Our Common Thread needlepoint designers during a meetup.
Photo courtesy of Our Common Thread.
Our Common Thread is a design collective working to shake up the needlepoint industry. Founded in January 2019 by US-based needlepoint artists Jenny Henry, 45, and Brooke McGowan, 27, the inaugural group consists of thirteen women; eight from the United States and five from the United Kingdom. Together they’re on a mission to change the reputation of needlepoint from stodgy and old-fashioned to hip and modern.
In recent decades needlepoint has gained a reputation as an expensive hobby mainly pursued by older women. And to some degree at least, these stereotypes hold true. According to a 2015 TNNA survey, the average needlepointer is 61 years old and, in the US market, most needlepoint canvases are hand-painted and have an average price point between $60-160.
But of course anyone can enjoy needlepoint, and in today’s world where slow stitching and mindfulness have become so appealing, needlepoint is now on trend. The designers of Our Common Thread know this and are hoping to attract younger stitchers into the craft through a threefold effort: create community, offer product at a more affordable price point, and design canvases that appeal to a modern, youthful aesthetic.
Hannah Bass stitches a design.
Photo courtesy of Hannah Bass.
Our Common Thread founders Henry and McGowan met in 2018 when their work was featured in the January issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Attracted by the style of one another’s designs, they started chatting via social media. They quickly realized they shared a passion for reviving needlepoint and began working together to create an online needlepoint community. The first step was to reach out to needlepoint artists both in the UK and the US to launch a unified art project where designers would create work around a theme, then share their designs in an online gallery. They called the project Our Common Thread.
While Our Common Thread introduced itself this year with thirteen artists, the next round will include ten new needlepointers; including one from Australia and a duo of sisters from Ireland. The designers they invited to join the project are at various stages of their careers and bring differing styles and experiences to the world of needlepoint.
One of the primary goals of Our Common Thread is to unify needlepointers worldwide by coming up with a singular vocabulary of needlepoint. As Henry explains, “There are variations in the trade of what we call things and how we work. Our collective is learning, and we are working to educate and bridge that gap to create a more unified market.” For example, in the UK needlepoint is referred to as “tapestry,” whereas in the US if you search for a tapestry kit you’re likely to end up with a weaving loom. Such a divergent vocabulary leads to confusion in the marketplace. Our Common Thread is working to clarify that.
Photo courtesy of Brooke Thorne.
Photo courtesy of Brooke Thorne.
Henry and McGowan recently had the opportunity to meet up in London at Hampton Court with other needlepoint artists and start the process of bringing these two communities of stitchers together.
McGowan says needlepoint is a “niche industry that in some ways isolates the designers; it was the most amazing thing to hear other designers talk about their own practices and the commonalities we all face.”
Other differences between the US and UK needlepoint products exist as well. Traditionally in the US most needlepoint canvases are hand painted which makes them quite expensive. Since they’re only sold through independent retailers, needlepoint canvases can also be hard to find. This isn’t the case in the UK. McGowan explains, “This is where the UK has it down pat. One can go to Liberty London to buy a ready-made, comparably inexpensive kit. That, or directly from the designer.” Many US designers hope to bring more affordable canvases to US consumers by offering printed canvases like those commonly for sale in the UK.
Our Common Thread designers are also working to come up with edgy designs, spirited motifs, and irreverent sayings that appeal to younger crafters. Tess Kvale’s, of Pewter and Pine, creates Bohemian designs. Drawn to anything geometric, along with animals and even Turkish Kilim rugs and pillows, Kvale grew up watching her mom, Elizabeth Nagle of DooLittle Stitchery, hand paint and custom design needlepoint for over 30 years. “There are so many younger needlepointers these days. It is really refreshing. And then because of that there are a lot more younger designers popping up on the scene,” Nagle says.
“I feel at this point there is no limit to what you might see on a needlepoint canvas.”
British designer Hannah Bass describes her work as “colorful, contemporary, and urban”. An interior designer by training, she picked up needlepoint after falling in love with a cushion design. Sitting poolside on vacation she stitched away for days and was hooked. Her designs are bright and colorful needlepoint cushions of various city maps. Her business is thriving and she sells a large number of printed canvases to US customers at an affordable price point.
The designers of Our Common Thread are gaining momentum, reinvigorating needlepoint for today’s stitchers, and capitalizing on this easy-to-learn craft that creates heirloom-quality finished products. As Henry says, all you need to do is learn one of the two basic stitches of needlepoint and you will be “stitching by color and turning your energy into something tangible that will last for ages.”