Saturday, June 22, 2019


It’s been awhile since I posted any needlework images. Here is a smattering of pieces made in the last year or two…

Flounce Sleeve. Artist: Kriota Willberg
The late great Rozsika Parker, in her fabulous book, The Subversive Stitch, described the way Enlightenment philosophers and scientists introduced the notion that women were essentially biologically driven to sew. At the same time, women were physically associated with flowers in some anatomical texts by Casseri and Van de Speigel. I decided to up the fantasy a notch by re-designing a flounce sleeve embroidery pattern from an 1855 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book using anatomical images from The surgery, surgical pathology and surgical anatomy of the female pelvic organs : in a series of coloured plates taken from nature, with commentaries, notes and cases,by Henry Savage (1876). You can find this book at the New York Academy of Medicine Historical Collection

I worked up the pattern in cotton floss on linen. Then I accidentally burnt it with an iron when I had a migraine. It took two months to make.

Oophorectomy. Try saying that 5 times, fast! Artist: Kriota Willberg
An oophorectomy is a surgery where an ovary is removed. This is a free-hand image of a (somewhat cartoonish) uterus, fallopian tubes, and one ovary. I darned yarn into a torn lace…doily? Then stitched the uterus in darker yarn. I imagine the darned doily as a representation of the broad ligament. I pulled and puckered the yarn in the area of the missing ovary to represent scarring that might occur after an oophorectomy. 

Tissue slide cross stitch pattern
made in Photoshop. Kriota Willberg
Catgut tissue slide cross stitch. There's a typo in there! I'm not saying where-
find it yourself! Artist: Kriota Willberg
I thought you might be curious as to what a pattern for one of my cross stitches looks like.
The top image is a counted cross-stitch pattern, assembled in photoshop. It's a photomicrograph of catgut imbedded in dog tissue from Textbook on Sutures(1942) by Paul F. Ziegler, and is supplemented by images from The Gentleman’s Dog, his Rearing, Training, and Treatment(1909) by C.A. Bryce, and Trichologia mammalium; or, A treatise on the organization, properties and uses of hair and wool, together with an essay upon the raising and breeding of sheep. You can access these books at the Academy Historical Collection. The text forming the border of the images is liberally excerpted from the textbook on sutures and says,

 “…catgut is made from the first 6-8 yards of the stomach-end of the small intestine of sheep. The absorption rates of catgut sutures are regularly checked by suture implantations in muscle of laboratory animals (dogs and rabbits). Following implantation, the surrounding tissue reacts to wall off and digest this foreign body. A disintegration occurs, small fragments are phagocytosed by macrophages and are thus digested.” The delineation of the dog and sheep image have been redrawn to mimic clumps of macrophages, which white blood cells.

The catgut and macrophages are made with cross-stitch. The dog tissue is tinted by using a half tent stitch, and the areas absent of stitching are the forming granulation tissue.

This piece took about 4 months to make! (Okay, yeah, because I had to work and do other things at the same time, but still!)

This spring (2019) I traveled up to the Rochester Institute of Technology, spoke about graphic medicine, and lead workshops on injury prevention and Medical Imagery through Embroidery! Yup! The workshop was a blast. I presented a slide show on cultural and aesthetic messages that we can interpret from educational anatomical and medical imagery. We discussed anatomical symbolism used by artists in their non-medical work. Then I introduced the students (from the medical illustration, art, and English departments) to some basic embroidery stitches, gave them fabric with pre-printed historical anatomical images, embroidery supplies, fabric pens, and fabric, and let them transform the “academic” “professional” imagery into something more personal. They did some great work! I don’t have any examples of student work, but I can show you a piece I worked up using the image of a child’s skull from William Cheselden’s Osteographia, fabric pens, tulle, and embroidery.

My friend Tom had a thymectomy. His surgeon took a photo of Tom’s thymus with it’s (benign!) tumors and gave it to him. Tom knew I’d love to turn it into a needlepoint piece, so he gave me a copy of the photo and permission to work it up. I made it on monocanvas with wool yarn. One thing I like about many decorative projects is the way they label or name their subjects in the context of the piece, be it a painting, needlepoint, or a tattoo. So I did it too. 
Tom's Tumor and Thymus.
Artist: Kriota Willberg
This is not Tom's favorite of my work. (He is a little squeamish about it. Who can blame him?)

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Sure, I've been telling you to buy my book, Draw Stronger: Self-Care for Cartoonists & Visual Artists, but now you don't have to take my advice. Frankly, I don't blame you for not paying attention to mercurial me. But listen to your pain, and consider the reviews from these reliable sources.

"Artists, designers, writers, and anyone else who spends their days hunkering over keyboards, squinting at screens, or posed over a drawing board will appreciate Willberg’s nerdy, pun-heavy advice for better self-care...This practical, handy volume is a worthy addition to many workplace bookshelves—preferably high up, requiring a standing stretch to reach it." (Apr.)

Intima: a Journal of Narrative Medicine
"What makes "Draw Stronger" different from other self-help books is Willberg's sense of humor that infuses every drawing, tip, fact, exercise and quip with originality and a lightness of being. While there will be pages you'll want to photocopy and tape up near your computer or sketch table for easy reference and reminders to stretch throughout the day, the book will also be a useful reference guide whenever a lightning bolt of raw pain shoots up your arm, neck, or back." —Donna Bulseco

Library Journal 
"Willberg’s straightforward yet lighthearted delivery makes her advice enjoyable and easy to follow. This lively self-care guide should wake up artists, amateur and pro, and also apply to anyone who sits at the computer all day".—MC

This is an interview, so I'm not going to quote myself. That seems a little.... weird.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018



The cover

Get set to Draw Stronger! With my new injury prevention and self-care book for cartoonists and artists. 

