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Thistle Needleworks
A Stitch In Time
adapted from Northeast Magazine
The Hartford Courant
January 7, 2001 pg. 7

Nancy BemerA Stitch In Time
by Deborah Geigis Berry

If these winter nights leave your boredom threshold thin as a thread, consider joining the leagues of people who happily spend their winter nights in stitches. Needlework -- the broad term encompassing cross-stitching, needlepoint, crewel, surface embroidery and other embellishments on fabric -- is fast becoming a pastime for Connecticut men, women, and teens who want to lose themselves in a historic tradition.

"All of us have a creative side, and we often don't get a chance to use it," says Judie Solomon, owner of Thistle Needleworks in Glastonbury. "We might not be gourmet cooks or painters, but needlework lets us express our creative innards. It's very gratifying when you add texture or color to a blank piece of fabric and create something beautiful."

Regarded as one of the area's top needlework shops, Thistle Needleworks is a floss-laden fantasyland jammed with candy-colored threads ready to be stitched onto about 28,000 patterns. Revolving racks display designs from the Eiffel Tower to Amish families, folk-art snowmen to contemporary sports figures, femme fatales to Union generals. "People like ornate patterns from designers like Marilyn Leavitt-Imblum," says Solomon, referring to a cross-stitch chart of an angel with a luxurious, draped skirt. "And samplers are always popular in New England."

The shop hold classes several times each week, and they're not just for church ladies. "We draw the whole spectrum," says Solomon, who counts children as young as 6, at-home moms, and business professionals as customers. As stitchers gather 'round tables to tackle their projects and catch up on the week's events, the atmosphere is reminiscent of an old-time quilting bee.

"My husband's grandmother is Norwegian," says Irene Rowe of Wallingford, who accompanied her mother-in-law, Janet Todd of Manchester, to the hardanger (Norwegian embroidery) class on a recent Monday night. "I wanted to learn something from her culture. Now that I know the stitches, the process is very relaxing. The design is repetitious, so you don't need a pattern. I can sit in front of the TV and do it."

At the open classroom on the other side of the store, the sole man in the group, Charlie Beebe of Mystic, works diligently on a wall hanging that he'll give to a potential grandchild. "The baby's not even in the hopper yet," says the retired engineer as he stitches colorful primary numbers, "but these projects take time. I like doing this because I like working with my hands. In the past, I've built model cars, boats and HO-gauge trains."

Charlie's newest hobby began three years ago when, following wife Lib's lead, he stitched a small holiday stocking, then progressed to a pillow cover depicting buoys. "We antique together, we garden together and we do needlework together," says Lib, who sits alongside Charlie wearing futuristic magnifying goggles that allows her to see the fine stitches in her petit-point seascape. "He likes it because it's so precise, and it's an easy thing to bring with us on vacation."

The community of the classroom seems to fill a primal need to congregate, share a time-honored pastime and create a tangible testament to the creative spirit. "I used to go to basketball games all the time and watch my kids play," says Kim Sales of Bloomfield, a relative newcomer who is stitching a geometric wall hanging. "But they're all grown and out of the house." (We remember, Kim. Nykesha plays for the WNBA's Orlando Miracle and Brooks for Villanova University). "Now, I have all this time on my hands, and my husband says he loves watching me stitch. I get so excited, I'm like a little kid."


Charlie Beebe of Mystic, the sole male in the Monday night class at Thistle Needleworks, stitches a wall hanging for a grandchild not yet "in the hopper"

Northeast Magazine
The Hartford Courant
Photos by John Woike

Charlie Beebe

Webmaster notes:
    Charlie Beebe died a few years after this article was published
    Thistle Needleworks moved from Glastonbury to Wethersfield in September 2015
    Judie Solomon continued her classes until the COVID-19 ban on indoor group gatherings in Spring 2020
    Judie's classes resumed in March 2022 but were suspended again in May 2022 because of increasing
        COVID-19 cases in Connecticut
    Judie's classes started again in September 2022

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