Someone’s smartphone is chirping at Jenny Henry’s Friday night “Stitch and Bitch,” but no one is paying
attention. They are too busy stitching.
Happily, it should be noted; despite the evening’s title, the only whine at this party is wine, and there is nary a complaint registering at the level of “bitching.”
Instead there is a table of nine women — mostly Generation X — who are needlepointing, the slow craft of the Greatest Generation and its elders, who stitched pillows and upholstery and thread-filled still lifes of flowers that are now considered kitschy scores at second-hand shops.
Needlepoint is the new knitting, the latest DIY endeavor to captivate our attention and remind us how much fun it can be to make something.
Henry is completely on trend; actually, her interest predated the trend. When she graduated from college with an art degree, she moved from the East Coast to San Francisco, where she took a job at Needlepoint Inc., painting the canvases they sold in their shop. At first, she didn’t like the work. But she had a great boss who gave her a lot of freedom, which led to Henry starting her own design firm in 2002 and creating custom needlepoint canvases for clients. Five years later, she sold her first retail kit — a wristlet with the design of
a cassette player, which was later featured in Craft magazine. Another design, a beetle pillow, was featured in Better Homes and Gardens earlier this year.
On this night, the gathering at her Arcadia home is a practice run for the craft she wants to teach at a Walther Gardens makers market on June 2. The group is stitching a black-and-white pattern across a metal cuff.
“I’m going to roughly time us,” Henry announces. “But there is no pressure.” She had laid the table with mini brownies, a lemon tart and a cup full of needlepoint scissors. She also has practiced making the cuff four times herself and is eager to see what the others think. Compared to canvas, metal is not the easiest material to work with. But everyone is game to try Henry’s project. None are new to needlepointing.
“I thought needlepoint was a tapestry hung in a castle,” Valerie Scott admits. “It was what you did if you were truly ccomplished in the regency era. While you waited for Mr. Darcy.” In the 9-to-5, the Lutherville resident negotiates leases for a financial institution. Not the most creative occupation, she says, which is why she is happy to have this outlet.
Cami Colarossi, who is Henry’s neighbor in Arcadia, first bought a needlepoint kit from the Metropolitan Museum of Art more than 30 years ago — and then promptly stashed it away, forgetting about it until last year (“I’m the queen of unfinished crafts”) when she dug it out, stitched the entire art-and-crafts pillow and then moved on to Henry’s designs.
“I have been a nut needlepointer ever since,” says Colarossi, who is the communications director for Notre Dame Preparatory School. She even stitches samples for Henry’s line in exchange for product as well as needlepoints many a gift for friends.
Colarossi met Henry through St. Francis of Assisi School, which her son attended and Henry’s children still do, and Henry plans to collaborate with Colarossi’s husband, David Pugh, a graphic designer, on a series of Maryland-themed designs. The line is still in the “dream” phase, Henry says, but she is looking forward to the planning. “I’ve never really collaborated with anyone, so it will be fun to stretch myself.”
Stitching next to Colarossi is Christine McKinney, a dietician from Phoenix, Maryland, who is wearing one of the colorful needlepoint pendants that is a Henry design. She did not finish the project that night but liked the look of the final product and later finished it en route to a ski vacation.
Across the table is Mayfield resident Marisa Schleter, an accomplished needlepointer who also finished the evening’s stitching. “I enjoyed it and am happy with the product,” she says. Stitching on metal was a bit of a hassle. Still, “I do love the idea of a new material.” For her, needlepointing is therapeutic, but “it’s also great for socializing.”
Kate Valdez, a freelance graphic designer from Timonium, agrees. “It’s nice to be making something and not scrolling on your phone. Your brain is working, but you’re unplugging.”
After two hours, Valdez is the first one who has finished all of the stitching on the cuff. But everyone else has done enough to be able to complete the project at home, and Henry is pleased. She takes time to check in with each of the women in her focus group and to listen to their feedback.
Because the cuff is so different, it will draw a new audience, she says, which is one of her goals.
After all, needlepointing is not just the new thing, she says. It’s the thing she wants to outlast the other fads.