Dawn Lewis of The Needle's Work
Dawn's journey into the the world of needleart began when she discovered a book of samplers in a local Venture shop.Samplers were to become and remain to this day her magnificent obsession. Throughout history samplers have been made to commemorate important occasions and this aspect of the craft is evident in Dawn's initial forays into sampler design. Her first project was actually a re-design of an existing pattern. Eighteen years ago, after she was first married, she found a sampler pattern with an exquisite border surrounding the Serenity Prayer. She resolved to make it as a Christmas gift for her husband, substituting their marriage vows for the verse in the design. Having not a clue as to the scope of time or expertise needed to complete it, she blissfully embarked on her project. When finished, she brought it to a local framer, who proceeded to point out all of her stitching mistakes and to discourage her from framing it! Undaunted, she went ahead anyway and this piece still hangs in her home, now serving as a testament not only to her enduring marriage, but also to her perseverance with needle and thread despite a less than auspicious first effort. (At the time it was really only the thought that counted for the newlyweds!) Be sure to check out Dawn's FREE PATTERN for our visitors, shown on the right.)
Her next design attempt was more enlightened and ambitious but unfortunately prompted by extremely distressful circumstances. After losing her father to cancer, her mother also succumbed to this dreaded disease. As is common when losing a parent, Dawn was confronted with her own mortality. She realized that it was important for her to create an original and unique family heirloom to leave to her daughters as a legacy. During this period of intense grief and loss her design vision and hard-won needlework skills came together. It was a cathartic experience, but one which provided both a creative expression for the pain she was feeling and also a therapeutic means to surmount it and instill renewed hope for the future. The resultant sampler was an amalgam of panels of verse, floral motifs and blackwork which resonates in design and words with her struggle to come to terms with love and loss. The verbiage reads:
THE NEEDLE'S WORK SHALL ALWAYS BE MINE
MY HEART, MY SOUL, MY STITCH THROUGH TIME
SO IF MY SAMPLER YOU CAN SEE
TAKE CARE DEAR CHILD AND REMEMBER ME
Her two daughters' names, Melissa and Amanda, are hidden in the blackwork section of the sampler.
Friends who saw this piece urged Dawn to publish it and when she finally felt ready to take that plunge, she adopted her business name from the verse calling it "The Needle's Work". She established her fledgling company with a $200 investment and a word processor, initially making up 50 chart packs of her pattern with snapshots. Upon acquiring a mailing list of needlework shops, she proceeded to do a first mailing which elicited an encouraging response. Her most memorable business experience remains her first trip to the Charlotte Wholesale Market as an exhibitor. She was terrified that she would lose her entire investment, that she didn't have enough designs to show and that she wouldn't know what to say. Her fears were unfounded: fate smiled upon her and she returned home with enough orders to pay for the printing of her first pattern leaflet.This publication alone has repaid her initial investment many times over.
Dawn is one of these blessed people who can perceive beauty in even the most mundane or unlikely surroundings. Once, sitting in the bathroom of a hotel, she glanced down at the floor and realized the tile design would make a great blackwork pattern. Her "Friends in Stitches" series seems to have almost designed itself as she graphed it: even as she stitched them, all her first color choices seemed to work. What she finds more exasperating, is getting her ideas down on paper before they fade from memory. And for those of you who think it's always just a "piece of cake", Dawn can unearth cartons upon cartons of design ideas that just didn't cut it.
Though Dawn is strongly influenced by traditional sampler patterns and formats, especially English examples, her own style blends the best of the old with new styles and contemporary techniques. Her personal favorite designs are "The Needle's Work" and her "White on White" samplers. Her most challenging project to date is the one she is currently working on: a variation on an original antique sampler done by Jane Bradford in 1683, which is completely reversible. She laughingly jokes that it may take until the millennium for her to complete it!
An annual design project is a Christmas ornament sampler. Like the "Friends in Stitches" series, each piece features different stitches but ais intended as a companion piece to the others in the series. Regardless of theme or technique, all of Dawn's works are samplers and her strongest inspiration continues to emanate from the young girls of long ago who stitched such exquisite needlework treasures primarily as exercises for learning their alphabets, numerals or geography.
Dawns obsession with samplers extends to collecting antique examples as well as antique needlework tools. This driving force virtually forced her to become a dealer in order to support her own "habit". Her inventory at any given time includes 40 period samplers and 200 or more related antique needlework items. This year she and Linda Barry (see Designer feature Dec.1997) will be accompanying a group of stitchers on a needlework expedition to England. Dawn has traveled to other countries in pursuit of needlework trophies but prefers England because it is a nation that is rich in needlework history, treasures its past and goes to great lengths to preserve it. As she exclaims: "This is truly as good as it gets - a week in Great Britain doing nothing but needlework and hunting for antiques with stitchers who are as crazed as we are!". Already they have plans to make this a yearly pilgrimage.
"Dawn was in a rut and frustrated with repeatedly choosing the same colors and fibers for all of her patterns. Working with the Caron line has refreshed her enthusiasm and ingenuity."
Discovering the Caron threads was a true turning point in Dawn's design career. She first met Lois Caron at the Charlotte Market and Lois subsequently sent her a designer pack of threads to play with. At that point, Dawn was in a rut and frustrated with repeatedly choosing the same colors and fibers for all of her patterns. Working with the Caron line has refreshed her enthusiasm and ingenuity. The Waterlilies are, hands down, her favorites. Even though she now finds herself using these silks for most of her designs due to the lush and elegant nature of the fibers, her work is never stale or stagnant, because they imbue each work with a different look and feel. She can also manipulate them to achieve the exact effect she wants.
When asked for her advice to other aspiring designers, Dawn did not hesitate to state her personal philosophy: "When you see the brass ring, no matter how far away it may seem, GO FOR IT". Your reach may be a lot longer than you think. After all Dawn didn't shy away from reaching for the stars!
In addition to her career as a designer, dealer and collector, Dawn manages to find the time to share her skills and expertise. She teaches at shops, EGA chapters and festivals. Her schedule for 1998 is March in Manassas,Va., April in Bloomingdale, Il and Knoxville,Tn., May in Cincinnatti,Oh., June in Arcola,Il. and Valley Forge,Pa., Sept. in Des Moines, Ia., and Oct. in Ontario, Calif.
For more information on Dawn Lewis original sampler designs, needleworker's tour of England or class schedule, write to her at The Needle's Work, 524 N. Oklahoma Avenue, Morton, Il 61550
For more information on samplers see this month's feature on "Samplers Through The Ages".