Opportunity Knocking by Mildred Grant

Several years ago The National Embroiderers Guild had a chapter here in Greenfield. Anyone could belong as long as their handwork was accomplished with the use of a needle with an eye. Individuals with all skill levels were encouraged to join the group with an eye toward improving methods and learning new crafts, as well as using the latest techniques and tools in accomplishing our own specialties.

Our original members comprised a wide spectrum in needle artistry, but there was no one person with an all-encompassing knowledge of the subject. We learned new skills from each other each month by designating one of our members, who was skilled in the process the majority wanted to learn, as the next month’s teacher. Many of us found a great teaching tool in small, pre-assembled sampler kits. In this way we learned basic and Crewel embroidery, Needlepoint, Bargello, Black and white, Shisha, Kogin, Brazillian, Parma Braid, Hardanger, Punch Needle, Quilting, and French Hand Sewing.

The National Guild offered kits challenging our expertise in many different areas of embroidery. The mailed-in results of our efforts would be critiqued and returned to us with helpful suggestions for improvements. Some of us took on a year-long project consisting of twelve ten-inch blocks. Each block, an example of various types of needle embellishment. The finished squares, sewn together, made an attractive wall hanging as well as testament to our needle skills.

Our guild would often car pool or hire a bus enabling us to visit museums, other guilds, and juried embroidery shows.

We were visiting a guild in eastern Mass. when the seat next to me was taken by an older lady, a member of the local group. She immediately whipped out a well-creased piece of needlepoint canvas with the body of a seahorse, partially stitched in appropriate colors.

“He’s soon going to be a charming fellow.” I commented.

“Idiot work,” she spat out contemptuously. “A five year old would have no trouble completing the piece.”

Feeling put down, unfairly, I turned back to quilting my Dresden Plate block for a quilt my daughter and I were making.

The business meeting wouldn’t be starting for a few minutes so I continued to stitch in silence while Seahorse Lady viciously jabbed her needle into her canvas.

“So, what are you doing?” she asked, seeming to become calmer. “That’s the new lap quilting!” she exclaimed. She sighed, “That’s what I’d like to be able to do, but it’s too hard for me to learn.”

Still smarting from her earlier remarks, I observed, “You don’t have a pattern or color chart for you seahorse, yet he exists on your canvas. An accomplishment that takes much greater natural talents than you give yourself credit for.” I went on to explain my quilt square. “This is simply tracing the plate design on the top fabric, layering it with batting, then backing. Basting the layers together, then using a fine running stitch, following the design, the layers are secured together.”

“You make the process sound quite simple, but I remember my mother trying to teach me to quilt as a nine year old, finally being banished to my room and being branded  as a complete failure at the whole process. This seems so much more manageable than the whole quilt and the necessary huge frame. I’m afraid that’s still beyond my skill level.” she said with regret.

“Being afraid, and unwilling to try, you probably will never quilt, but my observation would be that you do such excellent work with neither pattern nor color chart, your needlework possibilities are endless.” I replied.

Our conversation was cut short as the group’s President called the meeting to order. With the usual reports out of the way, it was on to notices of future events and opportunities. The last item to be mentioned was the scheduled visit and demonstration by the nationally known innovator of lap quilting!

As I glanced toward Seahorse, she was beaming a broad smile my way, saying, “She saved the best for last!”

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