My introduction to the world of needlepoint came about as a result of happenstance. Directly after graduating with a BA in Art History, I “happened” to be looking for a full-time job. At that time, I was living with my mother in Gloucester, MA, teaching a crafts class to children in her basement. Totally out of the blue, a favorite aunt phoned me to ask if I wanted to learn how to paint needlepoint canvases for a small shop in Camden, ME called Needlearts. I had never done needlepoint but I had always admired my grandmother’s gorgeous needlepoint dining room chairs, wall hangings, pillows, etc. Sight unseen and without hesitation I said “Yes!”
My first needlepoint project ever was to paint and stitch a bookmark in the basketweave stitch. The results were pretty awful. The shop employed two other painters who had such patience with me and great enthusiasm for needlepoint that I soon grasped the intricacies and delights of painting and stitching canvases. It was at Needlearts that I learned to paint “stitch by stitch”, which would assist the customer in knowing exactly where to place their needle for which color. Needlearts sold a New Zealand wool in vibrant colors. We painters mixed up paint in vials to correspond to each shade of the wool. It was a painter’s dream-come-true to walk to a shelf and take down all the pre-mixed colors for a specific design. Nowadays, since needlepoint shops offer such diversity in fibers, I am unable to use this pre-mixing and matching method.
After two years at Needlearts, I moved south to Massachusetts and found again, by sheer luck, another needlepoint job on Newbury St. in Boston at a delightful shop named Mariposa. Three friends had gone into partnership to open the shop. Most of my time was spent waiting on customers, pulling the wool for their canvases, and painting the occasional custom design. Part of my job description, if you can believe it, included walking two of the owners’ dogs in nearby Boston Commons!
Time passed and eventually I changed careers, returning to college to receive a BS in Occupational Therapy. My jobs in O.T. took me to Cape Cod, Bermuda, and England. I continued to stitch canvases as time allowed; creating “one-of” designs for my friends and family.
Some years later, motherhood intervened and I found myself moving back to Cape Cod. This gave me an opportunity to work at home creating custom designs for a needlepoint shop, Christine’s Osterville Needlepoint Shop, owned by Christine Kesten. I painted designs for Christine’s shop for 10 years or so before she asked if I would like her to distribute some of my more popular designs to the wholesale market. We have continued this partnership to this day. Christine’s wholesale business, CBK Needlepoint Collections, has grown to include many talented artists.
One year, Christine and I were thrilled to see our Christmas ornament displayed on the Clinton White House
Christmas tree along with other ornaments submitted by members of TNNA. I designed and painted a 10″ high Xmas tree ornament that featured Cape Cod-themed motifs and Christine stitched it.
My web site highlights some of the many custom designs that I’ve enjoyed creating with customers and shops over the years. Also, 4 years ago I got permission to paint and distribute a fun design by the French cartoonist Claude-Henri Saunier. It depicts the Eiffel Tower as a French man walking in Paris with a baguette under his arm and his dog tagging along. It is available on both 13 and 18 mesh through CBK needlepointcollections.
At one point, I was finding painting at home rather solitary at times. As luck would have it, I was hired as a part time library assistant at a small independent library in West Falmouth. It is a delightful place to work. I am constantly on the look-out for new ideas for designs by perusing the books that cross our circulation desk and while talking with our wonderful patrons.
Ever since I was a teenager I have had the utmost appreciation for anything made by hand. Being an extremely “right brained” visual person, creativity came naturally to me. This is not to say painting needlepoint canvases is a walk in the park. Rounded objects are especially tricky to depict correctly on canvas made up of a square weave. Sometimes I can agonize for hours over one or two stitches that seem off. UGH! I find that creativity takes time, effort, and in some cases, risks.
So, here’s me on my soap box: I know that mass production, a most necessary and efficient means of production, is here to stay, but wouldn’t it be nice to also surround ourselves with more personalized items, more beautifully crafted items that celebrate the creative, aesthetic side of us? I am thrilled to see the success of the craft-friendly websites Etsy, and now, Amazon Handmade.
Hand-painted and hand-stitched needlepoint allows stitchers to let their ideas and designs stand out from the ordinary. From the various types of fibers and stitches one chooses to use, to customizing a design to reflect the person for whom the item is stitched, needlepointers have a palette of creative options at their fingertips, resulting in one-of-a-kind heirlooms to pass on to the next generation. Take a peek at the custom designs gallery for inspiration. Keep on stitching!