For woman, business sew simple a choice

NEIGHBORS

July 16, 1999|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"HONEY, I'M home!" says Michele Arsenault, owner of Stitching Pretty, the needle-crafts shop on Main Street in Laurel.

But unlike the millions of people who announce their arrival to spouse or child with those words, Arsenault is referring to the warm welcome she receives from the Friends of Montpelier Mansion for the needle-crafts show that she produces each year.

The Laurel mansion is a historic site -- a plantation dating from the 1780s.

The Friends group conducts tours and helps furnish the mansion.

In the course of her travels to needlework shows at historic sites, Arsenault came up with the idea of producing an exhibit in Laurel.

Five years ago, she approached the Friends, and the group agreed.

The needle-arts shows have become a staple among the cultural activities on the mansion's calendar, hence the warm welcome Arsenault receives each year.

This year, the show's theme is "The Garden -- Plant Your Stiches Now for Tomorrow's Heirlooms."

More than 300 pieces have been entered in categories such as Cross Stitch on Linen, Cross Stitch on Aida (a type of cloth in which there are equal numbers of warp and weft -- vertical and horizontal -- threads), Needlepoint, Hardanger and Counted Canvas.

Counted cross-stitch designs are built up with thousands of colored X's. A variety of stitches is used in counted-canvas designs.

Hardanger is a deconstruction of fabric that transforms it into lace by strategically removing threads.

Embroidery floss is then woven through the remaining threads, creating a spider-weblike fabric.

Needlepoint is worked with wool yarns on loosely woven canvas, until the surface of the fabric is covered with embroidery in diagonal stitches.

The show had only two requirements: Entries had to be hand-stitched on fabric and not have been shown at Montpelier.

Judges may have seen the pieces at other shows, though. There are shows in April, June and October at other historic sites in the region.

The stitchers who enter their pieces at Montpelier compete for ribbons, honorable mentions and the delight of showing their work to their peers.

Many of the pieces have required hours of work by the stitchers.

"We have some pieces in the show that took them six months to make and have over $200 in materials in them," Arsenault said. Threads for cross-stich embroidery can cost as little as 20 cents a skein -- about 10 or 12 yards.

"Needleart '99" -- which opens today and runs through July 25 -- presents needlework as an art rather than a hobby, Arsenault says, although she acknowledges that stitchery can be a relaxing, almost addictive pursuit.

Stitchers become so attached to their pieces that sometimes when they bring finished work into her store to be framed, they have trouble letting go of it.

Favorite projects are like good books, Arsenault says. You don't want them to end.

Arsenault is a Laurel native. Her parents, Mike and Monica DeLorenzo, owned the British Petroleum gas station in Laurel, so she's used to a retailer's long hours.

Stitching Pretty opened 10 years ago, when Arsenault's husband, Mark, complained that she had so much needlework around the house that she could open a shop.

She did. Now she says her husband hesitates before making a challenging remark.

Opening a business at 27 required determination.

Even the birth of twins Michael and Matthew a year later didn't slow Michele Arsenault.

"The 9-year-olds have grown up in the shop," she says.

The children, who attend St. Mary of the Mills in Laurel, are designing needlework projects. They want to make Pokemon samplers with a monster from the Pokemon television series, Arsenault says.

Arsenault is involved in three other projects.

The building that houses her store used to be a funeral home, so she has named her teaching activities after the home's resident spirit, Wilemina.

At Wilemina's Stitching Academy for the Needlework Arts, Arsenault and others conduct classes in advanced forms of embroidery.

Arsenault and three others have formed Michele Ink, producing needlework designs for reproduction and sale.

Arsenault designs hardanger projects.

Ronda Dixon designs quick cross-stich designs.

Anne Harrison designs embroidery projects requiring silk ribbons -- ribbon embroidery creates a three-dimensional effect -- and Gail Reinhardt reproduces historic pieces. This requires painstakingly counting the stiches in the antique piece and recording the results on graph paper.

Reinhardt is working on a sampler owned by Laurel Historical Society member Betty Compton. Arsenault is also submitting a proposal to begin a stiching club at her sons' school.

Needlework, she says, is usually taught from parent to child, and she fears that a new generation will grow up without learning to thread a needle, much less taking time to embroider.

She credits her parents with encouraging her commitment and drive.

"My dad said to me that I'd make more money if I sold my own designs," she says. His advice led her to set up Michele Ink.

"My mother had more fun giving away her creative projects," Arsenault says, referring to her proposal to volunteer her services for the after-school club.

Information: the mansion at 301-953-1376 or Stitching Pretty at 301-604-0808.

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