Two weeks ago someone who played an important role in my life for several years passed away. Not only am I sad she is gone, but I regret that over the past few years we had lost touch with each other. The everyday work-a-day world took over and I didn’t find time to make that extra effort to keep in contact with her, which I deeply regret. But while she might be physically gone from this world, things she taught me over the years I was fortunate to share her world will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Joyce D. owned a local needlework store. I happened to walk into The Hen’s Tooth at a point in my life when I decided to take up needlework. I had done a little in the past, but both my girls were just babies and this would give me a chance to have a hobby and create something for them too. From the first moments I entered the store, I was taken under her wing and guided on the path to ‘proper needlework’ etiquette.
Now Joyce was not the gentle, grandmotherly mentor. Like a lot of people, and dogs, who are small in statue, they make up for their physical limitations by having the heart of a lion and the stubbornness of a mule. Once Joyce got her teeth into something, you would have a hard time changing her mind. It was often easier to wave the white flag and fall into line. She also had hearing difficulties and would often tell people who she didn’t know they needed to speak directly to her in order for her to understand them. On the other hand, sometimes you got the feeling she didn’t want to hear what you were saying and was just ignoring you. Either way, it was pure Joyce.
Joyce took my needlework in hand, literally. She taught me to stitch in hand, without a hoop, maintaining a firm and even tension on my work. Dragging a thread across the back of the piece of work for more than a couple of stitches was a major no-no. Likewise, making a knot with your fiber to start a new length of thread. One of the first things Joyce would do when presented with a finished piece was to flip it over and check out the back. The back had to be as neat as the front. I learned that outward appearances where not enough to make a good piece of work. The parts you didn’t see were just as important.
Under her guidance my needlework improved and I was thrilled to be asked to join in on the Thursday night stitching group. To me this was an entry into the exalted world of dedicated and skilled folk. Over the years, friendships bloomed and grew based on those Thursday nights around a table at the back of her shop. Joyce sat at the head of the table, our own reigning queen. But like any benevolent queen, she knew her subjects interests. She knew who liked to stitch only samplers, who preferred what designers, and would have tempting goodies awaiting your delight every week. From her chair, she lead us in solving the problems of the world or choosing what pattern we were going to stitch next.
When my needlework progressed to the point she asked me to stitch models for the shop I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Someone like Joyce thinking my work was good enough to hang on her walls as an example of the wares she carried was like a dream come true. Out of that I learned to value my needlework as an art form and not dismiss it lightly or to give it little value. While she instilled in me the ability to make what I was stitching look easy, it still took hours upon hours to complete even the most simple piece. She taught me not to make light of and to be proud and not deny my ability…..she was one of the first people to make me step up and say “yes, I am an artist”. And as a true shop owner – to charge accordingly!
Not only did I have the chance to stitch for her and occasionally fill in at the shop, but she fostered my love of writing and my off-beat sense of humor and allowed me to publish a weekly email newsletter for her shop. To be so trusted and to be thought so knowledgeable by Joyce went a long way to boosting the self-esteem of a now single mother of two young girls. She always passed on the praise other people gave her about the newsletter to me, never taking credit for it herself.
Joyce is missed in my life. I am sad she is gone. I hate the thought of her not there, threading silk fibers on a tiny needle to complete yet another complicated sampler to grace her walls. Joyce wove herself into the tapestry of my life and made it stronger and more beautiful. And that thread is now missing. Farewell, Joyce.