A! Magazine for the Arts

"Charleston Plantation" is one of the projects created by the local chapter of the EGA.

"Charleston Plantation" is one of the projects created by the local chapter of the EGA.

Stitchers create art

October 30, 2013

Local needle arts aficionados have gathered in the Embroiderers' Guild of America's Bristol Tennessee/Virginia chapter since 1980. The guild isn't limited to what most people think of when "embroidery" is mentioned; as Patty Caldwell, president of the local chapter says, "If you can do it with a threaded needle, it counts."

Their members work in a variety of techniques and types of needlework.

(See below for list of types of needlework)

Caldwell, like many members, got involved in needlework through a family member.

"My great-grandmother sewed and did needlework, so I have an inherited interest, I think. I dabbled in surface embroidery, but it wasn't until after my children were born that I really got started in earnest. I learned to smock from Anne Steele in an EGA class and have been stitching ever since."

Her interest in smocking waned when her daughters outgrew their interest in that fashion, so she moved on to other projects and techniques.

Her favorites are techniques that lend themselves to setting up a pattern or rhythm, such as blackwork, Handanger, canvas geometric projects and counted thread, although she does not like counted cross stitch. "I also love making quilts – picking fabric and sewing them together, but not the quilting part," she says.

She has many ribbons for her work from local and regional fairs. "I am proud of my Best in Show ribbon for a Christmas wall hanging from the Appalachian District Fair," she says.

The local EGA chapter also sponsors educational workshops called "Share-A- Stitch." These workshops feature professional educators recommended by the national organization.

"I have been to several regional Share-A-Stitch events," Cadlwell says. "They really are a learning event. I have tried new techniques; I have been trained by top-notch, nationally known teachers and had the opportunity to use new and different threads and other supplies. At these events we get to meet new people – those who have been stitching for 50 years and those who have just started on their stitching journeys - people with little children and people with multiple grand or great-grandchildren, men and women, all races, creeds and cultures, from all over the Tennessee Valley Region."

The guild also hosts retreat weekends at Lake Junaluska where they gather to get to know each other better and to learn more about their art.

"They are so much fun – just being with like-minded people and having time away from home to enjoy myself. It is nice not to have laundry and dishes looming. I don't know whether I learn much, but I sure do enjoy myself," Caldwell says.

The chapter also reaches out into the community. "Our activities include decorating Christmas trees at local banks and the library with hand-made ornaments, making baby blankets for teenage mothers and making smocked baby gowns for local hospitals. In the past we have taught classes to young people who are interested in learning needlework." Some of their activities are not related to needlework: they gather books and snacks for the Children's Advocacy Center and cleaning products for Bristol Faith in Action.

"One of our members, Sue Dietz, says what she likes best about Embroiderers' Guild is "the diversity of the work we do and the people in the group.' She is mainly a quilter, but she loves the opportunities to learn new things and be with folks who love needlework of all kinds."

Dietz says she got started by doing stamped work (needlepoint projects where the design is stamped on the fabric) when she was 7. "I just found it fascinating, and I also hand sewed clothes for little dolls. Unlike most of the guild members, she didn't get her start from family. She isn't sure how she discovered needlework, but she's been making her creations for 64 years. "My favorite is hand applique, which is considered part of quilting. I enjoy the handwork part of it while most quilters prefer to use their machines. I've done several kinds of needlework, blackwork, needlepoint, cross stitch and crewel." Her quilt pieces have won several awards.

"Working with your hands and a needle can be the most restful time you can spend," Dietz says. "It is also invigorating to work with new colors or develop new project ideas. For me, combining creative stitches with fabric is a true joy. And, mistakes only cause your creative juices to flow."

