Best-Laid Plans

     This morning, I'm supposed to be stitching at Woodlawn, womaning the demonstration room along with a couple of women who teach at Scarlet Thread, are loyal customers, and are members of the Thursday morning stitching group. Instead, I'm sticking close to home, a bit under the weather, and hoping to be able to get over there later this morning or early in the afternoon. Ah well.
     If you're in the greater-DC metro area or within a one- to two-hour drive away and haven't been to this year's Needlework Exhibition, you have a few more days to see it, Tuesday being the last day. I've been there twice now and have yet to actually get to walk around and savor the vast array of needlework on display. The variety of styles and techniques is wonderful and inspiring. It makes one want to venture beyond one's comfort zone, something the remedial stitcher never thinks twice about. I always find the show inspirational and challenging, and it seems most stitchers who attend do as well. I hope to get over there tomorrow, my day off, to go as a visitor, not as a participant, the only way I can hope to take a leisurely walk around. I haven't even seen all the pieces Scarlet Thread submitted for its customers yet, some of them prize-winners!
     Yesterday was a fun day in the shop. Two women arrived within moments of each other, both of whom had been to Woodlawn earlier this month and picked up the Scarlet Thread flyer. They immediately started chatting and oohing and aahing about the models hanging in the gallery. I thought they must have known each other for ages from the way they were talking. But no, they'd just met. They were both so inspired by the canvaswork on exhibit at Woodlawn, something I am also consumed by these days. They wandered around together for a while, then diverged, occasionally calling each other to come look at something. One browsed for an hour or so, bought a bunch of patterns, threads, and a scroll-frame and departed with a promise to return when she had more time. The other proceeded to comb through everything in the shop. Methodically. Spending at least two hours, but I think more like three.
     While she was poring over a stack of patterns she was considering at the worktable, in walked one of the area's premiere, award-winnning canvasworkers, who had just been to Woodlawn. He had also been in the shop just the day before. I said something like, "What are you doing here?" "I thought I might buy some stuff. That okay with you?" he retorted. I wandered back to see what he was up to. It seems his visit to Woodlawn had compelled him to come up with a new piece, perhaps to submit to next year's show. Like so many stitchers this past year, he hadn't been able to stitch as much as he'd liked and hadn't had a piece that he wanted to show. Overnight, he'd come up with a design concept and some ideas for colors. Let me tell you, I can't wait to see his progress on this piece. The color pallette is to die for, not to mention the rich variety of texture he's going to achieve with the different fibers he selected. I can say no more.
     I took the opportunity to introduce the two of them when the woman started asking about changing the colorway of a canvaswork pattern she was considering. Yes, I could have answered her questions, but I love to watch and listen as two people who share nothing but a common interest in needlework launch into an animated discussion of color, texture, and design. This kind of spontaneous sharing is what makes a day in the shop successful. Well, that and a few sales, of course. I learn so much just by starting a dialogue, then sitting back and seeing where two or more stitchers will take it.


Just who is this remedial stitcher?

     Oh, hai. I guess you're wondering why anyone would refer to herself as a remedial stitcher. Or maybe not. Let me shed a little light on that, in any case.
     I'm a late bloomer when it comes to needlework. I did a few random pieces in my youth, but I never really got hooked. It wasn't until my daughter attended the Nelly's Needlers summer youth camp at Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria, VA, that I got back to doing cross-stitch. What a great way to relax! How soothing!
     I worked several projects, beginning with a ballet bag that had a simple band to be stitched that Jane had started and abandoned. I tried surface embroidery, completing a lovely floral bouquet that I had made into a pillow for my mother (note the words "had made," not "made"). This was not really my cup of tea, however, so I went back to cross-stitch. I found a funky, blue cat's head that I did for a friend and then rather naively moved on to a Mirabilia fairy. What an eye-opener! When I finished that and had it made into a pillow for Jane, I announced that I'd "done my Mirabilia." There was no need for me to revisit that type of design.
    Then I came to a screeching halt. I couldn't find anything that stimulated me, that I wanted to spend my valuable free time on. Bummer. What a world, what a world. I had been hoodwinked; I had the compulsion but could find nothing to stitch. Woe was me!
     Well, I could have continued in that vein, bemoaning the lack of enticing patterns, and I did for a little while. Then I had the proverbial ah-ha moment. What an idiot I was! A graphic designer who couldn't find something to stitch. Surely I could design something myself. I mean, how hard could it be? Consulting and collaborating with a friend, I conceived what ultimately became Merrey Design, my cross-stitch design brand.
     A few years along, as I was gaining more confidence in my stitching and designing, I was faced with a devastating prospect. My supply source was about to disappear. Yes, I know, the loss of a local needlework shop doesn't mean the end of cross-stitch supplies; there are other ways to feed the habit. But it was very important to me as a designer to be able to go into a store, pull the floss, find the linen, see how the colors looked together, and ask the shopowner what she thought. Michael's just didn't cut it. Okay. So now what was I going to do? Maybe I'd just buy the shop. I mean, I was pretty burned out on graphic design. How hard could it be to run a retail store?
     Do you see a pattern here? This is where the "remedial" part comes in. I'm great at jumping in with both feet without making sure I have all the knowledge I might need to succeed at my latest venture. So I have to backtrack a bit and ferret out that necessary information, develop that skill, whatever is required. Owning a retail embroidery supplies shop opened up a whole new world of stitching and materials that I never really knew existed.
     So while I still love counted cross-stitch, the paint-by-numbers form of needlework, I'm back in class again, learning about all these things I'm selling and wanting to work all the patterns and use all the materials myself. All the fibers I wasn't aware of, having only ever used DMC cotton floss. The gorgeous linens in such beautiful colors, with so much depth and such a wonderful hand. Not to mention canvaswork, a totally new concept for me, having only had experience with the preworked needlepoint of old, on which you simply stitched the background and then pronounced it your work. Yawn!
     That's where this blog fits in. I've been exploring new techniques and materials, so much so that I think I'm the queen of MIPs, models in progress. Come by the shop when you're in Great Falls, VA, and you'll see what I mean. I'd like to share my discoveries with other like-minded people. I'm lucky to have easy access to almost anything I want to try out, and I'm happy to pass along what I learn, both good and bad, with the understanding that all of this is totally subjective.
     I mean, how hard can it be to keep up with a weekly blog?