Welcome to the Art of Chris Wills
Cross Stitch by Chris
Chris is significantly limited in counting ability and colour recognition. He uses his own unique way of interpreting counted cross stitch patterns by creating what appears to be randomly selected“markers'' which he stitches towards and away from in order to complete his project - which is entirely unheard of.
Chris’s remarkable work is of the finest precision and he has never missed a stitch.
This is his Story
Chris Wills was born in 1971, the youngest in the family with 2 older sisters. A quiet child who only walked at 18 months, he kept to himself. He was also mostly non verbal making Dad Don think that Chris may be deaf.
He was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. Today Chris is considered to be on the severe side of the spectrum.
Compared to today, not much was known about autism in the 70’s, and there was very little in the way of resources or family support. Chris didn’t like hugs or having people in his space but he showed a fascination with graphs and maps and charts at an early age.
He attended Awatapu Special School in Palmerston North but his parents were told that he wouldn’t achieve more than a 3 year old. When Chris became a teenager his parents were advised to place him in a home for intellectually challenged kids. He attended for a while but Don could see it wasn’t a place that was making Chris happy and he moved him home full time to be on the family farm.
Big Little Brother
Chris was loving life on the farm, there were lots of mundane, repetitive tasks to keep him busy - he loved being outside, there was always something on the go. When Chris was 22 Don met Gaylyn. Gaylyn and her 10 year old son Andrew used to visit Don and Chris on the weekends.
Andrew taught Chris how to catch a ball and play rugby, they built hills for Andrew's dirt bike, and made islands. Andrew taught Chris how to use a screwdriver, really love everything about an electric screwdriver and how to use a jib board - they bonded for life. When Gaylyn and Don got married and moved in, Chris did everything with his Big Little Brother.
Despite not wanting to have or be in anyone's space, Chris seemed to forget all about this when Gaylyn picked up her cross stitch. He watched her work so intensely and sat so close to her that she was worried she might accidentally prick him with her needle. Eventually she asked Chris if he wanted to have a go.
Chris was keen and Gaylyn showed Chris how to start in the middle of the design as one does, and start following the pattern out.
Chris, not being a fan of the rules, selected his first pattern - snakes and ladders - and decided that he was going to start by completing all of the eyes of the snakes - just the eyes.
Gaylyn tried to correct Chris but he just continued on, working in his own way, developing the stitches to and from the snake's eyes with pedantic, all consuming precision, finishing up without a single stitch out of place.
The result was a masterpiece of perfection.
That was in 1994 and since then Chris has completed hundreds of complex cross stitch needle art from patterns, designs and picture perfect artwork from photographs. Don and Gaylyn's entrance hall to their home is filled from end to end with rows of framed artwork and the collection grows.
Over the years many people have donated cross stitch supplies and materials to Don and Gaylyn from cupboard clear outs or hand me downs and absolutely everything has been used to create a beautiful work of art.
For the love of Jemma
When Big Little Brother married Jemma, Chris gained a Sister in Law with whom he has bonded deeply. In Chris's eyes, Jemma can do absolutely no wrong. When he created an entire series of all of the special people in his life - a free hand cross stitch series - Jemma was the only person in his family that he created.
Gaylyn has put all of these special people together - people Chris has met, been to school with and knows throughout his life - into a beautiful quilt that she made. With each of the individual cross stitch people next to each other on the border. Nobody else in Chris' family made it into the series, just Jemma.
Jemma also designed and created the logo for the Spectrum Cross Stitch store.
The Story of Chris and the Broken Needle
Chris was working on a cross stitch project when his only needle broke. Gaylyn was in the process of bringing him another needle but he couldn’t wait for the 2 days it would take to get there.
He then repurposed the thin metal section sourced on the inside of a twisty bread bag sealer, stripped the paper off of the outside and bent the needle into shape. Determinedly sharpening the edge of the metal to form a point.
By the time Gaylyn returned with his new needle, he was already half way through his project and when the family worked out how he had managed, they couldn’t believe their eyes!
Exhibitions & Awards
His work has been widely exhibited and when his work ended up at the A&P Show, he walked away with every prize.
Chris won first prize for his art at the IHC art awards that were held in Wellington in 2015. The event was held at the Michael Fowler centre in Wellington. Frankie Stevens was MC and the judges were Denise l'Estrange, Boh Runga and Dylan Horrocks.
Local papers have covered his story,
“To describe Chris’ ability as a talent is a bit of an understatement really. His cross stitchings are masterpieces. Even the rear side of his works are impeccable. His speed and dexterity would have the best seamstress at his mercy. It is truly amazing to see him work at speed, as his eyes move from the pattern to the exact spot on the material he is stitching.”
Duane Ranger, Waiuku Post, 1996
“With surprising speed and dexterity Chris works with a needle and thread to create stunningly intricate pictures on linen. What makes Chris’ talent exceptional is that he is autistic. He started by watching his stepmother. Seeing his interest she gave him a bit of canvas and needle and some wool. A broken needle did not stop him. He was so keen he made a new one with a piece of wire (from a bread tag). His first attempt revealed a God given talent his parents had been looking for.”
Barnacle Bulletin, February 1997
“When people stop to look at Chris‘ work, very few of them realise that it is needlework. Little do they know that Chris is severely autistic, yet his work is so perfect it looks like a painting. His fascination for graphs, charts and maps has allowed him to create masterpieces with needle and thread. He has limited counting ability but amazes everyone with his ability to count stitches regardless of the type of cloth weave.”
Waiuku Post, August 2010
Framing & Exhibitions
Quilting and needlework - The Old Sew and Sew. They offer brilliant sewing advice along with sewing classes
Framers - Pukekohe Picture Framers - Father and Daughter team who frame almost all of Chris’s work and often kindly make space to display his work as well.