How do liniments mask pain? One explanation is called The Gate Theory.

How is this book different or better than the mini comics (No) Pain! and First Aid for Drawing Injuries? MORE COMPREHENSIVE INFORMATION. Understand how injuries happen and what types of injuries commonly affect drawing professionals. Use practical first aid to help manage pain in the event of injury. Learn what types of symptoms should be diagnosed by doctor. Practice simple exercises to help correct posture and reduce fatigue and pain. The book also explores stylus grip, has expanded its exploration of types of repetitive stress injuries, and added exercises and info specific to back pain. 

Changing your grip for different types of lines 
can help reduce stress to the hand and wrist!

Publisher's Weekly interviewed me about health culture amongst artists and the new book. I'm curious to hear from anyone (you) about their attitudes about pain and creative practice. Talk to me! Comment, please!

Interested in purchasing a copy of Draw Stronger? You can find it online through the publisher, Uncivilized Books (okay, yes. Amazon, too.)

Friday, October 13, 2017


Who is going to want an introduction to embroidery that uses historical medical imagery for its patterns? Us! And here it is!

Embroidery Lab! is a component of my “Embroidering Medicine” workshop at the New York Academy ofMedicine Library. In this book are the basics of hands-on embroidery skills and stitches. The patterns in this book range from very simple to moderately labor intensive. The images come from the Academy’s Historical Collection. These pictures represent the evolution of the pursuit of biological knowledge. Yes, even a basilisk is a part of that evolution!

As an experiment, I had some embroidery patterns printed up on fabric. Here's one of the gravid uterus all stitched up.

You can find this little tome at comics stores like Forbidden Planet in NYC, and Chicago Comics. Birdcage Bottom Books will be selling it soon. You can also find it at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) October 21-22, 2017. Find me at table B81.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017



How do I process research as I work on a large project? By making small snippets to help me process narrative priorities, explore media, and transform vast amounts of data into digestible pieces. One of these pieces has been transformed into my mini comic, Stitchin' Time!

Was Galen really bossy? Maybe not, but historians 
consider him a bit of a "showman." 
(Buy the book if you want this citation! - I am shameless!)

Stitchin' Time! is a ridiculous historical fiction based on factual medical history. Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE) was a Roman writer of De Medicina, an important medical text.  Aelius (or Claudius) Galenus (129  – c. 200 CE) was a famous surgeon and one of the most influential writers in the history of medicine. In this minicomic, for the first time ever, Celsus and Galen team up to stitch a disemboweled gladiator back together! Could these men have ever met? Heck no! Would this type of surgery have taken place in the 2nd century? Heck yes!

Yes, Celsus wrote about a double-handed suture! 
Who needs robotic surgery when you can get so fancy with a needle?

Yeah, it's a pretty silly story and I'm giving you links in this post to Wikipedia, but the historical research is sound! This is the first comic resulting directly from my residency at the New York Academy of Medicine Library. There are notes about each panel and a citations list at the back. You don't have to read them if you don't want to, but they may help you get a joke or two.

A surgery panel inspired by a 17th century anatomical 
illustration from the Academy Library Historical Collection.
The mini will be debuting at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda Maryland, September 15-16.

After SPX you will be able to purchase this tome (and more!) at Birdcage Bottom Books.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


The San Diego Comic Con had a lot to offer: comics, movies, games, more comics, cosplay, panels, and more! But now that I'm home, the visual memories I have are of the amazing amount of breast art there. OMG the breasts!


Saturday, July 29, 2017



Interesting reading from my own collection.

I am excited to announce that at the end of my artist's residency at the New York Academy of Medicine Library I will be offering the Embroidering Medicine workshop! This four week course is open to participants with all levels of needle working skills.

Embroidery adapted from an anatomical image from
Hieronymus Brunschwig's Liber de arte distillandi de compositis.

Using the Library’s historical collections we will focus on the areas of the collection invoking the ideals of femininity, domesticity, and women's health, as well as the medical practice of needlework (stitching of the body).
One of the texts we will use.
Using the collections we will:

  • Explore some historical concepts of femininity and domesticity
  • Examine images of female anatomy and fetal development 
  • Each select an image from a natural history, botanical, or anatomical text to use as an embroidery template
  • Examine diagrams and descriptions of how to perform basic suture techniques

An illustration from the Bernard book, above.
We will also:

  • Transfer an image onto fabric for embroidering
  • Learn and practice basic embroidery stitches
  • Learn and practice historical suture stitches, on fabric
  • Discuss relationships between medicine, needlework, and gender.
  • Discuss the differences between sewing the body, sewing clothing, and decorative stitching.
  • Have some fun (yes, fun!)

The natural history books have some adorable animals to embroider, too!

Why all the "discussion"? Embroidery takes time. A lot of time. We could sit in stony silence, but why not have some interesting conversations facilitated by a couple short presentations? 

The workshop will be held-
Thursdays, September 14 - October 5, 2017
6:30-8:30 PM
1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029
$290 General Public | $250 Friends, Fellows, Members, Seniors, Students with ID
Supplies will be provided, but you are welcome to bring your own.
Click HERE to be directed to the Academy workshop description and link to register.