Weaving a hobby into a career

Michelle D. Arsenault uses her passion for cross-stitching to sew up profits in Laurel

Business Profile Stitching Pretty

September 06, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Michelle D. Arsenault has been cross-stitching for 25 years. The soothing repetition of the work helps her relax, she says, and she likes creating custom gifts for weddings, baby showers and other events.

One day, Arsenault was sitting on her bed, sorting through her threads, fabrics and other cross-stitching materials. "My husband walked in and made the mistake of telling me I had enough stuff to open my own store," she recalled. "I said, `Hon, that's a fantastic idea.'"

That was 17 years ago, and Arsenault's business, Stitching Pretty, in Laurel, still is going strong. "It didn't faze me to take what I enjoy doing and turn it into a career," she said, nothing that both her parents were businesspeople.

Stitching Pretty is stocked with special threads, including some that can't be found in typical craft stores. It also sells accessories such as beads and buttons, unusual fabrics, and cross-stitching patterns (called charts) designed by Arsenault, her store manager, Gail Reinhardt, and others. It also provides custom framing.

This year, for the first time, Arsenault will be involved in the Locust Quilt and Craft WinterFest, scheduled for Nov. 4-5 at the Columbia Hilton. The event features a needlework contest and will exhibits, demonstrations and lectures.

One of Arsenault's earliest customers was Alda Simpson, who lives in Laurel. "I instantly loved the store," Simpson said. "It became my only place to go from then on."

Before going to Stitching Pretty, Simpson would visit different craft shops, but none seemed to have everything she wanted. "They always did a whole bunch of different crafts," she said. "They weren't focused like Stitching Pretty is."

The framing at Stitching Pretty is superior, too, she said.

Simpson is one of about 70 members of Spirited Stitchers, meaning she pays $25 a year and gets discounts at Stitching Pretty.

The name comes from the fact that Stitching Pretty was in a former funeral home, where a spirit may have lingered at the site, Arsenault said.

Arsenault started by taking a small space, about 100 square feet, in the former funeral home, which was set up as a store divided into sections for different kinds of crafts.

She then took over the entire space, about 1,100 square feet, in 1991, she said.

She remained at that location until four years ago, when she moved to a different spot in the same shopping center. Her store now is about 700 square feet, she said.

Arsenault said the smaller space has not reduced inventory. "The only thing that got gone was the clutter," she said. "It was like, OK, let's be more efficient with our use of space."

In her current store, one wall is taken up with Larson-Juhl custom frames. Almost from the start, Arsenault said, she realized that providing frames would help her keep customers after they had purchased their cross-stitching supplies.

Though she specializes in framing needlepoint creations, she frames other things also. "I have framed everything from a car fender to an antique knife," she said.

Before she opened the shop, Arsenault was a nurse who worked the night shift at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville. Of the five nurses on the shift, three, including Arsenault, liked to cross-stitch. On their days off, they would shop for patterns and thread.

Arsenault saw an opportunity. When she began her business, the first thing she did was drop off fliers at local hospitals, she said. She was then able to build a mailing list of more than 500 customers.

Arsenault, who works weekends as a nurse, also teaches needlework classes and hosts girls' nights out.

But customers don't need to sign up for a class to get help or information.

Everyone who works at Stitching Pretty is a stitching expert, she said and will happily give advice to anyone who comes in.

"We want you to be comfortable," she said.

Stitching Pretty, at 6 N. Second St., Laurel, is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It can be reached at 301-604-0808.

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