A Stitch In Time
by Deborah Geigis Berry
If these winter nights leave your boredom threshold thin as a thread,
consider joining the leagues of people who happily spend their winter nights
in stitches. Needlework -- the broad term encompassing cross-stitching,
needlepoint, crewel, surface embroidery and other embellishments on fabric
-- is fast becoming a pastime for Connecticut men, women, and teens who want
to lose themselves in a historic tradition.
"All of us have a creative side, and we often don't get a chance to use
it," says Judie Solomon, owner of Thistle Needleworks in Glastonbury. "We
might not be gourmet cooks or painters, but needlework lets us express our
creative innards. It's very gratifying when you add texture or color to a
blank piece of fabric and create something beautiful."
Regarded as one of the area's top needlework shops, Thistle Needleworks
is a floss-laden fantasyland jammed with candy-colored threads ready to be
stitched onto about 28,000 patterns. Revolving racks display designs from
the Eiffel Tower to Amish families, folk-art snowmen to contemporary sports
figures, femme fatales to Union generals. "People like ornate patterns from
designers like Marilyn Leavitt-Imblum," says Solomon, referring to a cross-stitch
chart of an angel with a luxurious, draped skirt. "And samplers are always
popular in New England."
The shop hold classes several times each week, and they're not just for
church ladies. "We draw the whole spectrum," says Solomon, who counts children
as young as 6, at-home moms, and business professionals as customers. As
stitchers gather 'round tables to tackle their projects and catch up on the
week's events, the atmosphere is reminiscent of an old-time quilting bee.
"My husband's grandmother is Norwegian," says Irene Rowe of Wallingford,
who accompanied her mother-in-law, Janet Todd of Manchester, to the
hardanger (Norwegian embroidery) class on a recent Monday night. "I
wanted to learn something from her culture. Now that I know the stitches,
the process is very relaxing. The design is repetitious, so you don't need
a pattern. I can sit in front of the TV and do it."
At the open classroom on the other side of the store, the sole man in
the group, Charlie Beebe of Mystic, works diligently on a wall hanging that
he'll give to a potential grandchild. "The baby's not even in the hopper
yet," says the retired engineer as he stitches colorful primary numbers,
"but these projects take time. I like doing this because I like working with
my hands. In the past, I've built model cars, boats and HO-gauge trains."
Charlie's newest hobby began three years ago when, following wife Lib's
lead, he stitched a small holiday stocking, then progressed to a pillow cover
depicting buoys. "We antique together, we garden together and we do needlework
together," says Lib, who sits alongside Charlie wearing futuristic magnifying
goggles that allows her to see the fine stitches in her petit-point seascape.
"He likes it because it's so precise, and it's an easy thing to bring with
us on vacation."
The community of the classroom seems to fill a primal need to congregate,
share a time-honored pastime and create a tangible testament to the creative
spirit. "I used to go to basketball games all the time and watch my kids
play," says Kim Sales of Bloomfield, a relative newcomer who is stitching
a geometric wall hanging. "But they're all grown and out of the house." (We
remember, Kim. Nykesha plays for the WNBA's Orlando Miracle and Brooks for
Villanova University). "Now, I have all this time on my hands, and my husband
says he loves watching me stitch. I get so excited, I'm like a little kid."