There are many amazing people who use their talents that the Lord has given them to spread His love and message and Mikaela Heel is such a person. Mikaela is an embroidery artist who has a gift for spreading Beauty and the Faith simultaneously by her creations. She is the creator and owner of Tangle & Poke where she sells her handcrafted pieces and embroidery kits. She also shares tips and tricks for others to start their own journey as embroidery artists on her instagram.
Please enjoy this segment of MODG News’ spotlight with Mikaela Heel!
How did you start embroidering and when was that?
I started embroidering in the summer of 2018. It was the summer before my sophomore year at Thomas Aquinas College, and a hobby that was mostly born out of boredom and a desire to create some cute dorm room decorations. I taught myself how to embroider off of a couple of YouTube tutorials and was amazed by how easy it was to pick up with materials that were already lying around my house!
What were your views on embroidery when you first started and how have they changed?
When I first started embroidering, I stuck very rigidly to using certain stitches for lettering, others for flowers, and others to fill in large spaces. I thought that the way to become good at this type of art was simple but fairly limiting.Through the past 3 years I’ve really ditched most of those old techniques and “rules” that I first learned and now do mostly what I call “thread painting”. That is, using embroidery as a very creative and open ended medium through which to convey movement, textures, light and spirit. I truly believe this is where embroidery can become just as creatively freeing and relaxing as painting or sketching.
What inspired you to create sacred art through embroidery?
Early on when in my embroidery learning process, I ambitiously started this large and ambitious portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It took me over a year to create, but it was by far my favorite piece to work on, because there was something about creating embroidered sacred art that made space for prayer and the movement of the Holy Spirit in a way that other pieces didn’t. The portrait was received incredibly well by family and friends, and I started receiving orders for more sacred art portraits frequently. After a few months, I switched gears to focusing solely on portraits of the saints, Mary and quotes from scripture or the saints, and I haven’t turned back.
How did you feel about turning this passion/hobby into a business?
Honestly, both thrilled and frequently overwhelmed. There is so so so much that I have learned along the way, and have yet to learn, but I am beyond grateful for mentors who have been guiding friends to turn to, and a community who is so patient and understanding along the way.
What led you to open Tangle and Poke?
The summer of 2018 when I first started embroidering, I began just by making a couple of hoops to hang in my dorm room. When friends at school and family saw them, they LOVED how unique the style was, and started requesting I make them pieces as well. As the attention and requests grew my dad was actually the one to encourage me to start an Etsy shop. I was quite reluctant and afraid, but with encouragement and support, I finally did [opened the shop] at the tail end of the summer and I am so grateful for the nudge in the right direction.
Is there a story behind the name of Tangle and Poke? How did you choose it?
The name comes from the raw truth behind what most of embroidery is: tangled thread and poked fingers.
How do you want your pieces to impact your customers?
My heart and mission behind Tangle and Poke is to bring a bit more beauty and creativity into homes in order to stimulate prayer. I am a firm believer that Dostoevsky was deeply right when he said that, “Beauty will save the world,” and I am trying to do my small part in bringing more beauty into the world. I create my original hoops with the aim of igniting fruitful conversation with curious onlookers, or just being another source of beauty in the home.
What has God taught you through making sacred art and sharing it?
Embroidery has really taught me to admire God as Creator, the source of all things beautiful. With embroidery perhaps more than painting, every single stitch has to be intentionally placed and chosen, and most of my pieces have hundreds, if not thousands of stitches layered on top of one other to create a certain texture or depth. It really strikes me how intimately and intentionally God as Creator has stitched together all being…every insect, every organ, every human. He has made them and knows them infinitely more intimately than I know my little embroidered creations. Being an artist has peeled back the scales on my eyes a bit to how present God is in His creation, and it really is an honor to be gifted with glorifying Him in my capacity to create and share what He made first.
How do you deal with inspiration, and trial and failure when creating new pieces?
Most of the time, a piece or collection emerges from a phrase or saint that I cannot get out of my head. Some part of a prayer or image of a saint will strike deeply, and I don’t really know why. I’ll sit with it and some sketching tools for an hour or so and just pray as I play with dozens of designs and styles until I can capture what it is that the Holy Spirit was communicating through the words or images.
Sometimes though, a piece I am working on really doesn’t turn out at all to be what I hoped it would. Often it’s because I’m trying to force something, or just because I’m trying something new. I’m perfectly content knowing that sometimes I will fail though, because that’s an important part of the creative process.
What piece was your most ambitious and really became a labor of love?
A friend of mine commissioned me a while ago to create and embroider a pall for his cousin who was getting ordained as a priest. I was super excited and honored to be asked, and then quickly realized the immense task that I had in front of me. I knew literally nothing about mass linens and materials, didn’t have any of the correct fabric or thread, and had no idea how to sew together the pall once I’d embroidered it. Google had nothing to say on the matter, so I ended up calling my grandma for help on where to even look for a pattern for a pall, and was desperately reaching out to other Catholic artists on Instagram who I thought might have a clue on where to start. Another incredibly kind woman on Instagram, who had recently been learning about mass linens, ended up sharing a pattern with me, offering tips, and just otherwise being an angel as I asked her dozens of questions while navigating the project. It was quite the challenging ordeal, but the pall turned out beautifully in the end. A few weeks later my friend sent me a photo of his cousin using the pall I had created while celebrating his first mass, and it still brings tears to my eyes. My unworthy and inexperienced hands were somehow capable of creating something that a priest somewhere is celebrating mass with. I’m still blown away by it.
Are there any future plans for your shop that you would like to share?
I currently have available three sacred art embroidery kits: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred + Immaculate Hearts, and Divine Mercy. I have many others in the works, along with embroidery kits for kids that I have been working on and testing!
Mikaela truly is adding beauty to world, and you can continue to be in contact with her through her Etsy shop and Instagram.