Needlepoint is an intricate form of embroidery that involves stitching threads through a canvas to create beautiful designs. It’s a time-honored craft that requires both skill and patience. If you’re unfamiliar with the art of needlepoint, you’re not alone – many people are curious about the process behind these stunning creations.
For the past 20+ years, we have enjoyed the beautifully designed cushions resting in the choir stalls. Long-standing member and needlepoint artist Carolyn Timmerman shares the creation process with us and the team she assembled to help make over twenty cushions.
At its core, needlepoint involves working on a canvas with different-sized squares that determine the size of the stitches. Larger squares result in bigger stitches, while smaller ones call for more intricate, smaller ones. Carolyn explains that she predominately used larger stitches for this project. Once the canvas is in hand, the next step is to hand-paint the design onto the canvas. As Carolyn describes it, “following a pattern and then stitching” makes it easier to work on each cushion.
Before Carolyn began this project, she noted that the kneelers by the altar needed some work due to the changes in the church’s layout. She was visiting Washington, D.C., with a friend, and they attended a tour of the Washington National Cathedral. The cathedral’s awe-inspiring needlepoint artwork, featuring family names and intricate designs, stirred her imagination. While she knew family names would be challenging, she knew she could make cushions for the choir stalls with a bit of help from others.
What’s fascinating is the attention to detail Carolyn chose for the colors and images for the cushions. She drew inspiration from the church’s interior, selecting colors that mirrored the tiles on the floor. Along with picking the color theme, each cushion has a white flower in the center. She used books referencing the Victorian era, like The Language of Flowers, to pick specific flowers. She carefully chose the rector’s cushion with – “the bloom of the dogwood.” The dogwood carries the symbolic weight related to Jesus’ crucifixion, echoing that the four petals on the dogwood symbolize a cross. “At the end of each petal, there is a small indention to remind us of the nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet,” Carolyn remembered. She also noted that one of the cushions was a white violet, which held no particular meaning to the church then. However, the Witness Stone in the Memorial Garden now nods to the enslaved parishioner, Violet. While the white Violet means innocence, St. John’s chose to remember our Witness Stone with purple violets; its meaning is also tender with promises of imagination, dreams, and the future.
n the fall of 2001, Carolyn enlisted the help of fourteen parishioners who would help her turn this vision into a reality, and they met regularly for the first few sessions until they began working independently. Carolyn would then mail all the canvases to a “finisher” based in Texas, that sews the canvas onto the preferred item. The finisher also completed the Washington National Cathedral cushions and reconfigured the St. John’s kneelers.
Under Carolyn’s leadership, the dedicated team of volunteers worked together for more than a year to bring these needlepoint cushions into existence. Their dedication to the process, along with a generous donation from Larry Timmerman, allowed Carolyn’s vision to become a reality.
Patty Pape (morning glory, crocus, water lily, and daisy); Pamela Ryan (cyclamen and snowdrops); Linda Phillips (lily and magnolia); Sammy Perry (Christmas rose, iris, trillium, and columbine); Barbara Ullstein (tulip and lady’s slipper); Katie Bollo (peony); Carolyn Timmerman (dogwood, mock orange, orchid, and daisy); Lynn Cochrane (pansy and water lily); Helen Chatman (daffodil); Chris Woodside (Violet); Gloria Potter (Violet); Joyce Walker (water lily), Henry Towers (clematis); Unknown (hibiscus).