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Copyright 2009-2010 by
Mary Brotherton
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Inside my Brain

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Former Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Rosie Greer may be famous for his football statistics, but he is also well known and respected for his appreciation of the therapeutic art known as embroidery. He made it cool for men to stitch. The Indian River Chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America, Inc. (EGA) may not have football heroes or celebrities for members, but the Guild is filled with its own heroes, and those who think embroidery is cool.

The Indian River Chapter of the EGA strives to foster the highest standards of excellence in the practice of the art of embroidery through a dynamic program of education which focuses on the preservation of the heritage of embroidery. Barbara Gill, president of the local guild explains that embroidery is much more than decorating pillowcases. “Embroidery is also known as sewing, stitching, needlework, fancywork, or lap work.”

Textile art or embroidery can be quilting, appliqué, traditional or Brazilian embroidery, Blackwork, Hardanger, or sewing with a machine. Even beading is considered embroidery. Gill pointed out, “Any activity that includes the use of a threaded needle is considered embroidery.”

“Beading is very popular these days and is considered a form of embroidery, as it uses a needle and thread. There are new bead shops popping up all over the area. In August, we will have a workshop to teach how to make Beaded Peyote Stitch Bracelets. These are very popular with our members, and many of us make them to give as gifts.”

The local Guild works with the National EGA on its “My Beading Heart” project which provides members with a uniquely beautiful ornament or wearable art, and funds for the American Heart Association for women’s heart health research

“Beading is an embellishment to stitching and can make an otherwise drab piece come to life,” said Ginny Gilbertson, from Indian Harbour Beach. Gilbertson moved to Florida in 1983, from Korea. She and her husband who retired from the Air Force started life together in Omaha, but have lived virtually all over the world. She has been doing needlework for “at least 22 years,” and claims that Counted Cross Stitch, Blackwork, and Hardanger are among her favorite pastimes.

Most people recognize Cross Stitch as a popular form of counted thread embroidery where “X” shaped stitches are placed on an unmarked background to create a design. Blackwork dates to the Middle Ages and is a precise execution of various stitch styles in geometric shapes based on symmetry, rhythm, and proportion. Hardanger is another form of geometric embroidery using counted thread and drawn thread work where the linen cloth is decorated and rewoven by the artisan.

Gill and Gilbertson are only two of the 80 members of the Indian River Chapter who are anxious to share their devotion to the art of stitching with everyone. The Indian River Chapter has a yearly calendar of planned workshops and educational opportunities, some of which will benefit various groups in Brevard County, making them local heroes to people they may never meet. The Guild provides framed samplers to every new resident in a home built by Habitat for Humanity, and generous gifts to The Haven, a home for neglected or abused children. The artisan members of the Guild create toys and dolls, blankets, and pillows that are more works of art than utilitarian. Their generosity is shared among the residents of The Haven, Genesis House, The Ronald McDonald House, hospitals, and other deserving groups. Their work has been exhibited in malls, local businesses, libraries, and the Brevard Arts Museum.

In 1977, Jonalene Gutwein and Adrienne Meyer of Brevard County, with thirty-three other women, established the Embroiderer’s Guild of America locally. Gutwein is a nationally certified instructor and teaches her art worldwide. There are at least three stitchers in the Indian River Chapter who are nationally certified and teach within the chapter, at regional and national seminars, and in other groups. Gill said, “I think Jonalene was born with a needle in her hand.”

Three years ago, these and other local instructors started the “Teaching Children to Embroider” program at the Satellite Beach Library. Each Thursday in June, children from 6 to 12 years old have returned to a program that both they and parents hope to see expanded. One mother told Gill, “We had to reschedule our vacation just so my son could attend the entire program this year.”

Like the National EGA, Indian River Chapter has been amassing a significant historic collection of embroideries, and a growing library of books and resources available to members. The local Guild has an orientation program for new members called Basic Techniques. Here, newcomers to the art or to the Guild will learn the language of embroidery, including new and sometimes mysterious words and terms such as Crewel and Hardanger.

Gill was born in Boston, and moved to Buffalo from Pittsburgh. After “a nine month winter, we moved to Fort Lauderdale.” Six years ago, she and her husband moved to Melbourne. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else, now.” She has been stitching since she was about 10 years old, and is especially fond of Needlepoint, Surface Stitching, Sampler kits, and Brazilian Embroidery.

“We were out of our home for 7 months due to the hurricane. If not for this group, I would have lost my mind. Between the administration of the meetings and my stitching, I kept my sanity; EGA was my sanity.”

“This is a great group. Even if you don’t know how to thread a needle, we can teach you. This is where people come to meet with others who share a love of textiles or any form of embroidery.”

According to Gill, almost everyone who has ever worked with textiles has a few unfinished projects just lying around. “We lose interest. We get bored with the project. We move on to other things. We call these our UFOs.”

Every year, the members are asked to donate their UFOs which are then sold at silent auction to raise money for the guild’s library. She said, “When we give away our unfinished projects, others can see the beauty that either eluded us, or bored us. They complete the projects and bring them in for our Show and Tell sessions. We are always amazed to see how others view work that we had abandoned.”

In addition to many of the founding members, who are still active, the president of the Indian River Chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America boasts, “We find that people who drop out of the Guild are those who lose their eyesight. We will wear braces or supports on our wrists to allow us to continue to stitch even if we have carpel tunnel syndrome. Sometimes, people will leave the guild if they move away or die. We have about 10 Snowbirds, but they also belong to other groups in their home states. Quitting stitching is not an option. If it’s something you do, you do it for your entire lifetime, if you can.”

“Seniors who used to embroider, but have stopped, may want to know that there are many new things out there today. We have new threads, new techniques, better canvases, and interesting fabrics. The guild has kept up with technology.”

Membership is open to anyone who is interested in the textile arts. Guests can attend one meeting free, or pay a nominal fee for a trial membership, which is later applied to the full membership which is $35 annually.

The general meeting is the 3rd Monday of each month at 9:30a.m. in the Melbourne Front Street Civic Center. There are two satellite groups of the local Guild: the Sew ‘n’ Sews and the Night Stitchers, who meet in the evenings. For more information call 725-2634 or visit their website at .