Victoria Sampler in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada
"It seems to me as though embroidery has always been in my life." So asserts Thea Dueck, owner of the Victoria Sampler.This comment can be taken quite literally - as family lore has it, Thea's mother would execute only one significant piece of needleart using a particular technique. Was it coincidence or rather a premonition, which inspired her to complete her only cross stitch project, an elaborate tablecloth, while she was "expecting?" That baby was Thea.
Thea was born in Holland where it was natural for women to while away a few hours in the evenings stitching. Her mother, aunts and grandmothers were often thus occupied and she was taught these skills as a child. The family emigrated to Canada when Thea was eight and became citizens. She attended the University of Victoria as a Music Major and sang soprano as a soloist and as a member of a chamber group during her school years and far beyond. Thea married in 1974 and soon gave birth to two daughters - first Dori, then Petra. Living in a rural area meant fulfilling the role of chauffeur for the girls' outside activities. Needlework was an pleasant way to spend time waiting for them. Using counted cross stitch Thea made birth and house-warming samplers, altering designs to suit each recipient's taste. Gradually she moved to more involved projects, integrating elements garnered from many sources. That said, it is surprising when she reveals, "In the late 1970's I discovered some patterns in a little shop near my home, and was thrilled to find some designs I didn't have to make up...cross stitch was the rage, and I was in heaven."
As Thea's daughters grew up, she yearned to expand her own horizons. She took a job in a bookstore, began to write and sang in a local chamber choir. Soon it became apparent that she was really most content when stitching. In 1988, she composed a needlework picture of a friend's house as a gift. Buoyed by the praise received, Thea chose the more ambitious project of rendering the Legislative Buildings in Victoria in cross stitch. She elaborates on the process, "I used graph paper, put it over the photo and leaned against a window, so that I could see the outlines... and fill them in...To think that I could use a picture that I chose, rather than just changing an existing design, was such a revelation to me, that it is kind of embarrassing to admit to now!" She began her design career by carting models to shops, selling from the back of her car and was successful in placing them in local craft and gift stores, under the name, Lampost Designs. Today, in addition to The Victoria Sampler, her initial company is still going strong, producing and distributing 15 different kits.
One of Thea's first clients was Dawn Nicolson, owner of the neeedlework shop, Fancyworks. In addition to purchasing her designs, Dawn offered Thea a job, which opened new vistas, "From the first...I loved working there! The contact with people who loved needlework and treated it with respect was an eye-opening experience...I designed a few small samplers for the store and these were met with an appreciation which I found addictive!"
In late 1992, Thea had an urge to try something different, ending up with a white-on-white sampler. Published as White Christmas, it soon became obvious that it was a hit! The demand revealed that Thea's focus on sampler design, production and distribution needed radical change or she would burn herself out. Within a few months, she was back on track, selling to Canadian shops and to U.S. outlets through a distributor, Access Commodities, with whom she enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship for several years.
The Victoria Sampler, was established in 1993. Thea began teaching more, learned to delegate responsibilities and discovered a more productive means of collaborating with business associates. Her life flowed and was gratifying. But into every life some rain must fall and it poured buckets the year Thea and her husband separated and then divorced. Besides the emotional upheaval, she now needed to earn a living. Her designs were popular but did not constitute a livelihood. In l996 she decided she would give her design venture two years to get up to speed or give it up. Just three years later, The Victoria Sampler is supporting not only Thea, but 8 full and part time employees and her new husband, Richard. She met him on the cafeteria line, aboard a ferry, shortly after making her fateful decision. For her success, she is quick to share the credit, "It is in large measure due to the terrific management and sales experience that Richard has brought to the company... and...who made it possible for me to continue to design while the company continues to grow."
When queried about design inspiration Thea quips, "How do I get the ideas to stop - is what I want to know! Every thing around me...influences what I do creatively."She habitually keeps a journal which constitutes a treasure trove, bursting with quotes, snippets of material, and stitched samples. Thea's artistic style is best described as classic and timeless, "Since my designs come from deep within me...I just stay true to my own vision." This vision translates into delicate, beautiful designs that reflect the stitcher's life and purpose. Her work is versatile and easily adapted to each stitcher's needs. Thea possesses a penchant for combining numerous techniques, an attribute her designs are well known for. Many commemorate meaningful occasions such as weddings, anniversaries and birthdays, intended to become family heirlooms for future generations. Her two newest designs, due out this month are the Rose Arbour Sampler and the Pansy Sampler.
The demand for Thea's designs keeps her company busy distributing leaflets and kits to shops around the globe. So busy, that Thea has had to relinquish her customary teaching assignments. She says with chagrin, "I'm really going to miss this part of my life... yet, when one door closes another opens!" Thea has been hard at work setting up stitching Cyberclasses using novel teaching and communication techniques tailored to the Internet. Students receive expert personal help, learning hints, tricks and new techniques, while still having all the fun associated with being in a group with other stitchers. Along with her Online assistants, dubbed Cyberangels, Thea has miraculously incorporated the intimacy and class rapport one would expect to find only in a face-to-face encounter. In fact, Thea's cyberclasses have been deemed so outstanding by her students, that they nominated her for the prestigious "1999 DMC Teacher of the Year Award," which she subsequently won! DMC awarded this coveted prize to Thea for the success and effective teaching methods of her innovative Online Cyberclasses! Ever generous, Thea shares the spotlight, "This is a wonderful honour that I share with my whole staff. But the ladies I'd really like to thank for this prize are none other than the Cyberstudents themselves!" Fortunately for Thea, there are others out there who know when to give credit, where it is due!
Last year The Victoria Sampler organized a 4 day stitching extravaganza which proved to be such a success, it seems destined to become an institution. This year's workshop, scheduled from September 14 -18, 2000, is planned to be even more spectacular. Participants will stay at a luxury hotel in Victoria, with inspiring stitching rooms set aside overlooking the scenic harborfront. Special attractions have even been added to accomodate accompanying spouses.
Thea shares her insights gleaned from years of experience "I have learned to have a deep respect for...teachers, suppliers and...shopowners who work very hard at making needlework accessible and exciting... And, I have learned that I have an unbreakable bond with the many stitchers who spend their own precious time on the designs I produce...You make my work a joy! Thank you"
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