A Legacy of Needlework - Part Five

The Art Needlepoint Company

Repose by John White Alexander

The Calmady Children by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Eos by Sir Edwin Landseer

To end our series of needlepoint blogs, and because I'm an avid needlepointer myself, I am so happy to be able to tell you about The Art Needlepoint Company, who offer canvases available in various sizes and using either wool or silk threads depicting art quality designs including old master paintings, iconic portraits and some of the most celebrated animal paintings by English painters. What a delight it was to have found a source who sells canvases that break the mold. Yes - all of the art pictured above is available in needlepoint canvas.

Following is an interview with Doreen Finkel of The Art Needlepoint Company about their history, their stock and their passion for needlework.

Kristine: In Part Three of this series we met Mary Linwood who specialised in working full size copies of old master paintings using her needle and thread. When I learned of Mary and others of her day who did "needle painting" I longed to be able to create the same sort work - and having found you, now I can. What inspired you to go outside the box, so to speak, and to design a company around the idea of offering canvases that recreate famous artwork instead of simply offering the traditional needlepoint kits found elsewhere?

Doreen: Mine is a multi-part answer though the question seems straightforward. From the time I was very young, the local art store was a bigger treat than any other store - I can still remember how it felt to hold a ew drawing pencil set or charcoal pencil. I have always been in love with art - Art on canvas, art as textiles, art as poetry.

The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainesboro

Throughout my life, museums have been a sanctuary – a place where fine art is elevated but available for pleasure or study. Indigenous art and textile art have also always held a sacred place and these forms of art seem to have agreed with my unsophisticated notion that art should not have to be confined to walls, but could instead be found in the everyday.

I founded the Art Needlepoint Company on that simple idea. Art, like good design, should be available to everyone. Our company is dedicated to the joy of spreading art and the joy of needlepoint. I like to think of the art of needlepoint as the ability to create maximum effect from a minimum of materials. The possibilities for any one canvas are limited only to one’s imagination. Of course knowing different types of stitches is also helpful, and with the many resources available both in in print, online and in class formats, learning new stitches and expanding your repertoire has never been easier.

To us needlepoint is more than a soothing experience. We feel very strongly about the roots of needlework; about needlepoint as a creative process and art form. It is not the “fine arts” but is no less a skilled medium; requiring much the same as a painter’s skill is required in order to create a masterpiece on canvas or a musician would need to play in a symphony.

Blue Jays by Audubon

While there are many types of canvases on the market, we wanted to present a great breadth of art, both fine art of masters and artists that are not so well known, as well as living artists whose work can be translated onto canvas with threads.

Kristine:  The artwork canvases available on your website are so diverse. There's certainly something available for every taste. How do you go about the selection process as far as the artwork that's added to the site?

Doreen: Early on we had a mix of art but far fewer choices. Anyone familiar with The Art Needlepoint Company knows selections are added regularly. People seem to enjoy coming to the website and browsing the art categories and project categories. Some spend a fair amount of time just looking and appreciating the art. We like that; even if a person may never stitch a particular canvas, they are exposed to a variety of genres and styles. That exposure we hope broadens their horizons in some small way.

Lady Composed by Mucha

There are no set rules for selection, but we do consider certain elements. 1. We like to have a broad mix to appeal to different tastes and different skill levels. Therefore the art includes modern, art nouveau and art deco, ancient and new Chinese and Japanese masterpieces, landscapes, folk art, portraits, etc. 2. The scale and colors of a canvas can be a factor. A canvas should not be too dark or too white – either can present an unnecessary burden. There are so many wonderful painters throughout the centuries, as well as great number of living artists. Our selection of fine art has everything to do with the subject matter, scale and color; it is often a subjective response that then has an added layer of what it might look like stitched. We use our experience and best judgment when looking at a painting and try to envision it with silk or wool threads. If we don’t think a particular fiber will work for a particular image we won’t sell them together. For example, some portraits can look cartoony with wool threads. Faces are very difficult to stitch well. In addition to skill, the fiber has a lot to do with the finished product and can be a factor in selecting a painting.

Horse in Landscape by Stubbs

As well as our selecting new canvases, customers have requested certain artists or certain paintings. Just as our customers learn from us we learn from our customers. Recently, a significant focus of the selection process is on usability. How many needlepoint pillows does one home really need? Needlepoint has traditionally been referred to as a craft; craft meaning functional rather than art which is not utilitarian. This seems to be an artificial distinction. It puts the two at odds – beauty over utility. Art, like good design, belongs anywhere and everywhere. We have incorporated art – and the art of needlepoint to many types of everyday usable objects: small clutches, coasters, canvases to adorn trivets, jewelry boxes and tea trays to rugs, poufs, wall hangings and headboards.

You’ll notice that when you go The Art Needlepoint site the images are the paintings and not a finished needlepoint canvas. There are reasons for this. One is to represent the art accurately. Secondly, two people can work on the same canvas, but different fibers or different stitches can render near to completely different finished products. That creative element is encouraged when they see the original and determine how they wish to interpret it. We also want to encourage people to take up needlepoint. Showing the original art – from very easy projects to more challenging – gets a novice motivated. We hear from folks, young and old, male and female, everyday who are starting needlepoint for the first time because they want handmade art in their homes or that are coming back to needlepoint after many years of not working a canvas. In all cases, an original art selection spoke to them. That’s marvelous!

