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.
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!
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.
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.
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