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History and Nostalgia Captured in Needlework Exhibition

Historic Woodlawn hosts colorful and creative works.

Every picture has a story. So too, does every piece of needlework. Just take a look at some of the stories compiled by Annette Miller, one of the many volunteers working on the 41st Annual Needlework Exhibition now going on at Woodlawn Plantation. She was there for "Taking Day" and recorded the background behind several of the 600 pieces which were entered in the exhibition.

There's the sketch in yarn of Rancho Cuyamaca State Park in San Diego County before last year's forest fires. It was done by a 72-year-old stitcher and won a blue ribbon in surface embroidery as well as the Golden Age award. Then there's the miniature footstool, which is no bigger than a thimble; it is an adaptation of footstool that Eleanor Lewis, the mistress of Woodlawn, stitched for a grandson in the mid-1800s. A white nightgown was stitched by a woman for her college roommate who was getting remarried at the age of 50. A Middle Eastern prayer rug took four months to design and 2 1/2 years to stitch.

There's the strip quilted jacket; it started life as a skirt but was converted when the owner decided that the skirt was too heavy to wear. In the Southeast bed chamber, there's a sweet smocked dress. The stitcher made it for her daughter, who was the first girl born into the family in 168 years. She put 13 white hearts on the front to represent the years from kindergarten from graduation. The five purple hearts adorning the sleeve represent the five members of the family; this was done so her daughter could go to school with "heart on her sleeve."

SOME OF THE STITCHERS were there in person last week to tell their own stories. Upstairs in the Linen Room are four Victorian homes which were done by Carleen Kostick; one for each season. Not only is Kostick a stitcher, but she and her husband, Dennis, volunteered to work at the show as well. She said that her husband bought the original design for the Victorian house on eBay. The pattern called for 14 count thread, but it was too small, so she enlarged the pattern to 10 count; changing the size of the houses from tissue box size to doll house size. She uses them as planters and keeps them on top of a tall entertainment center so that her seven cats can't reach them.

"My husband made all the bases and the pond and the pool," said Kostick. "He used a bangle bracelet from his mother, who had passed away, for the pool. He also made the picnic table and if you look real close, you can see salt and soda ash (salt container and container of baking soda."

The reason why the salt and soda ash are significant is because Dennis is the salt and soda ash specialist for United States Geological Survey (USGS); Carleen is the records manager.

"It's a stressful job and so I do needlepoint to take my mind off work," she said.

Another one of the exhibitors, Clara Young, was visiting the show. She was pleased to see a large purple ribbon next to her piece; she received one of the Judge's Choice awards.

Young said that she only enters when she does something original; she had also won an award a couple of years.

"Lightning has struck twice and I'm delighted," she said. This piece was definitely original; it depicted the amphitheater at Pula, Croatia. Young said that she copied it from a photo that her daughter had taken.

"I did it by eye, I don't use a pattern," she said.

Visitors will find many more of these stories in a special handout when they visit the exhibition.

JUST GETTING THE ehibition hung is a story in and of itself. Associate Director of Business Development, Liz Williams, said that they hang the items based on technique and color.

"We assess all the pieces and then we group them," she said. "A lot of different things come into play. It's a very long three days [the time it takes to hang the show]."

Williams said that they had about 3,500 visitors for last year's show and they're hoping for more this year.

"The quality of work is very high. Every year is unique, a totally different show. The different pieces make it fun," said Williams.

While Williams has only been involved in the hanging of the show the past couple of years, Craig Tuminaro, historian for Woodlawn and Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House, has done it for eight years. He said that the grouping is done based on color and design because it is more pleasing to the eye.

"Years ago, they grouped the items by men's pieces, juniors, etc." he said. "We make sure that things are shown the best they can be."

That is why they decided to hang the large wall hanging depicting all the letters of the alphabet in the center hall. This colorful piece has a block for each letter showing an animal, fruit and flower starting with each letter. From aardvarks and apples to yak and yucca, this piece is certainly eye-catching. Just as eye-catching is the beautiful quilt made by members of Nelly's Needlers. This group of women work on this quilt all year long and then sell raffle tickets for it. The winner of last year's quilt was announced this past January; it was a couple from North Carolina who drove up to claim it during a bad snowstorm.

Not only does the group make the quilt, but they run the Tea Room as well. Ann Hebert is co-chairing the event this year along with Frances Vass.

"We thoroughly enjoy ourselves," said Hebert. "Every year I think the stitching can't improve, but it does. We have a wonderful staff who figures out how to hang it."

Hebert likes the fact that their show is an open competition; in other words, it's not juried and so everybody's works are accepted.