Janet Smith got her first start from her mother, but her creative juices really began to flow because of her next-door-neighbor. "I watched my mother do crewel embroidery when I was growing up, and I did a little of that while in my 20s," she says. "But when we moved to Dayton, Ohio, in 1967, my next-door-neighbor did needlepoint, and she insisted that I give it a try. I never looked back. Her family and mine used to go to Pawley's Island every Thanksgiving during the 1970s, where we met Ginny Thompson, the lady who brought Danish counted cross stitch to the U.S. Instead of buying a piece of fabric stamped with Xs to cover, you use a blank piece of evenweave fabric and stitch from a graph. Her shop at Pawley's was where counted cross stitch was launched in America. At that time, the only kits available were Danish kits and the few being designed by Americans, including Ginny."

Smith has been in a guild since the late 1970s, when she lived in North Carolina. "I was amazed at all the resources available to members – a magazine for members with lots of free patterns, correspondence courses from the national guild that the local chapters can take, regional seminars where national teachers expose members to new techniques, and more."

When she moved to Bristol 28 years ago, she went to The Record Shop, which had a needlework corner, and asked if there was a local guild. "Within two months of my arrival, I had found a circle of stitching friends. The beauty of a guild like ours is that we all appreciate each other's work and enjoy teaching each other different techniques. EGA specifies that we cover anything done with a threaded needle, and at any of our meetings you will find people who do quilting, needlepoint, counted cross stitch, Hardanger, beading and so many more forms of embroidery."

Smith also enjoys the camaraderie that comes with stitching and the guild. "When we go on retreat, the quilters bring their sewing machines, and everyone else brings an assortment of projects to start or to finish; and as we do at our monthly meetings, we all spend a lot of time going around to enjoy what everyone else is doing. We all enjoy having the huge block of time dedicated to stitching.

"While my personal favorite form of needlework is needlepoint, I have loved trying out other types of stitching that I never would have tried had it not been for the classes offered at our EGA meetings. Furthermore, needlepoint is no longer what our grandmothers did; they bought a piece of canvas with the center already stitched, and they filled in the background. Now we start with a blank canvas and work from a graph to create the whole picture, using many different fibers and stitches, so it is anything but boring."

This group of creative and friendly people gets together each month to show off their work and work on a project together. Those who don't choose to work on the group project take the time to work on individual projects.

If you would like to join the group or attend a meeting, visit Central Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Va., the fourth Tuesday of the month. Refreshments are served at 6:30 p.m., and the meeting begins at 7 p.m.

Needlework Definitions

There are many more types of needlework than the ones mentioned below. These definitions are adapted from a glossary available on the Embroiderers' Guild of America website (www.egausa.org).

Appliqué: A fabric shape applied by sewing or adhesive to a base cloth.

Assisi embroidery: A form of counted thread work in which only the background of the design is worked.

Beadwork embroidery: A type of embroidery in which beads are attached singly or in groups to a ground fabric.

Traditionally, black threads on white fabric. Now a counted thread embroidery worked in dark thread on a light background. Uses repeat geometric patterns as fillings for designs.

Counted thread embroidery:
Embroidery on an easily counted evenweave fabric. Includes the techniques of blackwork, cross stitch, Hardanger and pulled thread.

Crewel: Surface stitchery worked with loosely twisted 2-ply wool yarn on a firm fabric. The stitches are freely worked, rather than counted.

Cross stitch embroidery: Two stitches that cross one another worked in a diagonal pattern.

Drawn thread work: Embroidery in which threads are withdrawn from the fabric and the remaining strands are grouped and ornamented.

Embroidery: Ornamenting fabric with needlework.

Hardanger: Ethnic embroidery with a lace-like appearance; geometric, being composed of square and triangular medallions.

Needlepoint: Embroidery on open evenweave fabric. In traditional canvaswork, all of the area is stitched.

Quilting: Joining of two or more layers of cloth together with a batting or filling with stitching to provide warmth, protection or comfort.

Smocking: The manipulation of fabric into pleats which are held in place by stitches. Can be worked to create geometric patterns or to create picture smocking.

Surface embroidery: Any embroidery in which the stitches do not follow the grid of the fabric. It usually refers to free embroidery as opposed to counted thread work.

>> Guild designs quilt for museum