Needlepoint pillows are one of the most popular collectible pillows.
Once thought of as dusty cushions with musty florals found in your grandmother's living room, attic or basement, thanks to a handful of retailers, designers and enthusiasts the craft has become cool again. It's not your grandmother's work anymore. Vintage needlepoint is being rescued from its past and being reclaimed to work into the contemporary style home, where old is new again.
Sharon Wollman, who lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., opened her business, C'est Chouette, in 2004 after she bought a box of vintage needlepoint, turned one of them into a round pillow and sold it so quickly at a local antique store she started making more.
"When I was young, my mother supplied me with many kinds of handwork so that I never had idle hands," Wollman said. "Our small town did not have a supply for needlepoint, so I never learned this art. Of course, I fell in love with what I could not have. Luckily I have some wonderful friends who taught me the art, so now I appreciate the needlepoint so much more. I love to make pillows. I feel pillows are the perfect showcase for the salvage and rescued needlepoint.
"A friend once exclaimed, 'You have started the needlepoint rescue society.' I think she may be correct."
The business name is a French idiom that translates literally to "small cabbage," but can also mean, "that's cool."
"I picked up the phrase when my daughter, studying French at the time, uttered it after I showed her a pillow I had just completed," Wollman said. In 2012, Wollman opened www.WollWorks.com, and she participates in local antique shows and an upcoming online antique and collectible show, www.VintageWeekendShow.com, from May 16-18.
Wollman's pillows are made from vintage fabric.
"I find fabrics online from several websites, and I also have found a warehouse in the Twin Cities that has a great selection of fabrics and trims," she said. "I try to make a trip there twice a year. I like to shop at the local stores. Since a pillow needs so little fabric, I am able to buy remnants at great prices.
"I try to honor the vintage design of the needlepoint by selecting modern fabrics and trims that perfectly compliment the needlepoint," she said. "I think the needlepoint should be the center of attention. I use a lot of silk because silk is the standard to fine fabrics. Lately, I have started using cottons, jute, ribbons and burlap just to mix things up a bit."
After Wollman discovers an older piece, she returns home to her sewing studio and gets to work.
"The needlepoints I use are all vintage or antique," she said. "All have been used for other purposes, such as chair seat covers, before they come to me. I do repairs only. Each of these needlepoints has taken hours and hours to complete by hand. Just not by my hands. Needlepoint is an art that can only be done by hand, as it is passing wool yarn through small holes of a cotton canvas. There is not a machine that can do that. So while made by hand, and being vintage or antique, the needlepoints are strong.
"Some do show the wear from being lovingly used, but that only adds to the beauty of vintage," she said. "Few things withstand generations of use. I search for needlepoints wherever I go, as I love the hunt. I have found needlepoint in antique stores as well as the thrift stores around the corner. I also have friends who also sell vintage online, and they are great sources for needlepoint.
"I believe that every needlepoint has a story to tell," Wollman said. "Every piece carries with it the mark of the hands who painstakingly stitched it years ago. The colorful stitches, faded to a beautiful patina that only comes with time and love, provide a glimpse into the past, someone's past. Maybe they learned to stitch at their grandmother's knees or created this piece for someone special or maybe it was passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes, I am lucky enough to find a note or a date, but oftentimes their stories have been lost, so using my skills and trims, I can turn each needlepoint into a tuffet or pillow and give it a new story to tell."