The ancient art is back with a youthful bent, and one Dutch Island maker is happily jumping into the fray
Written by MARGARET DANIEL
Styling and photography by PAPRIKA SOUTHERN with assistance from JAX TAYLOR
WHILE YOUNG PEOPLE are often accused of taking too lightly the wisdom and traditions of yesteryear, millennials and Gen Z deserve credit for the inspiring rebirth of one old-school artform: needlepoint.
Once regarded as “woman’s work,” the hobby boasted limited canvas options and minimal creative input until contemporary inventive enthusiasts like Jessica Chaney of Lycette Designs and Rudy Saunders of Dorothy Draper & Company began posting their pithy, preppy canvas designs on Instagram, inspiring crafters to personalize keychains, pillows, Lucite trays and shoes.
COVID’s stay-at-home orders gave the increasingly popular hobby a stratospheric nudge and, suddenly, the craft that dates back to 1500 B.C.E. had an international audience spanning generations.
One such avid convert is Dutch Island resident Elizabeth Skeadas.
“I learned as a teenager [because] my mother was a needlepointer. She made her own needlepoint chairs,” Skeadas says. “That was back when you bought the preworked needlepoint and filled in the background.”
Seven years ago, after a decade devoted to knitting, Skeadas got back to her roots, amazed by the playful canvases, threads and stitching techniques her friends were finding on social media.
“There is so much creativity with the stitches, and you can paint anything on a canvas now,” Skeadas says. “My first project was a belt for my son that featured our three dogs on it as a gift from graduate school.”
Multiple purses, pillows, 45 ornaments and sets of Christmas coasters now dot her family’s home and, this year, one very special stocking fabricated for her grandson will appear on the mantel.
“I love making pieces that are personal, [and] the sentiment is a big deal for me,” Skeadas says of the ambitious gift. “I want to give my grandchild a stocking he will use his whole life.”
“I am always asking them what colors and stitches I should be using on a canvas. It is great to get their feedback and emotional support,” Skeadas says. “It’s like any hobby — if you are doing it with friends, it’s more fun.”
Interestingly, the research agrees, as needlepoint provides stitchers with logic relaxation, a byproduct of periods of self-induced focus that stimulate and strengthen neural pathways while lowering blood pressure and slowing heart rate as the brain picks up on and follows new patterns.
“Ornaments are a great place to start because they are small, short projects [which don’t require] a large investment in the canvas and threads. Go to the needlepoint store and ask them to show you a beginner stitch. You don’t need to invest into the equipment a lot of us have acquired over the years. Just pick one ornament canvas and get started.”— Elizabeth Skeadas, needlepoint enthusiast
While Skeadas typically reserves larger projects like stockings and homewares for Stitch Club meetings or evenings at home, she savors stitching holiday decorations and small projects like keychains on the go. For her son’s wedding, she stitched 15 personalized keychains for his groomsmen and a delicate ornament depicting him and his bride.
“I usually have four or five projects going at once,” Skeadas shares. “And when I travel, I will take a few ornaments with me because they are easy to stuff in a bag, and you don’t have to worry about bumping someone on the plane.”
Averaging eight ornaments per year, Skeadas favors whimsical canvases that speak to her hobbies (baking and volunteering), favorite treats and childhood in North Carolina.
From Thanksgiving weekend until mid-January, Skeadas’ finished pieces dot the dining room’s filigree mirror, embedded in swags of garland for easy viewing. “Lots of needlepointers swag greenery up their staircases and hang the ornaments in there,” she says. “You see them so much better [here] than you do on a tree.”
While her adult children are not stitchers themselves, Skeadas continues stitching with hopes that her family will hold onto these heritage pieces for decades, incorporating her ornaments and decorations into their own holiday celebrations.
“I’ve trained my kids well to be sentimental about all this,” she says. “I feel certain they will treasure this needlepoint at some time.”