Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

The CARON Collectionis pleased to feature one of the outstanding shops who so ably provide stitchers with not only supplies but guidance, technical expertise, and inspiration. We hope you'll support your local shops and browse through our extensive SHOP LISTINGS to find a shop near you.

Island Needlework

At the rainbow's end you'll discover the island outpost of Key West. Natives of Key West, known as Conchs, claim to have the most spectacular sunsets anywhere and no known visitor has ever disputed this allegation. It is a nightly celebratory event to converge at Mallory Square to witness nature's kaleidoscopic display as the sun sinks below the horizon one more time. The scene on the promenade resembles an itinerant Medieval circus: magicians, fire-eaters, men with trained cats, pigs that talk, street musicians and six Elvis impersonators mingle with the tourists and regulars.

What else is so special about Key West? The tropical blossoms are unrivaled, the turquoise blue waters are endlessly inviting and teeming with vibrantly hued fish, the cuisine is an enticing mixture of regional southern cooking combined with Cuban and Bahamian influences, and an eclectic community of artists, sculptors, photographers, writers and musicians combine to make this an idyllic and compelling year round habitat.

These awesome surroundings are home to Island Needlework situated in a circa 1880 three-story clapboard Conch house - the name also bestowed on the Victorian homes here. The shop is conveniently located close to Duval, the main street in town. Near at hand are art galleries, book stores, cafes and antique shops. Fausto's, directly across the street, can satisfy a chocolate craving and is as much a social center as a food palace.

Island Needlework occupies the first floor of the house. Julie Pischke, its owner, and her family reside on the two floors above. The business is something of a family affair. Julie's daughter Zoe, 12, has her own line of children's needlepoint designs with motifs of frogs, sunfish and rainbows and sister Lacy, 15, helps paint canvases when her busy high school schedule allows. Julie's husband, Richard, is responsible for designing and renovating the store. But it is Julie who has been the constant backbone, almost singlehandedly running the business for the past 18 years. Just about the time Julie realized she couldn't go it alone any longer, a seredipitous answer to her prayers materialized in the form of Tracy O'Neal. At the time Julie was looking for a way to spend more time pursuing her own design interests, and Tracy was looking for a job designing and painting canvases for needlepoint. BINGO! It soon became apparent that another "Lucy and Ethel" team was about to be born. Their styles, personalities and interests compliment each other so well that neither can imagine a more compatible working relationship. In their endeavors they are assisted by two other "employees": Pearl Bailey and Phoebe Snow. They are integral to maintaining shop security, unless they are swimming in the pool out back or sleeping under the counter! Pearl is a chocolate lab and Phoebe is a champagne cocker.

Julie's needlework roots go way back. Julie's grandmother and her mother were charter members of the first EGA chapter to be established in the Fort Lauderdade area. Julie's mom owned a needlework store there named The Silver Web. By age 13 Julie was designing and filling all the special orders in the shop. There was a brief hiatus from her needlework metier when Julie moved to Iowa to attend Cornell College. While there, she did find a creative outlet by working for a chain of department stores designing their display windows. She also found her future husband. In 1977 Julie and Richard moved to Key West. In a tiny cramped space on Duval Street they opened Island Needlework and lived in back of the store. Eleven years ago the shop was moved to the Conch house on Fleming Street.

Island Needlework has been a hub for tourist and resident needleworkers alike for the past 21 years, also functioning as a social "watering hole". The first Thurs. in Nov. initiates "Sip and Stitch" which takes place weekly through tax time. Ladies congregate from 10am to 12pm to stitch and gossip next to the pool in the serene outdoor garden. Nov. through Apr. is the busy season and Julie and Tracy have to don their dance shoes and stay on their toes to keep up. In the "High" season of Jan. to Mar., the pace picks up requiring a change to tap shoes. Cruise ships provide a steady flow of customers and there are days when Julie yearns for the times before Key West became the holiday mecca it is today. What makes the business run so smoothly is that Julie and Tracy have a highly developed and somewhat irreverent sense of humor. Their roles as Lucy and Ethel are interchangeable, each playing the "straight man" for the other as the plot unfolds. Visitors returning to the island year after year are guaranteed to find this "dynamic duo" working barefoot and attired in bathing suits and sarongs while the shop resonates with the ever-present sound of music. Customers who know them well can get a clue as to what the prevailing mood of the day will be by the tunes being played.

