Here’s a warning: Needlepoint is catching. It hits you when you have spare time. It is likely to appeal people who stop smoking or drinking. It might be a good way to stop playing “Fortnite.”
You can’t be on social media and do needlepoint. You can’t eat and do needlepoint.
Here’s what you can do: talk to a friend, or relax, listen to music or an audiobook. Actors are particularly likely to take it up because they have so much down time between takes on the set. They have to remain ready, in character. Ryan Gosling does needlepoint. “Sally Field taught me to do needlepoint on ‘Steel Magnolias,’ and a standby painter on ‘Pelican Brief’ taught me to knit,” Julia Roberts told an interviewer. Musicians have down time too, especially on those bus rides. Chris Martin of Cold Play does needlepoint. So does Gwen Stefani.
Everyone knows that the football player and actor Rosey Grier does needlepoint. He wrote a book about it.
The old image of needlepoint being stuffy, fussy pastoral images of ducks or imitation Aubusson tapestries, well, those are true. There are still patterns like that. And there will always be people who want to perfectly duplicate something that could have been done 500 years ago. Or they could buy on Etsy for $50.
But there was also a hand-painted canvas of van Gogh’s Irises for $200 by the talented Andrea Brisben, who also offered her versions of O’Keefe’s Poppy paintings and even Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The canvasses allowed needlepointers to do their own own creative interpretations. To the regret of creative needle artists, Brisben died in 2016. The Japanese hydrangea and bees up top is offered by Art Needlepoint, an online source for canvases based on artists’ work, and it has some beautiful and unusual patterns by Asian artists along with the better known western ones. And there will always be those who create their own patterns, or find an artist whose work they admire and print an image onto a canvas.
It’s all in the do-it-yourself spirit.
A lot of guys and girls in Brooklyn, Vermont, San Francisco and Portland are trying to make bread from “wild” yeast, or brew beer with who knows what. Everyone is doing things the way they Used To Be Done.
Nothing wrong there. Alex Kuczynski, the society figure and former newspaper reporter, took up needlepoint about a decade ago, partly, she will admit, as a way to avoid deadlines. She is a fan of the hipper Manhattan knitting and needlepoint shops like the now-closed Woolworks and Annie & Co. Alex, who used to sit next to me at The Times, and whose father is president of Peru, did not need to marry up, but she did, marrying Charles Porter Stevenson Jr., a man whose job, he told me, was “making money make money.”
One of the remaining needlepoint stores in Manhattan is the wonderful Annie & Co., owned by Annie Goodman. Letty, who works there, told me that Annie’s Wednesday evening sip-and-sews are bring-your-own-sips. and notes that needlepointers “are all grownups, and can be trusted to not spill anything on their canvases.” Obviously the store is there to sell you everything else, including gold-tipped needles if you should need them. Annie Goodman notes that it is now popular to include ribbons, beads, fabric petals and other embellishments in needlework that previous generations never would have tolerated.
I was surprised that so many needlepoint items by younger people were simple sayings instead of images. Why not do cross stitch?
But Letty set me straight. “Needlepoint is faster,” she said. “You don’t have to count.” Which leaves more time for talking, and sipping.
Sheila Marikar of Los Angeles recently took up needlepoint after finding a kit that offered the meme “The Internet is made of cats.” She wrote an article saying that doing needlepoint offered a way to shift her consciousness from “screens and talking heads and institutions breaking down or changing too fast.” It’s the same way I feel about weeding.
Online needlepoint kits offer endless snappy come-backs, most of which end in obscenities. The more polite ones say things like “Don’t do cocaine in the bathroom” and “Behind every successful man is a woman who could not be more surprised.” But we here at Flower Power with Jill think that needlepoint, which is said, like smelling lavender, to be calming and peaceful, should not also be a way to communicate aggression.
Ok, it is funny.
But if you are going to take up an ambitious project, the kind that involve months of gathering with girlfriends – or the guys – while the significant others are baking bread or brewing beer, perhaps a project that would involve hand painted fine canvas, and silk embroidery thread, why not make that time spent contemplating the subtle gradations of a single rose.
By Linda Lee