A! Magazine for the Arts

Richard Rollins with one of his creations.

Richard Rollins with one of his creations.

Richard Rollins enjoys the fellowship of stitching

October 30, 2013

You may think that stitching is a strictly female activity, but the local Embroiderers' Guild of America chapter has two men who are members. One of them is Richard Rollins. The only difference (from other members of the group) in his experience with stitching is that he doesn't attend the retreats at Lake Junaluska.

"As a United Methodist, I love "The Lake,' but the retreat has never fit into my schedule; and I'm not sure, but I think my presence, along with all the women in the group might "cramp their style.' I sometimes overhear things at a meeting that a man isn't supposed to hear. But I'm used to hearing things I shouldn't," he says.

Rollins has been involved in working with thread and yarns almost his entire life. He spent many summers with his maternal grandmother in Chattanooga, Tenn., while growing up.

"I think she wanted to keep me busy ("Idle hands are the Devil's workshop,' was one of her favorites), so she taught me to embroider, knit and crochet," he says. "I probably started with a "knitting doll' and loop loom but graduated to working with needles in canvas or "building' yarn creations. I remember once helping her make granny squares for an afghan that my great-aunt, grandmother's sister, was making for a customer. (She was a school teacher who augmented her income with beautiful knit and crochet creations.) I guess having the time to work and the opportunity to create while someone was there to help and to teach made me more interested in this artistic endeavor."

He crochets, knits, cross stitches and embroiders. He also sews by hand and with a machine. His favorite medium is probably cross stitch, but he is now working on Halloween costumes for his grandkids.

Like most stitchers, he makes many of his creations as gifts. "I have made each of the five grandchildren a birth announcement, trying to find and create something that appeals to their young spirit. I have made two stuffed animals sitting on the shelf for my twin granddaughters, a Disney character for another granddaughter, a bear family for another granddaughter, and a Flora and Fauna motif for my one and only grandson. I have just finished the third of my drawn thread embroidery pieces, which has been lots of fun and frustration. But they are beautiful – and unusual – if I do say so myself.

"Needle art is truly an artistic endeavor," Rollins says. "It is much like painting, I think. When I am working on a canvas and using different shades and tints of the same palette, I feel much as an artist in watercolors or pastels must feel as he or she is creating a painting. And when I am finished, it is if I have really created a piece of art. I have seen some pieces of cross stitch or embroidery that have blown my mind. How in the world someone has been able to work with thread to create such a design or picture - that is exciting."

Stitching also served a therapeutic role for Rollins during 2011 when he was in the hospital for most of the year. "Since I already was a stitcher, I took several projects with me, either to start or to complete (a stitcher always has something to complete)." Janet Smith, Sue Dietz and Nita Vollmer, members of the local EGA chapter, sent him projects to work on.

"I thank Janet, Sue and Nita for thinking of me in such a way. If I had not had these things to work on while I was hospitalized waiting for chemo treatment, I think I would have gone nuts. I could not see well enough to read for any length of time, and there was little to do except watch television – a pasttime that I despise. (I hate to use time with nothing to show for it – idle hands, you know.) Nita came to my house for probably 10 Sunday afternoons to help me with new stitches that were in one class project passed on by Sue Dietz. This shows how each member wants to help with anything she/he can."

He wasn't a member of EGA, but has since joined. "I really enjoy the meetings and seeing the wonder-filled work done by its members. I also receive encouragement and compliments on whatever I am working on. It is truly one of my favorite monthly outings. This endeavor has given me great pleasure and has helped me feel still useful and engaged. There is plenty to do, men, so come on, join up and get to creating."