Denise E. Allen

Folk Art that tells a story…

Artist Statement

Denise E. Allen
Self-Taught Intuitive Folk Artist
Quilt Artist, Embroideress, Dollmaker, Collage

The first day I purchased an embroidery kit at a Brooklyn, N.Y. Woolworth Department Store, I took it home that night and embroidered the pictures of Abraham Lincoln, The Liberty Bell, The Emancipation Proclamation and a Quill Pen. I was completely hooked. I instinctively knew that at long last I had found my calling. It was a call to do needlework art. Several years after developing my skills and mastering most of the embroidery stitches, I then taught myself how to draw so that I could eventually market my own embroidery kits using my own drawings.  That was over 30 years ago.  My passion for needlework today encompasses almost every aspect of needlework art and design; including research and study on the origin of needlework.  Some of my research discovery shows that the origin of needlework begins in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3; v.21 and also the Book of Exodus, Chapter 35: vv.30-35. These books speak of two tribes; Judah and Dan. They were gifted in all manner of cunning work; carving of wood; works in gold, silver, brass, weaving and embroidery.

One of the reasons I believe I love embroidery so much is because it actually runs deep in my family bloodline.  My lovely mother Mrs. Butler was the consummate Mistress Of her craft. Both she and her mother were self-taught seamstresses and needleworkers. She told us many years ago how much she loved wearing pretty dresses but couldn’t afford to buy them. She would use brown paper bags she got from the local general store to practice making her own patterns for the dresses she liked.  After a lot of practice, she became proficient in pattern making and dressmaking. I believe my call to do needlework – is a calling – like it was for my mother.

Painted Dreams, Silent Speech and Needle-worked Visions

Many many years ago, I remember having recurring dreams night after night about very old-fashioned faceless African American people – hundreds of them. I could see stories in every one of their faces. Each story was different. They wanted to tell their stories but couldn’t because they were people from the past 18th and 19th centuries. I was only eight or nine years of age when I had these dreams and didn’t know what they meant back then, but now I do. Those faceless silent people were my forefathers and foremothers speaking to me in my mind as I slept telling me to tell their stories; tell the world they silently said; tell as many as you can. Use your thread, needle and paint to do it. Somehow they must have known that later in life I would be a needlework artist. They knew that sewing and doing needlework would for me, be like breathing and eating.  It is so much a part of who I really am. It was no accident the day I walked into that Woolworth store in Brooklyn to buy my first Needlework Embroidery Kit.  What first started out as a simple hobby has now become my greatest passion. When I pick up a needle and thread I experience such joy. It’s to me like a little bit of heaven on earth; I absolutely love needlework. From the mid 1990′s to the present day, I have been painting and needleworking my dreams and visions.


1. 3D Folk Art Story Quilts and Wall hangings
2. Folk Art Paintings using Acrylic and Watercolor Paints
3. One-of-a-kind Folk Art Dolls made from Cloth and Paper
4. 3D Embroidery Kits with images of my Folk Art Paintings
5. Textile/Cloth and Paper Collage that tell stories about poor African Americans living in Tenement Housing Communities
6. Old-fashioned 19th Century (very feminine) fancy woman’s art dresses to exhibit or to wear.  Also one-of-a-kind 18th-19th century homespun handmade cotton calico dresses farm women would wear. For exhibit only.
7. One-of-a-kind hand and machine made religious waist and shoulder sashes; alter covers and prayer shawls.


My subject and themes go hand in hand. They work together as one.  My subject is about African African Life from Slavery to Freedom and everything else in between. I also touch on what life could have been like for African Americans if slavery hadn’t happened.  My work touches on Black Abolitionists, Slavery, Loving, Hardworking and Giving African American Families, The African American Church in the 1900′s, Beautiful Hardworking Mothers and Fathers, Domestics and Cooks, Poverty, Racial Hate, Pain, Fear, Hopelessness, Struggle, Hope and Victory.


The best part of my art is putting a piece together using so many kinds of different materials. The most important material, of course, is the fabric I use to paint and needlework my stories, which is heavy weight and medium weight muslin cotton. I use lighter weight muslin cotton fabric to do applique work on the heavier weight painted piece.  I can use almost anything to embellish my story quilts, cloth and paper dolls depending on if it can be sewed or glued on.

I use many types of fabrics, acrylic and water color paints, lace, paper, wire, wood, glue, embroidery work, glass, plastic, cardboard, crayons, markers, beads, stuff other people give me that they’d like to see in my cloth and paper story quilts. I use 3 antique non-electric Singer Sewing machines to sew my 3D Story Quilts and Dolls. I never plan a piece out, as I begin a piece, those dreams I had so long ago come back to mind and speak silently to tell me what it is they want to become.

My vision and goals for my needlework future include learning how to use natural dyes, to dye my own fabrics for making draperies, unique bed covers, dresses, draperies and yarns for my one-of-a-kind embroidery kits. I would also like to do an in-depth research project about the tribes of Judah and Dan and compare it with some of the tribes in Africa who excel in the art of needlework and weaving to see if there is some kind of connection there; and if so, what it is.