Sixteen years ago, Judith Carter made lemonade out of life’s proverbial lemons when she opened the doors of her boutique needlepoint shop, Needleworks, in downtown Homewood. Judith, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and a subsequent masters in clothing and textiles from Stephen F. Austin State University, worked her entire adult life, constantly adapting to the rapidly changing clothing and textile industry. Many of the jobs she once held were either phased out or outsourced overseas, leaving her with a bounty of experience, a wealth of knowledge, but no clear career path. Then, moved by her need to share this knowledge and passion for needlepoint, she decided to take a leap.
“With the education, the training, the background and also the love of needlework that I have, I thought that I truly had something to offer stitchers,” Judith says. “Opening the store was just the right thing for me to do.” She opened what she compares to a “nano-brewery,” a highly specialized, niche store with everything needed to serve Birmingham’s needlepoint hobbyists.
“Birmingham is a wonderful place to have a business like this because of the value that individuals place on their homes. People want very beautiful things for their homes, and just like they invest in furniture, landscaping, home decor and entertaining, they see this as a long-term investment in their home,” Judith says. “The stockings that they create are going to hang on the fireplace for 30, 40 or 50 years. We are fortunate to have a really nice client base that has a real appreciation for creating legacy work. These are things that they enjoy in their own home, but they know that their children may enjoy it too.”
Conveniently located on Crescent Avenue in bustling downtown Homewood, the needlepoint boutique calls a charming 1920s bungalow its home. Each room is lined with beautiful, perfectly organized displays of canvases, thread and the tools needed to complete a needlework masterpiece. With its vast array of needlework accoutrements and an expert staff who have cumulatively amassed more than 100 years of stitching experience, Needleworks is truly a one-stop shop for every customer — from the needlepoint aficionado to the novice stitcher. Judith and her staff create a welcoming, comfortable environment. Very rarely do they see a customer who hurries in and out of the shop; rather, customers tend to linger thoughtfully, spending time carefully considering their projects and discussing options for bringing their visions to life with the guidance of the Needleworks staff.
Each project begins with a canvas. Needleworks carries countless styles from hundreds of designers, most of whom Judith knows personally. The canvases are individually hand-painted from masters and feature original designs, as well as licensed artwork created by artists from around the world. Needleworks carries a canvas design for every imaginable project, including seasonal or holiday-themed pieces, University of Alabama and Auburn University designs, and even fine art that has been rendered into a needlework application. And there are, of course, blank canvases for the imaginative stitcher craving more artistic freedom.
After deciding on a canvas, patrons select the thread. Judith’s staff guides customers toward the perfect selections for each individual project, which vary based on the stitcher’s skill level, the application of the final piece and the color palette. Though painted canvases do have a given color palette that the stitcher may follow, Judith says that her customers often alter the threads they use to better fit their personal vision for the piece or to coordinate with the existing decor in their home. “The uniqueness of needlepoint is that people create their own design from something that has been bought countless times but there are no two alike once they’re finished,” Judith says. “You can make each canvas your own, to match your living room and your style. It’s amazing. People come in and sometimes you have trouble recognizing which was the original canvas. There was that much creativity involved in the process.”
Next, the customer takes the materials home and hand stitches the canvas by hand, then returns the finished product to the store for finishing. Just across the street from Needleworks, you’ll find the Work Room, a workshop where Judith’s professional finishing staff — led by Joann — transforms completed canvases into their final form. Ornaments, pillows, boxes and more, the team expertly assembles all of the components, taking the customer’s work from a stitched canvas to a beautiful, functional piece that they will enjoy for years to come. Through this process, the team takes into consideration the structural integrity of each piece, the application of its artistic form into a functional piece and the final touches of cording and ribbon that will take the needlework to the next level. Needleworks finishes more than 3,000 pieces per year and is on track this year to finish even more than that. Judith most loves this component of the business because she is able to vicariously stitch through the pieces she finishes for her customers and witness the process come full circle.
In a time when dozens of activities constantly vie for our attention and most of us have our noses in our phones all day, needlework, a pastime that far outdates many others, offers the chance to slow down and unwind while creating beautiful art that will become an heirloom piece to be passed down from generation to generation. “This is an outlet for creativity and it’s a relaxing therapy,” Judith says. “We’ve noticed that people have gone through stressful times, happy times and illnesses, and the needlepoint has been something that has been with them through those wonderful, happy times and has sustained them in the harder times. They often say ‘I could not have gotten through it without the needlepoint,’ and that is really powerful.” For Judith, the joy of Needleworks is sharing an art form that both her customers and her employees are deeply passionate about. “Everybody has a gift and they’ve found a place here where they can use that gift,” Judith says. “It really has become like a family.”
Needleworks is located at 2810 Crescent Ave. in Homewood. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (205) 870-5191 or click here for more information.
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