Primitivist Needlepoint

Occasionally, I look at the first needlepoint piece I ever did.

Zebra by a Palm is not really a piece that I ever intended to deliberately keep as a memento, but, rather, something that meant a lot to my mother.

She took it from house to house, later in life, until it landed with her in Florida.  There may be some significance to the fact that it used to hang in the master bathroom, but I won’t speculate why.

I’m glad she kept it, though, because I might have trashed it in those impetuous days.  Plus, I do hear that vintage needlepoint is now quite valuable!

A pre-worked canvas, all I did was complete the background in the continental stitch, using Paternayan wool.  At the time, neither my mother, nor I, knew what to do at the end of a row, so I probably just stitched it to the end of one, then ran the thread under a couple of stitches on the back, cut it, and started again on the right side of the canvas.

It is neatly stitched, so whatever I was doing, I did carefully.

I still remember everything about this canvas.  My mother bought it from the Fergusons, who owned the Scotch Yarn Shop in Bronxville, NY, where I grew up.  It was up on the second floor of a Tudor-style building, across the street from the locally famous Pete’s Tavern, where I was to consume innumerable grilled cheeseburgers with sautéed onions for lunch, with my mother, during those carefree, suburban New York afternoons.  The Fergusons were really nice people.  They were actually from Scotland — and they both stitched!  That is when I first heard the word tension.  I was told mine was good.

At any rate, my mother assessed that I seemed to like this pastime, so she participated in classes given by a couple of local guild experts, who were also somewhat entrepreneurial.  Since I was in school, what my mother would do was buy two kits, take the class during the day, and come home and teach me what she had learned that evening.  These kits were usually line-drawn and designed strictly to teach different stitch techniques.

I learned all sorts of stitches: Turkey work, Diagonal Mosaic, Byzantine, Jacquard, Brick, Parisian, Hungarian, as well as various cross stitches (which I confess were my least favorite).

It was a very pleasant way also for a mother and daughter to spend time together.  I think mothers and daughters should spend time together, and I regret profoundly that I can longer do so with mine.

The first time I heard the term “Stitch and Bitch” was actually from my father. I have heard that phrase thousands of times since.

I also learned the concept of “compensating” — that is, when you are doing a pattern stitch, and the design is in a shaped area, let’s say a leaf — you have to make sure that the design of the stitch looks consistent, even though you do not have the room to do the full stitch.  This would be a good topic to talk about at some later time.

My first needlepoint piece is not the stuff from which legends are born.  At the time, the only materials that were available were Paternayan wool, pre-works, and probably a handful of painted canvases.  There were no metallic threads, or even perle cotton.  It was wise of my mother not to make a huge investment on a needlepoint canvas, until she was sure that I would take to needlepointing.  My second piece was a hand painted canvas of a dragon, and I used the brick stitch for his scales.  I also still have that.

I was always surprised that after the Fergusons retired another needlepoint store didn’t replace that business.

I remember there was one briefly there in the 90s, in Bronxville, but it didn’t last.  To me, that is really a shame — how everyone, it seems, is so busy these days with work and other activities that they rarely have time to stitch.  My mother worked full-time (with some flexibility), I played sports after school, but we would always try to make the time at night to sit together and stitch for a while.

That is how it was for us.

Bronxville Frame Maker

Looking at this canvas today, I see determination.  I like it.  I’ve included here an image of the sticky label that can be found at the back of its frame.  It was put there by Liga Galleries, a traditional Bronxville frame maker, who has long been out of the picture, to make a bad pun.  And if you look closely, you’ll see the first part of their telephone number, Deerfield-7, which were also the first three numbers of our home number at the time.

I wish I could still dial it sometime, and give my mother a call.

© Erin McGrath and, 2012 – 2016.


5 responses »

  1. I loved your story. I just bought a painting with a LIGA Galleries sticker on the back. It is not the same sticker as the one that you posted, however. I am trying to find out more information about LIGA Galleries but haven’t found any references to it online.

  2. Oh yes we caused quite a stir with our last shopping trip with the disapproving control freak!!!! That was fun though and we infuriated the “special” one, which was the icing on the cake!

  3. Erin, What a lovely story. I have several pieces that your mother gave me and all the fun we had together. Before you moved to Florida, your mom and I would spend so much time stitching and laughing and traveling to see you in Connecticut. It seems that the last time you and I went needlepoint shopping, we were in trouble with one of your relatives. Did we have fun? Yes!!

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