Keep Calm by Harwell

Needlepoint is an ongoing, evolving personal path toward confidence; one that should be undertaken with a measure of seriousness balanced with calm. We all know how the world can disappear when you are focused on a canvas; how you surrender the day when you stitch. One of our customers likened stitching to yoga for its ability to center your energies, calm your nerves and train your body, or at least your eye hand coordination. But it also strengthens your imaginative capacities. In the same way a tennis player gets better at the sport by playing against someone better than she, a needlepointer gets better when they expect more from themselves. The old adage that practice makes perfect may not readily and absolutely apply to needlepoint, but the more you stitch the more refined your eye and hand become. The more often you reach toward a different look for a canvas, work with new threads or employ new stitches, the broader your skill base becomes.

Floral rug by William Morris

Since we are an online store, we don’t meet face to face with our customers. But we needlepoint, so we know how important it is to have the right mix of materials. What works best for one person may not be the best for another, so we routinely customize, discussing and providing the most suitable threads, mesh sizes, even size of canvases to suit a particular skill level, interest or need. It may seem trite, but we would like every canvas that everyone works on to be a pleasurable and meaningful experience. We want our community of customers to be proud of their work. Displaying it in their own homes or giving needlepoint as gifts also promotes the art form to others who may not be familiar with the beauty and possibilities of needlepoint.

Teapots Trivet Kit

Kristine: I understand that your customers can request a piece of artwork to be put on canvas by you, or send a personal photo that can then be made into a needlepoint canvas. How does this process work?

Doreen: We can and have reproduced particular images for customers – usually a photo of a pet or children. Giclee is how much of art is reproduced today. Giclee is what lithographs used to be and are a very reliable way to reproduce art and is in fact the way 99% of art is reproduced today. If an image is free of copyright and is crisp we can usually honor a custom request.

In the hopes that our series on needlework has inspired others, can you demystify needlepoint for those who might be novices? What's the difference between mesh sizes, the various choices of threads used to work the canvases and the desired size of the finished piece?

Doreen: Mesh is the number of holes per inch. The range on mono deluxe needlepoint canvas goes from 10 – 18 mesh. The bigger the number the smaller the hole. 18 mesh or 18 count is more refined capturing detail and rendering a very precise smooth finish to a canvas. The threads you choose have as much to do with the mesh size as the image you are translating. Some wool threads are divisible, others are not. If you use tapestry wool that cannot be divided you need a larger hole such as a 14 mesh, which is a standard size for canvases on www.artneedlepoint.com. 14 mesh is good for blended threads (ie. wool and silk combined), wool, silk and pearle cotton. Silk can be used on a 14 mesh but is best used on a smaller hole – most often an 18 mesh to produce that fine stitching you get with such a beautiful fiber.

Petals small rug or wall hanging

One of the questions we regularly ask when someone is trying to determine the best choice of thread is “what are you going to do with the canvas when you are finished?” Wool and silk threads are very durable and are easy to clean, so we don’t for example recommend pearle cotton for pillows. Silk has a wonderful sheen. Wool is a fiber many people default to and is very appropriate for nearly any canvas, but it limits how much shading you can do and has a more matte finish. Consider the difference between a wool sweater and a silk blouse. We will talk through a project with anyone to help determine the best choice.

Kristine: What's coming next for The Art Needlepoint Company?  

Doreen: Projects! Classes! Retreats! Cruises! As I mentioned, The Art Needlepoint Company loves usability. To that end we are gearing up the project portion of our website. We have had great success with our small pouches and cosmetic bags that can be handstitched from start to finish and intend to add many more designs and shapes.

Peacock pouch or clutch

Likewise, rugs and poufs have been of great interest and in addition to creating rug patterns we have instituted and will continue to add to two series. One is a Build A Rug series and the other is Make your Pouf! In both cases, you can select and mix various canvases to build a pattern – think of patchwork quilts! We are also smitten with the idea of headboards and panoramic wall hangings We recently created window treatments for a customer. . . . Nothing is static – good ideas will maybe come from shelter magazines or blogs or from our customers.

Toile bench cushion

In an effort to meet with and become better acquainted with our customers 2011 will be a year of cruises and retreats. Our customer base extends throughout the US and in various spots all around the globe. With many customers from Ireland and England we have put together a cruise on the Queen Mary 2 for July 27th 2011. We’ll sail from NYC to Southhampton and have a week of fun and needlepoint instruction from one of England’s better known stitchers. She’ll be flying into NYC and sailing back with us. There will be technique instruction with a variety of fibers, including silk ribbons, silk threads, wool, and there will be one on one help. We’ll end the cruise at the Royal School of Needlework and a visit to the V & A! At the time of this writing we are developing canvases and the course offerings. Check back with us or call us within a month or so and we will have everything finalized.

You can find The Art Needlepoint Company by clicking here or phone them at 978.226.8271
All designs used in this post are available as needlepoint canvases.