With a sewing needle in hand, the Belen Stitchers splash colors of bright thread into their linen canvases.
Each stroke of the needle adds further details to the final piece, transforming it from threads of cotton into a breathtaking masterpiece.
“One look from afar and it looks like a painting,” said the group’s founder Nan Windle. “The shading is what makes it look realistic.”
Artwork from the Belen Stitchers will be featured at the annual Winter Fiber Arts Show, beginning Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Harvey House Museum.
The Belen Stitchers, who focus on fiber arts, is made up of not just stitchers, but those who do crochet, knit, needlepoint and beadwork, to name a few, Windle said.
Whether it’s stitching, sewing or knitting, those who do this type of art are very isolated, said five-year member Ria Russell.
“We tend to sit at home alone, and it’s refreshing to come out and be around people with similar interests,” Russell said.
Four weeks ago, Linda Arellin picked up knitting from three-year member Linda Ellis. She gave it a try and loved it, Arellin said.
“I like my time here. It’s peaceful,” Arellin said. “There’s not a lot of rush, rush. You can do a project without being interrupted with anything.”
Ten-year member Yerdith “Doc” O’Mallin said she attends meetings as a nice way to get out of the house and see other types of stitchery.
Ten years ago, Windle had picked up stitching as a hobby. She was searching, not just for other residents that stitched, but also looking to expand her knowledge of stitching.
“I thought, ‘Gosh it would be nice if people in this area that wanted to stitch could get together,’” Windle said.
After coming up empty handed on stitching groups in Valencia County, Windle bustled around creating such a place. She checked with the library to see if they had a space available where the group could meet and have enough room to work on their individual crafts.
After finding such a space at the Belen Public Library, she published a notice for the first Belen Stitchers meeting in the News-Bulletin. She was surprised when a dozen locals showed up.
Since then, the Belen Stitchers have continued to meet from 2 to 4 p.m., every Thursday, in the Belen Public Library.
The retired Belen Consolidated Schools teacher uses her passion for teaching to demonstrate to group members how to vary basic stitches.
She’s taught participants more than 18 types of stitches on linen and aida fabric, including the long-arm cross stitch and herringbone stitch.
A 4-year-old boy, who attended the meeting with his mother and sister, was distracted from playing with his toy cars by the group’s stitching.
“He came over and looked at what we were doing and he said, ‘I want to do that,’” Windle said. “I got him a piece of fabric and he got started.”
When teaching adults or children how to stitch, Windle brought samplers with the finished stitch displayed. She hands out strips of paper with pictures and detailed descriptions about how to make the stitch for participants to practice at home.
To learn how to decipher between stitches, Windle came up with verbal aids as well, to help participants remember the difference.
For example, for one boy, she compared the types of stitches to marching soldiers.
“Here, the soldiers are marching along in a line, but here they’re lazy, because they’re laying down,” she said. “I thought for a 4 year old, a soldier marching made more sense.”
If a member needs help on an individual project, are looking to learn a new technique or receive feedback to improve their work, Windle can find an expert in that medium to assist them.
“If they call ahead, I can make sure that there is someone there that will help them,” she said.
Windle, who began stitching in 1990, picked up this relaxing and comforting hobby to occupy her time as she traveled throughout the country with her husband for a year.
On the second day of their year-long trip, Windle remembered she was tasked with creating party favors for the Belen Delta Kappa Gamma Christmas party. She picked up a plastic canvas pattern book with Christmas ornaments and red, green and white skeins of yarn to create 25 small decorations.
Her part-time hobby turned into a full-time job upon retiring from 25 years of teaching elementary school students ranging from first through third grade.
Through seminars, visiting instructors and conventions, Windle built upon her stitching knowledge and skills, which she then passed onto the group.
After one has been stitching for a while, they can look at a piece of stitching and figure out how it was created, Windle said.
In an Albuquerque meeting, Windle got a sneak peek of a more than 300-year-old sampler. When the owner of the fabric, encased in plastic, turned the stitching onto its backside, Windle recognized the type of stitching used to make it.
“When I was driving home from Albuquerque, I was thinking about how someone stitched that many years ago and I know how to stitch that,” she said. “It’s a stitch we’re still using today.”
For more information about the Belen Stitchers, contact Nan Windle at 864-7671.
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