Wednesday, May 27, 2015

First adventures in needlepoint

I taught myself to needlepoint in the winter of 1974-5 when I was unemployed in Boone, NC.  I had just completed a year teaching library science courses at my alma mater, Appalachian State University. After having spent 3 years as a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Library School, I was summoned to Boone because ASU needed a warm body to teach some basic courses in library science--such as media for children (3 sections) and one section of young adult literature.  I terrified everyone in the College of Education when near the end of the fall quarter I asked the Dean of Education if I could remove everything off of the walls in my classroom (bulletin board, coat racks, chalk board) which no one seemed to be utilizing.  He agreed that ASU workmen would remove the extraneous items.  I simultaneously requested that I then be permitted to have my students paint images on those walls.  Since I wasn't asking for any money, he readily agreed.  During the two weeks prior to the quarter's final exams, I asked my students to submit  possible designs for the classroom walls.  I purchased latex paint in small quantities and in primary colors.  Many people do not realize that at that time students studying to be primary school teachers were required to take an introductory course in art.  There they learned to mix paints and do rudimentary painting.

I had my 3 sections of media for children submit their possible designs and then I had them vote on their favorites. During exam week, I requested that my students come  to paint the images in lieu of a final exam.   The "wild things" from Maurice Sendak's "Where the wild things are" was the first thing on the wall to the left as you entered the classroom.  Their gigantic clawed feet were placed over the light switches.  Charlotte the spider and Wilbur the pig occupied the first corner of the room.  A student macramed the web and someone made a spider out of black pipe cleaners.  The Cat in the Hat was along the back wall.  Windows were on the next wall. In the front, no one could think of anything to put there so I provided the Aztec eagle (the symbol of the United Farm Workers which no one in Boone, NC, then or perhaps even now had a clue about!).  I wish I could find a photograph of the walls.  I know there was an article in the NC educator magazine, though I never saw it.  I was famous among NC teachers, but never realized it.  And, as they say, fame is fleeting.

What was really heartening was that one afternoon I was teaching a class in that classroom when a 3 year old child came in, holding his bottle in readiness.  He patted the wild things, mumbling things to them, and then headed for the cat in the hat where he patted the wall and talked for several minutes.  My students were dumbstruck.  What a wonderful example of visual stimulation in reality!

After my non-rehiring, I had just read a newspaper article saying that depression was the biggest enemy of job hunters, so I looked for something to take my mind off the situation.  It has constantly amazed me when in 1974-5, and even today in doctor's offices, that I am the only person with my own book or a piece of needlepoint to work on.  And today I have my paperwhite!

A friend loaned me a copy of Jo Bucher's Complete Guide to Creative Needlepoint, some penelope canvas, and some of her leftover tapestry yarns in various shades of green.  I used them to do my first piece of needlepoint: A pillow done in stripes, with each stripe being a different stitch.  The colors blended well, but had no pizzaz.  I knew something was missing.  Trubey of Trubey Designs had opened her shop, Needle Nicely,  in Blowing Rock about a year previous.  I went to Blowing Rock (8 miles away).  When I asked Trubey for a color suggestion, she gave me a yellow/green the color of baby poop.  I looked at it and said, "You may be my friend for life or you will never see me again."  I didn't know then that Trubey had and has the best eye for color of anyone I have ever known.  It was the perfect color.  And even more wonderfully, I got to work side-by-side with her for over 30 years and managed to absorb her color eye.  Thank you, Trubey!!


  1. It is a great story! A little scary, though, that I've been needlepointing exactly two years longer than you!

  2. Great story! I have family in Boone, the Campbell's who owned a rental business.