21Country: Embroidery starts as a hobby, evolves into art

Local guild celebrates 50 years of stitching
21Country: Embroidery starts as a hobby, evolves into art
21Country: Embroidery starts as a hobby, evolves into art(Daniel Beals)
Updated: Sep. 29, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - “Embroidery is the application — the stitching of thread upon fabric. That’s the most simple element to it,” Embroiderers’ Guild of America (EGA), Fort Wayne chapter member Tauna Griffith explained. “But there are hundreds of ways to do that: cultural distinctions between cultures and tribes, regions — everybody’s got their own way of doing things.”

Griffith has been an active member in the guild for less than a decade — but her experience in embroidery spans her life. “I started embroidering when I was five. My mother taught me in kindergarten,” she told us. “I stopped for a while because I had children, and embroidery for me takes a lot of concentration — I didn’t have it when I had little children at home.”

“That’s why you’ll see kind of two age groups. We have a few young members who haven’t started families yet, and then we’ve got a lot of us who are more in our middle and later years because we have the free time to really indulge the passion,” she added.

Barbara Barbieri attended her first meeting in 1980, and has been participating for the last 42 years. Barbieri, a journalist in Bluffton, admitted why she finds it so appealing. “Part of the reason I like to come back is because I can be with people who are interested in needlework and like to do creative things,” she shared, beginning to laugh. “Partly because it gets me out of town for my regular job!”

Though not much has changed about the club apart from its members, Barbieri’s knowledge and skill has vastly improved. “When I first came we were mostly doing needlepoint — now I’ve learned other kinds,” she said. “Most of my things are cross-stitch and whatever the group is working on, which usually starts with embroidery work of different kinds.”

“It’s good that we’re preserving handwork that women have done over the ages,” she continued. “We’re hoping to attract more people to continue doing needlework.”

Rachel McNett didn’t get into embroidery until she retired. During the pandemic, she used her extra time and isolation, to focus on more complicated projects. “It’s a creative outlet. It’s a source of friendship. It’s something that feeds my soul,” she described. Once a month, the guild allows members to “show and tell” what they’ve been working on. You’ll hear laughs, oohs-and-ahhs, and clapping. This year, members are asked to bring any piece of work from their entire stitching journey. One that McNett brought, included shells she took from a Florida beach during a vacation. “All of the shells are held down with just thread,” she told us. “We’re not using glue or anything like that. We’re just manipulation threads to hold everything down.”

The embroidery artist is always looking to learn something new. “In 2013, four of us went to London, England, and we took a class at The Royal School of Embroidery,” she said. “It was fun to go away and practice embroidery with a group of professionals.”

This year is special for the guild, as it plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fort Wayne chapter. It began in 1972 with about 20 members. At its peak, there were around 80. At its lowest, only 16 people were involved. “Now we’re at 41 members and going strong,” Griffith said. “Word of mouth is getting out.”

But when you gather dozens of talented embroiderers together, you won’t find any competition. Just camaraderie and an appreciation for the technicality and aesthetics of the art. “We were all beginners, and over the years, we have been challenged. People have encouraged us, and we have grown,” McNett shared.

“For some people, it is a hobby. It’s a great way to relax and de-stress — and I think that’s how a lot of people get into it,”  Griffith concluded. “For some of us, it takes hold and becomes a passion and you want to be challenged by it, and it’s a creative pursuit you have total control over. And you can’t say that about a lot of pursuits in life.”

The guild meets every Monday, either at the Allen County Library downtown, or the Peabody Public Library in Columbia City. For more information on when those meetings are planned, and how to join, you can visit their website here.