully Dressed followed by the date it was stitched, with SWF:HS2 meaning Salt Water Fly Hook Size 2.
Make Your Own Off the Hook
Step 1 – Purchase Project Instructions
Off the Hook by Susan O’Connor is two delightfully colourful ‘fully-dressed’ flies each enclosed in a glass paperweight.
Inspirations Issue 117
Off the Hook – i117 Digital
Step 2 – Purchase Ready-To-Stitch Kit
The Inspirations Ready-To-Stitch kits for Off the Hook include everything* you need to re-create these fascinating treasures: Fabric (unprinted), paperweight, hook, wadding, embroidery threads and needles.
*Please Note: To cater for flexibility of purchase, instructions are not included with our kits. For step-by-step directions on how to create this project, please refer to the magazine/digital pattern.