Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Going back to my Roots

Recently I launched new Bearpaw Craft Classes for the Spring/Summer term. It is quite a risk offering new classes - should I just teach the popular crochet and patchwork classes each week, which are always a sell-out, but risk boring my repeat customers? Or do I offer some new ideas and risk not getting enough bookings?

So I am taking a bit of a risk offering a needlepoint class. Needlepoint (or tapestry as it's also called) doesn't seem to have had the same craft revival as crochet or embroidery recently. This wasn't the case back in the late 1980's when we last had a big craft revival. I was 21 when I completed my first needlepoint sampler, and for some mad reason, decided that I would start my own business designing and producing needlepoint kits! I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but a mixture of naivety and optimism drove me on.
And so Cleopatra's Needle was born! To start with I designed kits for cushions which featured repeat patterns, just like fabric designs. I managed to rope my then boyfriend (now husband) into it as he was already a designer. And very annoyingly, the first design he produced turned out to be our best selling design ever! That was the Acorn above, I still have a few cushions of this on the sofa. This design is still available from the Cleopatra's Needle's current owner, so I guess it is still selling well.

The business became very successful and we sold into all the major department stores in the country (Liberty's was my first customer!), as well as being exported to USA, Australia and Europe.
But after a few years we had moved up to the Scottish Borders (from London) and grown a young family. I was too busy with babies and toddlers (and had started making quilts!) to get too involved in the business anymore. So Jonathan was left running it and it wasn't really what he wanted to do.
So we sold the business and made enough money to set Jonathan up as a furniture maker and our new business (which has led on to our current Homestore in Edinburgh) was born.
So back to the current day. I am very pleased to say that Cleopatra's Needle is still going strong (albeit with none of my designs anymore!) and you can visit their website here.
I had not picked up a piece of canvas for about 17 years when I dug out an old piece to design a small project for this new class a few weeks back.
But you don't forget these sort of things and it is quite a straight forward skill once you get started. Luckily I still have plenty of Appleton's Tapestry Wool (I have been using it in my crochet blankets for years!), so I designed this little 'New York Beauty inspired' pincushion.
It was very pleasurable to do, though more time consuming than I had remembered. And I had also forgotten that even the smallest completed canvas gets very warped and has to be 'stretch and blocked' on a board like this below.
I would love this very beautiful and rewarding art to get the same sort of attention as other crafts are enjoying at the moment. Maybe I will start a campaign for Needlepoint (because as you all know, I have so much spare time...).
I love the little completed pin cushion and I really hope I can teach this when the workshop comes up at the end of May. And once you have learnt the basics, you can go on to make amazing things like this duffel bag I made years ago for a book that we had been commissioned to write about Cleopatra's Needle's designs.
Unfortunately the book got cancelled due to the last recession in the early 90's, and was never published. But I still have a few bits and pieces that we designed at the time (well actually I could only find this one!). This certainly reminds me of how excited and inspired I was by needlepoint at the time. And not just me, this was Kaffe Fassett's big passion after knitting and before patchwork, and a lot of his needlepoint designs seem to inspire his current fabric designs.
Thank you for reading this very long story. Have you tried needlepoint before yourself? Has this post inspired you to have a go? Or does it seem hopelessly old-fashioned to you now?
I would love to hear what you all think!


  1. What an exciting past you have had. No wonder you want to revive needlepoint. Much luck! Love your pincushion!

  2. I love that pincushion! I've never tried needlepoint but love other forms of needlework so maybe I'll give it a go - particularly if I can make a pincushion like yours!!

  3. Oooh! I love that pincushion. I'm inspired!!! I've tried needlepoint before and think I might try again!

  4. Love needlepoint, before I started quilting I was a needlepoint junkie. I don't think it will ever be considered old fashioned. Love your duffle bag design, it is so gorgeous! You are a truly talented person, thank you for sharing with us!

  5. I have done a bit of needlepoint in the past. It was a pre-printed canvas and came with the wool. Love the sunflower bag!

  6. So fascinating Jo - I didn't realise you had needlepoint in your past as well as so many other things. I can completely see that it inspires Kaffe Fassetts fabric designs -it seems quite obvious once you mention it.
    I do hope the new class goes well. It is wonderful to hear that the classes are working out. Juliex

  7. what a lovely post, Jo.

    I was a total needlepoint junkie in my teens and early twenties ... I used to use needlepoint designs for knitting and vice versa ... I loved the math of sewing design onto fabric. I'd spend hours with squared paper working out alphabets and images.

    I think it's a real amplified syn thing to need to 'make' the fabric.

    1. ooh and I just loved that florentine straight stitch zig zag .. oh yum .. I know I have canvas somewere ...

  8. Nice one - I am an Emily Peacock lover!

  9. Wow, that was quite the impressive crafty journey there! Love the end result pin cushion too :o)

  10. I could not sleep and found your latest post and record of your craft journey. I love your new design and think it will be a very inspiring class to teach. I really do not know where you are finding the extra time at the moment to create all these wonderful things - but am so pleased that you have. x

  11. Once a months we run a Crafty Church session at church where people can bring whatever thy are working on and work while they chat. We usually have crochet, knitting, sewing going on, and we've have painting and felting, but one lady is making tapestry cushions - poppies I think. Good luck with they new class

  12. So your post begs a question from me and I'm really hoping you have the answer! While cleaning out my FIL's estate, we stumbled across an old stool that had a needlework/tapestry cover. It's very old. I've removed it from the stool and soaked it in cold water and a detergent for delicate fabrics. It still needs some help. It was in a shed for years. Any ideas on how I can clean it? What shouldn't I try? Any help is soooo appreciated. This belonged to my MIL's aunt, so it's been in the family a while and we'd love to save it.

  13. Hi Jo, LOVE your needlepoint. You so should finish that book and revive the craft yourself! I started out in the 80's with Ehrman kits when they still had shops. Do you remember the big embroidery shop round the corner from Harrods? Three floors full of embroidery...that was magnificent. Ehrman had a shop in Mill Hill. I am sure it is going to make a comeback, just look at how the granny squares suddenly resurfaced. And you will be at the forefront!

  14. You're right about it's lack of popularity. We have a shop in the heart of Sydney that used to be called "Tapestry Craft" but the sale of knitting yarns overtook the tapestry business and now it is just known by the owners' name: "Morris and Sons". It still caters to both crafts but since they sell their own range of knitting yarns it's pretty obvious which craft is more popular. Good luck with your class.