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

We're proud to present a true industry pioneer whose example and work are an inspiration to needleworkers everywhere.

Known far and wide in the needlework community as "Inch", Winifred Sharp does not recall the origin of her nickname but it proved to be extraordinarily appropriate in light of her illustrious and prolific career in the needlearts.

As a child Inch was asthmatic and could not participate in many outdoor activities. To occupy her time, her mother taught her to knit, embroider and crochet. She took to these like a duck to water and for the past 62 years has always had at least one project in progress at all times.

During World War II Inch worked at the Barksdale Air Force Base. After the war she met her husband, Bill. They married in 1947 and raised three beautiful children: Becky, Debbie and John. A traditional role as wife, mother and homemaker spanned Inch's next 42 years. Because of Bill's job, these years were filled with many transfers and changes in locale, finally ending up in Wesport. Ct. By this time all the children were grown and Inch was just itching to try something on her own. Her first job in a fabric store was a step in the right direction. Here she met two gals of like mind and the three of them opened a place together: a gift and handcraft consignment shop named "Cricket on the Hearth". A local blacksmith let them use a small house on his property in exchange for displaying his own sculptures. Their downfall was that their concept was way ahead of its time and too radical for the general public of the day! Not to mention that the structure had only a wood stove for heat and no bathroom!

One door closed, but another opened; nearby "Hook `n Needle" had just made its debut. As an avid needleworker, Inch wasted no time investigating. This became the portal to a new life. From the start, Inch had a personal rapport with the owners, Marc and Bud, who were fellow Louisianans. After further introductions it was revealed that Inch's mother-in-law had roomed with Bud's aunt while teaching school in Louisiana. Furthermore, Bud's brother and Inch's brother-in-law were Pres. and V.P. respectively of the same fraternity, at the same time at La. Tech. This encounter was like meeting family Inch never knew she had.

Inch became their first employee and Marc and Bud soon grew to rely on her skill, artistic sense and judgement. When market time came around, they encouraged her to purchase whatever products caught her eye for the shop. For Inch a job in a needlework shop was akin to a kid with a sweet tooth working in a candy store. Her favorite activity was the daily interaction with the clientele, helping them work out their designs, color, texture and thread choices and she was extremely sensitive to their needs. Before long classes were arranged and Inch became a favorite instructor. As the shop expanded and grew Marc and Bud sought out Inch's advice at every stage of the store's development.

Through the grapevine, Inch heard of The Elsa Williams School of Needlearts, a prestigious institution in West Townsend, Ma. Inch resolved to spend her vacation there. When informed of this, Bud and Marc generously insisted on paying her tuition, a testament to their high regard for her. Her memories of her stay there are rich and vivid. Everything was done first class: the atmosphere combined both elegance and homeyness, the food was superb, the accommodations were agreeably comfortable and each teacher was an expert in their field. These qualities motivated the students and the level of enthusiasm was at a peak. Here Inch discovered she could stitch round the clock, so intense was her passion. She made such a resounding impression on the staff that the following year she was invited to attend as their guest. When she returned to work Marc recalls her saying with gusto: "Well, I learned what they call that which I have been doing for a long time!".

At Hook `n Needle Inch made the acquaintance of Lois Caron, who would be a formative influence in her life and vise versa. Lois was designing and hand painting canvases and was selecting threads for a chair seat. She had used a background stitch that Inch had never seen before, which intrigued her. An easy camaraderie soon developed. After nine years at Hook `n Needle, Inch began working for Lois helping her paint canvases and putting kits together out of Lois' home. They attended EGA seminars in tandem and sold Lois' canvases at these and other shows.

Inch and Lois are kindred spirits in their enthusiasm for the needlearts and also very devoted friends. Over the years they have combined their talents and skills in fine tuning many of Lois' innovative and sophisticated designs. Lois will routinely send Inch her latest design and rely on Inch's intuitive and creative sensibilities to improvise with color, threads, stitches, textures and technique. This collaboration has yielded many design winners featuring novel, cutting edge works. Inch declares, "I'll work for Lois any day!". Lois, in turn, values Inch's input and it is always a vital element in new design applications and development .

As such a prolific stitcher, Inch's opus of works fills 3 houses, her own and her 2 daughters': Becky's in Tuscany, Italy and Debbie's near LA, Ca. Her pieces also enhances fantasy rooms of another kind: in dollhouses. Initially, she undertook this hobby expecting to do only the needlework for decoration. She quickly got hooked on the furniture making aspect also. In creating accessories, Inch uses crewel for curtains and bedspreads, pulled work for tablecloths and needlepoint for pillows, rugs, chair seats and brick covers. These bricks, which are used as doorstops are done on silk canvas @ 60 to the inch! (There's that name!) Inch humorously refers to her obsession with these miniature environments as another "sickness".

Since Inch's husband retired in 1981 they have returned to their roots in Shreveport, La. Here they reside in a half log house built in the late 1930's on about 7 acres adjoining Cross Lake. They share this domain with ducks, rabbits, squirrels, egrets, alligators, fish and numerous migrant species. Enormous ancient oak trees on the property offer some welcome shade and relief from the typical summer heat of 100+ degrees. An enclosed porch that spans 50 feet overlooks the lake and is everyone's favorite vantage point especially when they can lay claim to the wicker swing seat. The house was built as a"party" house and consists of servant quarters, stables and a now defunct swimming pool with adjoining dressing rooms. Inch wishes that the walls could talk so that she could get a glimpse into the alluring and mysterious pas played out here..

The only thing Inch misses in this lovely and serene environment is the cultural and especially, needlework diversity she became accustomed to while living in the greater Metropolitan area of NY. Lois is her "woman on the spot" in this regard, keeping Inch apprised of trends, innovations and changes in the industry.

Lest anyone envision Inch's life as a bed of roses, she has had her share of misfortunes and setbacks. The most painful of these was her son, John's death when he succumbed at age 39 to melanoma in 1995. She herself suffered a severely debilitating stroke 5 years ago. She has dealt with these catastrophes with courage, grace and determination. It took 5 weeks of therapy before Inch could again hold a needle and accomplish a passable stitch. Just before her stroke, she was about to begin quilting a Hawaiian Top. After she regained some facility with her fingers, she spent endless hours filling row upon row of stitches one inch (there's that prophetic name again!) apart, ripping out those that did not meet her standards. Completing such a project would have made any un-incapacitated stitcher half her age swell with pride. For Inch, it's all in a day's work.

In pondering the current state of needlework, Inch has encountered potential needleworkers who present themselves as more serious about learning than they actually are. A case in point: when asked by the Art Guild in Shreveport to teach a class in creative stitchery, she informed them that there were certain basic stitches and skills that needed to be mastered first. They immediately lost interest. Inch is always ready and willing to teach anyone who is truly motivated to learn and in so doing is rewarded in her fervent wish to see needlework stay alive and prosper.

Ever intrepid, Inch continues to seek out challenges and reap immense satisfaction in her endeavors, Working at Hook `n Needle, studying at the Elsa Williams school and collaborating with Lois Caron are the highlights in a long and outstanding career. Her example and work are a true inspiration to needleworkers everywhere.

© 1997 The Caron Collection / Voice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

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