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Montpelier Mansion hosts 17th annual needlework exhibit

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Photo by Wanda Jackson. At the Montpelier Mansion, Michelle Arsenault points out the “Best in Show” 2012 needlework titled “Blue Wreath” by Radonda Rakestraw. The work features 41 different stitches in silk and metallic threads.

Photo by Wanda Jackson. At the Montpelier Mansion, Michelle Arsenault points out the “Best in Show” 2012 needlework titled “Blue Wreath” by Radonda Rakestraw. The work features 41 different stitches in silk and metallic threads.

Published on: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

By Wanda Jackson

These talented artisans do not use brushes, acrylics or oils to create their masterpieces. Instead, they use needle and thread in a time-honored craft—needlework.

One uses red, white and blue threads with tiny gold beads and pearls to create an abstract work reminiscent of the U.S. flag.

One cross-stitches designs featuring dogs on pillows (the kind that you just want to hug).

Another waxes poetic about “an invisible red thread” that connects those destined to meet. “The thread may stretch or tangle, but never breaks.”

Others stitch designs with picturesque country fair, Christmas, Thanksgiving, patriotic, family and love themes.

For the 17th year, needlework is on display at the Montpelier Mansion in Laurel. The exhibit, which has the theme “Heritage: A Tradition,” is sponsored by Stitching Pretty of Laurel, The Friends of Montpelier and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The exhibit runs through Sunday, Nov.25, and features nearly 100 exquisite needlework in various rooms of the historic mansion.

Creating needlework is “like reading a really good book,” said Michelle Arsenault, the owner of Stitching Pretty.

“It’s relaxing. When you start it, you are so excited. You’ve got this chart (pattern) that means something to you.  You’ve taken a blank piece of fabric and sometimes it just looks like a rag. But, by the time you’re done and it’s framed,” you are amazed at what you’ve done, said Arsenault. “You’ve created a work of art.”

Arsenault opened her retail needlework store in 1989 in Laurel, but today she runs “Stitching Pretty” as a wholesale business from home. She has over 100 original designs that she “peddles in the wholesale world of needlework.”

Arsenault points out that needlework takes patience and money. Some of the works in the exhibit “took several months to complete and material alone cost several hundred dollars,” she said. Typically, the needlework artists purchase patterns, fabric, threads, embellishments like beads and archival framing.

The annual exhibit is a juried competition. A majority of the needlework entries came from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, but several came from other states including Pennsylvania and New York.

Entries were categorized according to technique, skill level and theme, then juried by a panel of regionally-known needle-art professionals. Techniques include “beading, needlepoint, counted canvas, counted cross stitch, samplers, cutwork, embroidery, petit-point and crochet.” Skill levels range from junior amateur, adult amateur, original needleworker design and professional (those who receive payment for design, lecturing, teaching, publishing or working on needlework).

The judges selected Best in Show, Special 2012 Heritage and two Grand Champions. Professional entries were not eligible for Best in Show or Judges’ Award.

This year’s Best in Show winner is Radonda Rakestraw whose needlework titled “Blue Wreath” encases a five- or six-inch square box, known as a “stand-up display” in the industry.

According to Arsenault, Rakestraw’s “work is perfect.” Her stitches were all in the same direction and “perfectly laid.”

“There are no twisted threads, or lumpy and loose stitches,” Arsenault said.

In the exhibit’s guide, the judges comment that Rakestraw’s blue and white work is “a small, yet amazingly detailed, piece done on 24-count canvas. It has 41 different stitches and uses both silk and metallic threads.”

Terry Carlson received the 2012 Heritage award for her work “Freedom.” Erica Brefka and Sylvia Kyle received the Judges’ Choice awards for their works “Papa Sampler” and “Autumn Fairy,” respectively.

First place and honorable mention ribbons were also awarded in each needlework category.

First Place winners include Barbara Nunez, Jeff Kulick, Patty Yergey, Anna Wilkinson, Diane Frobish and Irene Bellamy.

Honorable Mention winners include Gerri Hanus, Alda Simpson, Margaret Schwind, Barbara Evans, Fran Dailey, Rosemary Miller, Sue Cavendish and Charity Honaker.

Using Autumn-color threads and jewels, Hanus created an abstract work titled “”Bejeweled.” Delicate brooches, encrusted with jewel-toned beads mixed with needlework are an interesting surprise in the 12-by-12-inch, double-matted shadowbox.

Exhibit visitors can have their say in the judging process by casting their vote. At the end of the exhibit, the work with the most votes receives the People’s Choice Award.

The exhibit is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes daily demonstrations of various needle art techniques.

Montpelier Mansion, located at 9650 Muirkirk Road in Laurel, is adjacent to the Montpelier Arts Center. For additional information, call 301-377-7817 or visit or

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