Island Needlework is a mosaic of different spaces that reflect Julie's personal multi-faceted style. The main ceramic-tiled counter in front of the yarn bins showcases an antique phone which most clients mistake as a merely decorative fixture. Not so: Julie is a "rotary-dial" girl and loves the heft and flair of her period heirloom. Threads and fibers in stock run the gamut of wools, cottons, rayons, and silks with the Caron Collection a shop favorite. There is a comfortable "living room" area furnished with Victorian sofas and chairs. Hand painted canvases line the walls, floor to ceiling. Julie's originals are spotlighted along with designs from all the most noted artists designing in needlepoint today. Antique tables set off various needlework items and smaller pieces fill baskets galore.

Everything the store carries is "a cut above " the usual. The literature section features classics or out-of-print books that are difficult to find. Julie also carries a very select line of rugs, having no less than 6 displayed at all times. Accessories abound in kind and variety: bags, belts, shoes, footstools, pillows, address books and carpet bags. Many of these are festooned with the bright colors and bold, dramatic shapes of native flora and fauna: Frangipani, Hibiscus, Heliconia, Bougainvillea, Lizards, Parrots, Toucans, Kissing Fish and other striking tropical motifs. One item you'll not find anywhere else is a pair of elegant needlepoint slippers featuring a white dove on a red background, with accents of gold and silver, bearing the verse: "We walk by faith, not by sight".

The most unique display consists of some of their finest needleart pieces including silk samplers, bell pulls, and trappunto and bargello bordered mirrors. This exclusive collection is named "The Toilet Tapestries" and resides, guess where? The bathroom also houses Julie's office outfitted with her grandmother's kidney shaped desk and a genuine oriental carpet that was cut-to-fit! Gasp! If Julie does ever advertise for help, a prospective employee might very well find herself sitting on top the toilet seat being interviewed!

Julie's business strategy has emerged through trial and error and years of experience and is voiced thus: "You can be as crazy as you want, but be sure to make good business decisions." She firmly believes let your words, clothes, manner and surroundings all reflect your personal creativity and uniqueness. Result: a devoted following. (Romans 8:28)

A Formal Tea is held every Christmas. On this occasion the elaborate silver tea service makes its once yearly appearance. Ritual prevails and proper attire is required: hat and gloves are de riguer, shoes are optional! The first of these was a High English Tea replete with scones and clotted cream. Other "flavors" have included San Francisco- Chinatown, with Julie and Tracy dressed in oriental pj's pouring green tea and serving fortune cookies and, most recently, an Indian theme, the incomparable team donning saris brought back from Singapore by Julie, pouring jasmine tea with appropriate refreshments.

Classes are available on a limited basis. Because of clientele turn-around, Julie finds that individual private lessons are more suitable and take place on their old church pew. The shop carries all of Julie's one-of-a-kind designs which are marketed under the Island Needlework name. Tracy and Julie have just begun a design collaboration and this line will be marketed under the name Dog 57. By using a mirror and knowing that Julie's favorite number is 7 and Tracy's is 5, you may be able to solve the puzzle of this curious name.

Key West may be the end of the rainbow but the real pot-of-gold awaits at Island Needleworks. Stepping into the fanciful, imaginative and whimsical world that Julie and Tracy preside over like some high priestesses of a needlework realm, is an experience you'll not forget.

Island Needleworks is located at 527 Fleming Street, Key West, Fl., 33040
Phone and Fax number (305) 296-6091
Store hours are Mon. through Fri. 10 am to 5 pm
Saturday 10 am to 2 pm (After 2 pm, you have a good chance of finding them out on the reef snorkeling!) They are never open on Sunday.

There is yet another incentive to visit Key West and Island Needlework if you're a stitcher yearning for a tropical getaway. Julie rents out a secluded cottage, centrally located in "the old town", yet well hidden and private. If you would like a brochure, please call Key West Realty.


© 1997 The Caron Collection / Voice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

CARON email: mail@caron-net.com