The New Jersey Needle Artists/Morris County Library exhibit speaks for itself. But we couldn’t leave it at that.
So accompanying the current exhibit of our members’ stunning work, which runs through August 9, is the following brief description of what makes modern needlepoint so challenging, compelling and fun.
Metal on velvet. Exploded geometrics. Bling and more bling. Fiber artists are reinventing this age-old craft — in which stitches are worked with a needle over a canvas mesh — by experimenting with texture, color, and design and by utilizing fibers that didn’t exist a decade ago.
“It’s certainly not your grandmother’s needlepoint,” Diane Burgess, Chapter President of the New Jersey Needle Artists (NJNA), says in describing the work of members now on display at the Morris County Library. “Modern needlepoint gives crafters more choices and more ways to expand their creativity.”
Wool, the traditional mainstay of needlepoint, still has its place. But now, so do silk, cotton, metallics, beads, rayon, ribbons and other fuzzy, shiny, prickly threads. These novelty fibers let needlepointers build texture into their projects. A traditional floral canvas may include flourishes with ribbon to give it dimension. An image of whitecaps on water may be stitched in a metallic thread to give it depth. And as for beadwork, it adds luxury and shine to the handbag worked by one NJNA member and on display.
Artists are using color in new ways, too. Take Stars for a New Millenium, the centerpiece of NJNA’s exhibit this month. Noted fiber artist Tony Minieri, who designed Stars, explains that this project is intended as a “study in color, texture, stitch and thread.” Each square is based on a traditional quilt pattern and, “… is named after a movie star from Hollywood’s Golden Age.”
Stitchers who completed Stars expressed themselves through their choice of color and thread. In the process, they highlighted the impact that color choice has on pattern. While some of the display pieces appear more traditional than others based on color choice, one artist’s decision to use bright pinks, oranges, blues and greens is strictly 21stcentury.
Experiments with new technologies and three-dimensional finishes also mark modern needlepoint. One piece in this month’s display is a needlepoint-embellished photograph. The landscape photo was transferred onto canvas and then worked with stitches to enhance the image and add dimension. And newer types of finishing techniques ditch the frame altogether, giving depth and a playful quality to what’s generally been considered a two-dimensional art. On display here, note the three-dimensional Christmas house, wreath, and red, white and blue piece called Patriotic Topiary.
Then there’s stitch choice. Traditional needlepoint relies on tried-and-true slanted stitches known as “tent” or “basketweave,” and those stitches remain go-to options for most needlepointers. But scores of easy-to-learn stitches are now commonly used to mimic grass, a barn roof, a bird’s wing and other objects on painted needlepoint canvas. And Starshighlights the way in which a variety of stitches can be combined for varied effect.
Want to learn more? First, take a look at the partially-stitched travel ornament included in the display for inspiration. Then head to your library for its supply of “how to” books. The Needlepoint Book by Jo Ippolito Christensen is a classic. For sheer inspiration, find Kaffe Fasset’s Glorious Needlepointor Beth Russell’s Traditional Needlepoint. Other resources include the American Needlepoint Guild at http://www.needlepoint.org and https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/basic-tent-needlepoint-stitches-2479706. YouTube also contains a wealth of information on how to prepare a canvas and specific stitches. Free beginner patterns are also widely available on the web. Here’s one pattern that offers clear instructions and a variety of stitches: http://www.lizartneedlepoint.com/uploads/Rhodes_Fish_Cover___Text.docx
Finally, the New Jersey Needle Artists, which meets monthly at the Bernards Township Library, always welcomes new members. Its meeting schedule is posted at: www.njneedleartists.org.