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Article published Apr 21, 2006
Sharing the joys of the threaded needle ...

Stitching Mad: One of the messages on this handstitched bag is 'A Thread's Toil Is Never Long Enough'. American designer Susan Greening Davis. Photo by Chris Burville.

This is my third time in Bermuda,” Ms Davis said. “As far as I understand I am the only teacher who has come back that many times.”Ms Davis said she has been a stitcher since she was a small child. While in college, she used her needlework skills to make Christmas gifts, because she couldn’t afford store-bought gifts.
“I would go home or back to the dorm and people would see me doing it,” she said. “I would hand-paint my own designs onto canvas, and then stitch them. When I graduated and went to work in my chosen field, people would see what I was working on and say, ‘where’d you get that?’”
Eventually, she decided to open her own needlework store, and then another.
“My business was called The Stitching Company, and I ran it for 35 years,” she said. “It was in Michigan. I don’t have it anymore. The whole time I had my store I designed and taught. People found out about me, and they would invite me to come to their shop to teach.”
If you missed her this year, don’t despair. Ms Davis will be back on the island in 2007 from April 9 to 16. Running her two stores became overwhelming when her design career began to take off with at least two appearances on Home & Garden Television, so she sold them. Since then she has travelled to places such as Italy, Denmark, The Caymans and Bermuda to teach stitching.
“I do a Mermaid cruise every year,” she said. “Some of the Bermuda girls go on that. I am going to Italy in 2007, so it really is a worldwide thing. No matter where I go people always have the same questions.”
Although many needlework designs are today created using a scanner and a computer, Ms Davis still does everything the old fashioned way – with pencil and graph paper.
“I don’t have a niche,” she said. “I will design something and it doesn’t look like the other things that I designed. Many designers always have a similar look to their designs, so that you can pick out one of theirs just by looking at it. I don’t do that. I think we should always be pushing the envelope and trying something new.”
One of the things that make her designs stand out is a variety of stitches. To help her students learn and remember different stitches, she sometimes has them design a special stitch book, where sample stitches are sewn onto cloth pages.
“It is a way to keep track of all the stitches you learn,” she said. “This is something that is going to be handed down through the generations. They did this in the 1200 and 1300s to teach people how to stitch.”
However, she said people shouldn’t worry so much if they stitch something and it doesn’t look exactly like it does on the pattern or diagram.
“If it doesn’t look exactly like the stitch, but you are happy with it, do it as you like it,” she said. “That is hard for cross-stitchers, because they always think it has to be exactly the same as the diagram, but it doesn’t.”
She often only teaches her designs at two or three workshops, before retiring them. This stops herself and her students from getting bored.
“Sometimes people get annoyed about that,” she said.
Ms Davis also teaches different ways to finish off a piece of stitching. For example, on one small cross stitch design she glued different mat designs on top of each other to form a frame. It was an inexpensive alternative to having the design professionally framed, which can cost upwards of $150 for a larger design. Her workshops are for people of all skill levels, including beginners.
“In every class I treat people like they are beginners,” she said. “In every class I will have someone who has never even stitched, and that is great. I am so excited by that because this is a new person who is going to get addicted and is going to love it.”
Ms Davis also had some ideas about introducing children to cross-stitch or needlework.
“The first thing is don’t even worry about how to do the Xs or how to read the chart,” she said. “Sometimes I will just take a piece of fabric and dot a little heart on there. They will still need a needle and thread. The hardest part for the little ones is threading the needle, so you need to be prepared with a needle threader. I taught my nephew how to do it. You have to let them get used to it.
“Then if they like it, get a big piece of graph paper, and do a little design on the graph paper.
Then they will be hooked. Hearts are good and so are smiley faces. Do something real basic, so they can make a book mark. A lot of times I will have them do something and then hook it on a sippy bottle.”
She said she has had six-years-olds determined to learn, but she recommends seven or eight years as a good age to start cross-stitching.
“We do birthday parties sometimes,” she said. “We will come in and have the children do something real small so they can do that and then go on to some other activity.”
If you think that a seven-year-old is too young to learn how to stitch, consider that in the old days this is exactly the age when girls would learn to embroider.
“Children would start out with a sampler where they would stitch words or the alphabet,” Ms Davis said. “It was called a markings sampler. Their second sampler would be called a darning sampler. In this sampler they would look at designs on wall hangings or elsewhere and then try to replicate them into pillows.”
She said in Scandinavian countries three and four-year-old girls would help spread manure in the fields during the day, then at lunch they would carefully wash their hands and work on their needlework. “In the break they would do white on white,” she said. “They would make a wedding shirt. They would learn to embroider on the collar, the cuffs and down the front. Their husband would wear the shirt on their wedding day, and also when he died.
“It would have to be a very big shirt, because the little girl never knew who she would marry or how big her future husband would be by the time he died. When I was in Denmark I got to see one that was never worn. Obviously, the young girl didn’t marry. It was a wonderful thing to look at. I love to incorporate history into my workshops.”
In 2000, the Hobby Industry of America (HIA) launched a three year study of the crafts industry. They found that interest in crafts has been increasing quite a bit. They also found that in 2002 crafters spent 29 percent on needlecrafts compared to 43 percent on general crafts, 18 percent on painting and finishing and 10 percent on floral crafts.
Ms Davis said the crafts industry suffers from competition from other activities such as computers and gardening.
“Gardening is such a big hobby all over the world now,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like to get their hands dirty and then come and stitch. But when you think back to the beginning and how those little girls in Scandinavia learned... wear gloves or wash your hands!”