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Abecedarius in Marietta, Georgia

Definition of ABECEDARIUS - from late Latin, of the alphabet (der. abecedarium [from the letters a +b + c + d ]) refering to a place for learning and studying the alphabet.

Welcome to Abecedarius. No we are not in ancient Rome, but rather in Marietta, Georgia! But this is indeed a place where one can learn the alphabet, among other things. Abecedarius is a shop which specializes in samplers, many historic examples of which feature stitched alphabets. Now how more appropriate, meaningful and memorable a name could one find for such a shop? And someone who has found the perfect name is sure to be someone possessing an uncanny knack for setting up the perfect shop to match. That someone is Susan L. Richardson.

Susan grew up in Kentucky, daughter of a 5th generation small town doctor and an eccentric, imaginative mother who could transform a tablecloth into a ballgown in no time flat! For someone who has devoted her life to designing, teaching, preserving and selling needlework, she spent an inordinate amount of time resisting any effort to be lured into home ec skills any other facet associated with becoming a proper belle. When she finally succumbed, Susan completed what she terms a renegade canvas. Her second project was chosen expressly to use up the yellow wool left over from the first! But, by then she was hooked, even in spite of herself. When she came across counted thread work, that cinched it.

Her immersion in needlework intensified when she began working at the Needle Nook, where she attended her version of needlework graduate school, being privy to all the intricate details and responsibilities of running such a business. Sue began to plan her own fantasy shop. When the Needle Nook decided to close, Susan and a fellow co-worker, Bonnie Barron, decided to forge on. Bonnie had been raised by her father, had the same non-influences with stitching and was caught by the fever later in life just as Susan had been. They made a perfect team of needlework soulmates. Both prefer classic, timeless designs and firmly believe in basic, clean techniques to produce quality work which will stand the test of time. Where they differ is in the specifics. Bonnie loves the intricate, detailed work of Hardanger while Susan prefers the basics, insisting she'd be content making "x's" on fabric for the rest of her life. Even though Susan is the proprietor, they function more like equal partners. Actually Susan jokes, "It's really the business that owns both of us."

When Susan and Bonnie began planning their strategy, Susan's intuition took over, "I saw that the core of the old shop was counted thread; I also realized that samplers were beginning to dominate the traditional stitcher's decor. Stitchers do not walk in the door stating, ‘Hey, I think I'll make two beaudacious pictures for my hall landing!'...They may begin with ‘cartoon' gifts... graduate to kitchen decor... but they will stitch forever if they move to traditional handwork - samplers, Hardanger, table linens, family heirloom pieces. At Abecedarius, we try to encourage that development at a rapid pace."Many changes distinguished the new shop from the old; the Needle Nook was housed in an old Victorian but Sue nixed the idea of the old oak and lace look, choosing a more conventional space, which wouldn't be ambience laden. A spare modern look fit the bill of bridging the gap between the past and the future.There was a downside though; in the early days, customers would walk in and see the glass counter display cases expecting a selection of jewelry. Susan reports, "Imagine their surprise when they looked in and found scissors!" They also opted for other than the norm by moving away from the historic district and choosing a name containing neither the word, "needle," nor "thread" or "stitch."

When their doors opened in July, 1993, in place was an inventory of over 150 linens which has since swelled to 300. They carry all the primary threads for cross stitch and Hardanger as well as the most comprehensive selection of silks around. To do justice to their specialty, they maintain designs from virtually every sampler designer of note. Aside from that, they are truly a broad based cross stitch shop, stocking the best of the new along with the steady sellers of the old. They track their sales diligently and if it moves, it stays. If it fills a design void, it stays. But Susan adds, "We don't play the ‘titles war' game; I don't believe ‘more' is the answer to a good shop. You won't find thousands of out of print designs here. I think solid sellers make the shop more credible to the buyer out there today."

Carry Rebeiz completes the shop trio and is affectionately referred to as the "gadabout" who travels to workshops all over the Southeast, Susan and Bonnie being the home-by-the-hearth types. Carrie bears the distinction of being the only one with a stitching familiarity since childhood, adding a fresh zest with her tales of growing up in Texas, one of three stitching sisters. Susan's philosophy is totally hands-on, "We pride ourselves on being able to give any customer's problem immediate attention because we have broad stitching experience. We don't think customers can have much faith in the answer if they hear ‘let's see if that stitch is in this book!"

Susan is nothing if not pragmatic about heirloom needlework, "We feel strongly that the sampler purists of silk on linen only, need to realize that the pieces that have been passed down from previous generations, were stitched with what they had. If Du Pont and Dow had existed then, the pieces handed down might have been stitched with rayon or viscose." Who can argue with that? She continues, "Today's stitcher needs to become fully knowledgeable about the materials on the market and choose suitable threads and background fabrics for the piece and its designed purpose." Amen!

All three eagerly await Y2K, when they plan to inaugurate sweeping changes. For starters, they will add needlepoint and painted canvas lines. Currently the Caron Waterlilies best suits their product mix, but they intend to add full lines of Watercolours and Wildflowers to accommodate Hardanger and needlepoint growth. In their intention to be the complete silk shop, the vast range of Soie Cristale threads are to be added as well.

An aggressive class schedule is being formulated as all three concur on a definite need to re-educate self-taught cross stitchers while introducing them to the newest materials. Many stitchers need to be re-acquainted with the joy of stitching, "Its not supposed to be a contest," Susan stresses. They plan to extend their in-house design exclusives by creating a line of decorative, reproduction style, Georgia themed samplers. If there were any historic samplers specific to Georgia, they have since disappeared, perhaps victims of the ravages of the war. It's one of those design voids just waiting to be filled. Susan already has silver charms depicting motifs such as the Georgia peach and a map of the state for embellishment. Another long range project involves producing videos of classes making classes-on-demand available to stitchers anytime.

Queried further about the name, Susan elaborates, "Besides how well it suits the business, it's right on the first page of the phone book." She does admit deciding to leaving the name off their storefront, choosing instead only to state simply NEEDLEWORK. Being on a well traveled thoroughfare, there was some concern that drivers would see ABECEDARIUS, stop short, shout, "What the *!!#!&?#!??* is that?" and wreak havoc!" She adds with a mischievous glint, "If I had to choose another name I'd call it ‘She's Not Here,'" alluding to the hoards of husbands who call the shop looking for the wives. Her parting words were, "Just tell them this is such a strange shop, they'll just have to stop by and see for themselves!"

When all is said and done, Susan Richardson may have learned the A, B, C's of needlework late, but when she finally did apply herself, she learned them well. Now it's just a matter of filling in the blanks.

Abecedarius, Inc.
2141 Roswell Road
Marietta, GA 30062
Phone: (770) 977- 3585
Hours: Mon., Wed., Fri. & Sat. 10 - 6
Tues. & Thurs. 10 - 8

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