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in Homewood, Alabama
Judith Carter opened Needleworks in April of 2000. The shop is located two blocks from downtown in a former Arts and Crafts style residence built in 1925. Judith refers to it as, "A home away from home. There is a wonderful porch for stitchers and visitors to sit in a relaxing atmosphere. A vegetable garden located in the backyard is either under construction or 'bearing fruit' for the customers' enjoyment. During autumn there are turnips and mixed greens, for spring there is lettuce and for summer there are tomatoes." Judith's husband is the one with the green thumb, who tends to the garden and grounds. He gives away the produce to anyone who supports Needleworks. The shop garden began when a man in the parking lot inquired, "What does it take to get some of those tomatoes?" Judith's husband replied, "Is your wife buying a canvas?" With an affirmative response, the give-away began!
The Garden At Needleworks
with this Year's Bumper Crop of Tomatoes
for Lucky Customers!
Needleworks is a needlepoint shop, which focuses primarily on hand painted canvases. Their canvas selection includes a wide variety styles, inventorying hundreds by many well-known designers. Although the shop is still "young," there is already quite an extensive fiber collection. In the Caron Collection Line, Needleworks stocks variegated Watercolours, Solid and Variegated Impressions, and Variegated Waterlilies. They eagerly assist with expert guidance in the selection of the most appropriate fiber for a project by asking a lot of questions and by familiarizing themselves with the preferences and ability level of each stitcher.
Judith was born in Germany, growing up in a military family that lived in many different places. Her mother is British and her father hails from Alabama. Both parents loved to travel and as a child the family traveled all over Europe. Judith adds, "One of my favorite childhood memories is living with my mother's parents on the Isle of Man for a year while my father was on assignment." She continues, "It was through the needle arts that my grandparents shared their love of country and also taught my siblings and me about our heritage. Although we were together only a short time, there are many precious memories of my grandparents demonstrating their love to us by their efforts to teach us to needlepoint and knit. We stitched while traveling to castles, historic sites, during idle times and while visiting relatives. It was considered to be a wise use of our time to stitch whenever possible. As children, we were eager to learn and my grandparents were overjoyed that they had something to share with their visiting American grandchildren. Generously they gave us their time as most grandparents do ---- but it is the legacy of their talent, which I have truly learned to appreciated with the passage of time."
In retrospect, Judith now often wonders what prompted her parents to "allow" her to attend college, but then major in a "childhood hobby" (this is said somewhat tongue-in-cheek!) She surmises, "I guess they knew I had the determination to find a career in my chosen field. I will admit it has been a challenge. I earned a B.S. & M.S. in clothing and textiles and eventually found a job as a pattern maker in a somewhat uncertain apparel industry. Later, I joined Auburn University's faculty and taught construction and design courses. Also, I wove artwork for commercial and residential interiors on a loom that was an engagement present from my husband. He knew I would rather have a loom than a diamond! In the 90's my husband was transferred to Birmingham and with this move came the opportunity of a lifetime. I became the editor of McCall's Needlework until it ceased publication in 1997. It was the gateway to my retail venture. I met many creative and supportive individuals that were part of a friendly industry. Lois Caron was one such person.
It was during Judith's tenure at McCall's Needlework that she was introduced to the Caron Collection. She elucidates, "There was one particular embroidery project that really needed a special touch. The designer and I were working together and she suggested variegated threads because the design had so many color changes. Since I had already agreed to stitch the project, I was looking for a way to make the color changes the easiest way possible. As always time was a factor and I was stitching this project in my spare time! I started with one or two variegated greens for the greenery. But I kept going back to the 'Caron drawer' and pulling more threads. I fell in love with the variegated colors of Wildflowers, Watercolours, and Impressions.
At the time I thought "This is incredible!" No one will ever know how easy it was to accomplish the color changes. I almost felt like I was cheating. The color changes were so easy and the thread did it all. Traditionally I had stitched with 100% wool. But I became a big fan of the combination of silk and wool of Impressions. It was so easy to use and the colors were perfect for things in nature. I was amazed at the great colors I found for dirt, rocks, sky, flowers, leaves -- they all looked so natural. Impressions is my all time favorite thread. It looks great and it is wonderful to stitch. I always look forward to finding a use for 'new' colors and more ways to use my old favorites. I love it when someone asks, 'How did you do that?' And I can reply, 'It's easy, the thread did it.' And you can do it, too!"
One of Judith's goals for her shop was to provide continuing education for all levels of needleworkers' experience through classes and seminars. There is usually one major event per year that focuses on education. Last summer Needleworks, The Cloak Room (which specializes in children's kits), and The Needlepoint Group of the TNNA sponsored a stitch camp for children in Birmingham. Two teenagers planned the camp as a public service project. It was held at the local public library and was held free of charge to the participants.
Needleworks also sponsored a visit by author Jacqueline Kreinik. She spoke to a local embroiderer's guild and led a one-day workshop at the store. Additionally, Barbara Gallagher, a nationally known fine artist who lives in Alabama, teaches a very popular canvas-painting workshop. The shop also offers basic finishing classes for those who desire to learn how to finish an ornament or make basic pillows. Although Needleworks does not hold "trunk shows," they periodically feature an artist's work and sell themthrough a special exhibit. Judith states her philosophy on this, "I think canvas designers are artists and their work should be considered art-worthy of an exhibit."
"The most special ingredient of Needleworks," Judith states, "are the stitchers themselves. Each one has a unique purpose for needlepointing and all are part of an exceptional legacy here in Birmingham. The ladies (and gentleman) that frequent Needleworks continue a tradition of creating wonderful heirlooms for their family and friends. For many, the sole purpose of stitching is to create one-of-a-kind gifts for those close to their heart. It is with anticipation and excitement that many search the shop looking for the newest grandchild's Christmas stocking or the perfect canvas for a new family member's home. Each canvas becomes a work of art with a story to tell. It wonderful to be a part of so many tales!"
As owner of Needleworks, Judith considers herself primarily a retailer, who does not design! She clarifies, "After wandering my way through 'half a lifetime' in the clothing and textiles industry, I found what I like to do best. Needleworks features the work of others and the shop's goal is to help customers create their own works of art. We offer lots of opinions when it comes to selecting fibers and stitches for a particular canvas. Also, the finishing process is one of my passions. Since I have a background in pattern making and textiles I continue to 'have plans' for a canvas after it is sold. Sometimes I have the most fun thinking of what can be done to a 'simple' canvas. Buying trims and fabrics for the shop is so much fun -- just as much as buying the canvases and fibers. I just love it when a finished piece goes 'home' and lives happily ever after."
Homewood is a true Southern city -- a distinctive and comfortable place to visit and live where residents still treasure many of the ways of the "small-town" South. Conveniently nestled just south of Birmingham, Homewood provides its residents, businesses, and visitors with a unique opportunity to enjoy the days gone by. Many residents stroll downtown sidewalks to shop at boutiques, shops, galleries, and to stroll and play in the park. The neighborhoods are filled with charming well-kept homes and are just a part of what makes Homewood such a special place to call home.
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