We have talked about the various therapeutic benefits of stitching in previous posts but there is still no denying that of its most powerful by-products is the opportunity for connection with others and the groups and communities it creates.
Marcia Alvis-Slinski, crewel tutor and Guild leader from Brownsburg, Indiana and her group the Crewel Jewels are no strangers to the benefits of group stitching. Marci (pictured above) has dedicated her career to teaching others to get the best out of their crewel work and shares so many of our own passions for keeping crewel work alive.
Marci and her group have supported each other in life and needlework for many years and have won many awards with their needlework, which are always impeccably stitched and finished to the highest standard. Marci has been a huge supporter of our company over the years and her kind-hearted messages of encouragement have often come just at the right moment.
We have wanted to share Marci's and the Crewel Jewels' story for a long time so we hope the following interview touches you as much as it has us and is an inspiration to those who would like to try crewel work, or any kind of needle work for that matter, and share their needle moments with like-minded souls.
Marcia Alvis-Slinski and The Crewel Jewels
Marci discovered crewel embroidery during the American Bicentennial celebrations in 1976 - "That year the United States celebrated its Bicentennial as a nation. People were doing Art that referenced this national pride. I took courses in Crewel from an expert who taught the original Jacobean style originally brought to America and I have been doing it ever since.
"After years of practicing Crewel, the Art form has evolved to fuel my passion for so may other things - history, interior design and fabrics. I started seeing Crewel when I traveled and asked questions? It became a treasure hunt for me to find more."
How did you all first come together to stitch?
"As an Art Director, I had been teaching Crewel here in Indiana for a few years. Our group had no formal name. Then one of our stitching sisters, Jamie named us “The Crewel Jewels” at a tea party and the name stuck.
"While still in her early 50's, Jamie was diagnosed with cancer. We banded together to help care for her up until her last days. Our name fits so perfectly! We're all passionate about Crewel and as unique as jewels.
"The group has remained fluid, in size, for years. We always seem to be mentoring at least one novice. Yet, the original core group of four ladies have been the ones who have won the most acclaim with Grand Champion, Reserve Champion and Blue Ribbon Awards.
"We have proven an old adage: 'Where you place your concentration will thrive in your life to become a passion.' For us, it's Crewel Embroidery! There are members who drop in for refresher courses. Artists in all forms of Fiber & Fabric visit as guests or stay in touch from afar. Students have traveled as far away as Ohio and Illinois to become members.
Lou Ann Tomlinson and her Jacobean Sampler
"The Crewel Jewels meet in the Brownsburg, IN Public Library each week for, at least, 4 months throughout the year during the spring and the fall. We also hold tea parties in my home or in one of the member's homes when our guild is not in session. My students know, though, if a Crewel emergency arises, my home is always open and the tea pot is kept warm. Crewel issues are easily solved!
Denise Mattox & her Jacobean Stag design worked in her own choice of colours and stitches
"Our organization promotes Crewel. I have always told the group that Crewel will not remain an art form in America if we don't continue to educate ourselves and others about it. Most people does know the difference between Cross Stitch and Needlepoint and lumps all embroidery together. We “speak Crewel” and try to make it understandable. We bolster each other, while bouncing color ideas or use of stitches on a pattern that hopefully spark a member's creativity. We support one another and are a close knit group. We have remained 'stitching sisters' who care about each other and our Art form."
The Crewel Jewels have created many of The Crewel Work Company's designs but which is your favourite? "Oh, now THAT would spark a huge debate among The Crewel Jewels! I am a Tree of Life purist who loves any derivation on that theme. In my early twenties, I began with Tree of Life patterns in pillows and bell pulls.
Marci's Tree of Life worked in her own choice of colours and stitches
"Debbie Dillow was recently awarded a Grand Champion Ribbon for her Glamis Crown, Rose & Thistle, which that is stunning and I believe that will be holding court in her heart for a while.
Debbie Dillow's Glamis Crown, Rose & Thistle
Lou Ann has a soft spot on her hoop for the smaller Crewel Work Company designs. She has stitched quite a few and was just awarded a Reserve Champion Ribbon with one. While Denise seems drawn to Crewel Work Company patterns with a lot of detail and Couching.
Denise Mattox and her Levens Hall Pillow by the Crewel Work Company
The Crewel Jewels have their favourite solo projects but when they've needed to they have also stitched together to support one another, as Marcia explains: "When our stitching sister, Jamie became too ill with cancer, to finish her grandchild's first Christmas stocking, as a group we jumped in to complete that piece for granddaughter, Cora. Jamie's second grandchild was born three days after Jamie passed away. In her stitching stash, her husband, Tim found another unfinished stocking. As a group, we made sure another “Baby's First Christmas” stocking was made for Evie-Rae. That way, both little girls had a keepsake from their grandmother (and her stitching sisters) with love."
We are all agreed here at the Crewel Work Company that this is where needlework really matters. Thank you Marcia and the rest of the Crewel Jewels, you are an inspiration to us and to others. Please keep stitching and keep sharing!
Marci and the Crewel Jewels will be holding an exhibition of their work at the SullivanMunc Cultural Centre in Zionsville, IN in April and May 2020.