"Sue Lentz remembers always having a needle and thread of some sort in her hand. Her mother has pictures of Sue sitting under the sewing machine, fooling with fabric and thread at age three. Sue is still fooling with fabric and fiber, only now she shares her 'foolings' with other stitchers." (from Shay Pendray's Needlecraft Projects Book)
Though now retired from the needlework mail order/catalog business, Sue Lentz is as involved and prolific as ever as a needlework designer.
Sue has been teaching counted work for over 25 years the last 20 or so via the mail through the Athelstane Stitcher's News, a newsletter from which she sold kits and instructions for her designs along with fibers, fabric, books, and other stitching needs. She uses many different fibers, colors, and stitches to create textured geometrics and other designs, borrowing inspiration from nature. Living on the Peshtigo River, in the woods of Northern Wisconsin, provides Sue with an abundance of inspiration.
4 Way Mini Band Sampler
As a child, Sue delighted in nature and the outdoors: gardening, catching bugs and climbing trees a true tomboy! But by 6th grade her interest in art became her foremost preoccupation, which her parents heartily encouraged. Sue attended summer classes at the Art Institute in Milwaukee from 7th grade on. After learning to sew, she made nearly all of her own clothes. Her first publication, Needlework to be Worn Out," was a sewing instructional book on how to incorporate needlework into garments.
Stag in the Forest
Twenty-nine years ago, when Sue and her family moved to northern Wisconsin, she signed up for a night class in needlepoint. She was one of a handful learning needlepoint (macramé and crochet were also taught). The students were told to purchase a kit and the instructor would help because, "there really wasn't much involved with needlepoint. There is only one stitch."
During the course of the class, Sue designed and stitched a 36 stitch sampler, worked a geometric design from a book and finished an 18" x 24" half cross kit so the students could all learn how to block. By the following year, with the teacher's support, it was Sue who was teaching the class. As it was difficult to obtain supplies in such a remote area, Sue procured a sellers permit and began providing the supplies needed. The sampler she designed became so popular that stitchers wanted more and Sue designed several others.
Sue continued taking classes in other needlework techniques and devoured any needlework book she could get her hands on! She also continued teaching several classes in two local towns. Word spread and she was asked to teach some classes in Marinette 50 miles away, which she did and also began selling supplies there, as well as writing the Athelstane Stitcher's News.
16th Century Sampler
(inspired by a vintage 16th Century Sampler)
The first issue of the "News" was one page, two sides with a free graph and sale items. Sue adds, "I don't really remember how I became nation wide, but a magazine mentioned something about me and requests started coming in. One thing led to another, ending with 5 exceptional employees, a 24 or so page mini-magazine published 5 - 7 times a year, international customers I guess the whole shot n' shebang."
Rainbow Tree of Life
Her newsletters went out for approximately 22 years, offering over 400 of her teaching designs. Many of these designs centered around new fiber and fabric colors, using 6" to 9" or larger pieces of the newest colored fabrics to do small designs, or all the new colors of any given fiber. Her goal was to keep needleworkers informed and working with what was new in the industry.
No Cut Hardanger Pillow
Sue's designs started out quite simple (in her opinion, that is). She explains, "I know that my reputation was that Sue Lentz was, and is a challenge I didn't see it that way." Sue admits to embracing challenges and enjoying variety. But she loves teaching most of all. Initially Sue taught through the mail. She elaborates, "I've taught people all over the world, in all walks of life. It has been very rewarding."
Several years ago Sue started breaking down her designs into their individual component parts. She says, "They were just becoming too large for me to offer at one time, and of course, too expensive." Her first "parts" piece appeared in the 1985 Sampler Recorder and other "parts" designs accelerated in the early 90's. Marathon Sampler took several years and 11 parts, employing about 150 stitch combinations. Sue continues, "One of the devices that I was using in designs was to use one stitch and take it to the limit. These were offered in my Stitch Sampler Sheets (SSS). They were actually mini textbooks in notebook form, some as large as 40 pages with doodlings, diaper patterns, applications, and samplers. The design, Mountains, was one of my last designs and it was also my most popular."
Sue is currently engaged in creating larger designs that are more structured more sampler type designs. She feels that they teach the stitcher to venture out more on his or her own. Numerous projects are already on the computer and even more swirl around in her head. "Time will tell if they will ever get out," she quips. One of a series of four making up Tobacco Road is featured as this month's FREE Online Class. Others in the series will follow. Sue adds, "I love the Caron threads. They are very inspirational and the colors are marvelous. I believed I used every one in the four Tobacco designs. That was my goal to use all the Caron fibers." Actually, Sue began Tobacco Road as a single design, but confesses, "One thing lead to another. Pretty soon, that turned into Spring followed by all the others. Have I retired? Well, it seems like I have just switched jobs!"
Gardening is another of Sue's passions, "I thoroughly love to garden. One monitory goal was to afford a greenhouse. I was able to do that 5 years ago. It's like stepping into a different world. All toasty and warm while the snow blows. To me, gardening is just like needlework only the ground is your canvas there is great color, texture, and variety. I look at them exactly the same only one became a business, the other just a hobby." Sue has even made a name for herself in gardening - she was given the honor of naming one of the many hostas developed by Dr. Reath, choosing "Filigree," because of the lacy pattern on the plant's spring leaves.
A voracious reader, Sue literally devours countless mystery stories (her husband says "too many"). Sue counters with, "It is the way I unwind or relax every day." One of Sue's designs is even included as an element in the book, The Mystery the Unraveled Sleeve by Marcia Ferris (2001).
For many years, Sue practiced the martial arts. Recent back problems have prevented her from doing so, though she hopes to be able to return to it some day. Currently, she and her husband, Ron, care for their 5-year-old grandson, Collin, several days a week. The rest of the family is made up of son Wayne, daughter Shelly (Collin's mom), Lady, Champy, Thor (Golden Retrievers) and Brat the Cat! Sue states proudly, "That's all of us!"
Not surprisingly, Sue has garnered a legion of devoted fans over the years and her new designs are sure to attract many new ones. She derives enormous satisfaction from teaching . She adds, "Some [students] have even become designers themselves. I never thought of these people as customers, but always referred to them as my 'stitchers.'"
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