Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

The CARON Collection is pleased to feature one of the outstanding shops who so ably provide stitchers with not only supplies but guidance, technical expertise, and inspiration. We hope you'll support your local shops and browse through our extensive SHOP LISTINGS to find a shop near you.

This month we take you to discover...
Witchery Stitchery of Mt. Horeb Wisconsin

If the name Witchery Stitchery sounds a bit weird for what one industry insider classifies as a "traditional needlework shop," consider this: it is located next to the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum, billed by its curator as, America's Favorite Condiment Museum. Across the street stands a favorite neighborhood institution, Schuberts, a family-style restaurant replete with all the trappings of an old- time soda fountain. Sitting on a stool at the counter, one feels like part of a scene right out of Frank Capra's celebrated film, It's a Wonderful Life. Aside from these attractions are a myriad of antique stores, a Scandinavian import shop and a Christmas shop, which lure visitors from far and wide. Moreover, this hamlet is densely populated with trolls...yes, trolls - those gnome-like creatures that appear throughout northern European folklore, beloved in particular by Norwegians. Once you enter the village proper, you encounter them just about everywhere. Now, how "traditional" can a needlework shop in such a town be - I ask you?

Fortunately, Witchery Stitchery's owner, Mary Ellen Tennis and its manager, Delma Larson are real life people and also real life daughter and mother, respectively. The store has been located in downtown Mt. Horeb, 20 miles west of Madison, WI. for almost 25 years. Its founder, Marion Vilberg, stocked it with imported Scandinavian fibers and designs. The eccentric name was derived from Marion's pastime of handcrafting Norwegian kitchen witches, traditional symbols of good fortune for the home. When choosing a name, Marion and several co-workers brain stormed and in the ensuing maelstrom of ideas, the function of the business, "stitchery," was paired with an allusion to Marion's witch craft as "witchery." The following day it was the one contender everyone remembered. The staying power of the name has been borne out over time - surviving through 3 owners, a move and endless other changes.

Marion ran the shop until selling to Pat Ellestad. Pat moved the store to its present location on Main Street, locally referred to as The Trollway. W/S occupies the main level of the town's original bank building. The storefront offers a wonderful expanse of windows splashing natural light throughout the interior. Pat expanded the inventory to include needlepoint, knitting yarns, fabric and a fuller selection of needlework techniques. Over time, the knitting and fabric aspects were phased out and W/S evolved into a specialized full-service needlework shop. Pat owned the shop for 16 years before selling to Mary Ellen Tennis two years ago. The take-over was practically made-to-order; Mary Ellen had long been a regular customer and her mother, Delma had been Pat's indispensable right hand for about 14 years. Until the prospect of owning the shop materialized, Mary Ellen had been working for 25 years in insurance. Just about the time Pat was planning to sell, a part time position opened at the company Mary Ellen worked for, allowing her to pursue the acquisition. As Mary Ellen puts it, " It was as if it was meant to be."

Daughter and mother work exceedingly well as a team, sharing similar personalities and tastes. Because Delma can be at the shop full time, Mary Ellen can be more flexible with her job and the time she spends with her family. Her husband is by profession a computer programmer who moonlights as a caricature artist at parties and art fairs. Mary Ellen and Bernie have two daughters, Allegra, 10 and Mikaela, 8, who also pitch in at the shop. They are not the only other family members who have a hand in keeping things running smoothly; Mary Ellen's dad, Owen "Ole" Larson, is the on site jack-of- all-trades. Bernie also jumps right in whenever he isn't fulfilling one of his numerous art fair commitments.

As proprietor, Mary Ellen has kept her sights on maintaining the business as a full service needlework shop, specializing in needlepoint, cross stitch and Hardanger. W/S inventories a wide assortment of fibers: silks, wool, cotton, floss, overdyes, metallics and others. There is an extraordinarily diverse selection of hand-painted canvases, needlepoint counted charts, mono canvas, congress cloth and silk gauze. Also stocked are a wide variety of fabrics in varying counts. Counted cross stitch charts run the gamut from elegant to funky. Along with patterns incorporating pulled thread and speciality stitches, you'll find Hardanger charts and some Scandinavian kits, which cater to the local Norwegian community. Accessories include all sorts of tools and gadgets stitchers just can't resist. Beads and other embellishments abound, along with assorted gift items. An exclusive line includes hand knit amulet bag necklaces stitched by Mary Ellen's sister, Carol. An original Witcery Stitchery design which has enjyed long and continuing popularity, is a clergy stole kit which includes everything needed for stitching and finishing. W/S is also one of the few shops in the vicinity to carry Shelly Tribbey canvases. Shelly is a native of the area and has just been featured in Stitcher's World magazine. Located as the shop is on the Trollway, especially during tourist season, troll designs are in steady demand. Though they stock as many as Mary Ellen can find, she hopes to design some originals of their own. Bernie will surely be enlisted to make the sketches of the fanciful town mascots which Mary Ellen will then chart to offer as shop exclusives.

Neither Mary Ellen, nor Delma, are ones to toot their own horns, but each exerts a major impact on the the business, each in her own distinct way. Though the shop already enjoyed a good reputation previously, Mary Ellen has reinvigorated the business with her own enthusiasm and fresh ideas, adding some new product lines along the way. Whenever a specialty item is custom ordered, she considers its merits, adding to inventory those that make the grade. Delma manages the shop and has been a wonderful mentor, helping to bridge the transition of ownership. She brings a wealth of experience and has formed long lasting bonds with prior clientele. Even occasional customers remark at how gratifying it is to be greeted by name each time they come. Delma's favorite activity never wanes - she loves helping customers choose fibers and colors and create diverse, customized projects for them. Delma has an affinity for retail having worked as a manager for the local department store for 35 years until it closed. Thereafter, she began working for Pat, bringing her specialized know-how in merchandising to the business. Initially she had plenty of personal sewing and embroidering experience, but knew little else about fibers and other forms of needlework. Customers now consistently rely on Delma for her wealth of information and expertise.

Delma learned embroidery from her grandmother and mother, Della Diem. All the grandchildren have cedar chests well stocked with pillowcases and dresser scarves made by Della. Mary Ellen learned to sew, knit and embroider from her mother and, in turn, is passing these skills on to her own daughters. She also teaches Allegra's Girl Scout troop; to achieve their textile badge, each scout must learn at least 8 different embroidery stitches. Mary Ellen's cedar chest still holds the stitching projects from her own Girl Scout badge along with her grandmother's stitched heirlooms.

Regular customers come from a large area, including other parts of the state and portions of Iowa and Illinois. Many others are repeat mail-order clientele who have been through on vacation or heard of the shop by word of mouth. Since their business is in a destination location, Mary Ellen realizes how vital it is to have a good selection of goods on hand. Helping novice and experienced stitchers alike is an ongoing priority. Though no formal classes are scheduled, this lack is more than made up for by the personal attention and instruction they lavish on each stitcher individually. They have even been instrumental in helping some aspiring local designers, Donna Olson of Satin Stitches and Cathie Anderson and Karen Idstrom of Friends Indeed, to get their own lines started, by advising them on pattern layout, giving professional feedback on design ideas, preparing them to exhibit for the first time at market and being the first store to carry their designs.

By now, it should be eminently clear that, though its setting and name are far from ordinary, Witchery Stitchery is, after all, a "very traditional needlework shop" in the best sense of the term: established, time-honored, familial and classic. For devoted stitchers, it would be well worth the trip to Mt. Horeb, even without the trolls!

Witchery Stitchery
105 E. Main Street
Mt. Horeb, WI 53572
phone: (608) 437-8635
e mail: wistitch@chorus.net

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