Golden threads: Needle arts group celebrating 50th anniversary

Over the course of 50 years, those involved with the Embroiderers’ Guild of America in Indianapolis have much to show for their membership.

Stitch-by-stitch, the group has worked together on countless projects, provided comforting fabric art to nonprofits throughout the region and been featured in exhibits at museums and public galleries all over the area.

But nothing has been more valuable than the connections they’ve made as members.

“Here’s to 50 years of stitches and stories, where embroidery and friendship are equally cherished and celebrated,” said Joanne Porento, chair of the 50th-anniversary planning committee.

For the past 50 years, members of the Embroiderers Guild of America have been weaving together fabric arts and friendship on the southside of Indianapolis. In honor of its golden jubilee, the organization celebrated with a special luncheon in downtown Indianapolis and has planned special classes throughout the year expanding the scope of its art.

“There’s been so many nice people, and I’ve met people from all over, not only in Indianapolis. The teachers we’ve brought in, it’s just been really nice,” said Ginny Kellar, a past president of the group.

The Embroiderers’ Guild of America was formed to foster the art of needlework and associated arts. Established in New York in 1958 as a branch of The Embroiderers’ Guild of London, the organization withdrew from the London Guild in 1970 and formed its own group.

Chapters have spread all over the United States, including in central Indiana. According to a group history compiled by Kellar, the Indianapolis chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America came together through the efforts of a small group of local embroiderers. They knew each other through their husbands’ work and decided to meet regularly to focus on fabric arts.

After an organizer, Druscilla Defalque, contacted the guild’s New York office, as well as chapters in Fort Wayne and Lafayette, the Indianapolis group was officially chartered on Feb. 13, 1974. At the time, the chapter had 15 members.

Quickly, membership blossomed. By the early ’80s, more than 200 members were part of the chapter.

Barbara Bennett joined the Embroiderers’ Guild of America after seeing an exhibit by the group while visiting Lafayette. Though she was still working at the time, she was intrigued about becoming involved with a group dedicated to needlework.

In 1998, she formally became a member. The decision has been a good one, she said.

“We have a lot of fun together,” said Bennett, a past president of the chapter.

Chapter leaders also emphasized useful programming to help members expand their skills. Local teachers and experts offered their time to help the group grow their talents, as well as raising awareness about the value of needlework in the community, Kellar said.

“It’s all about the promotion of embroidery and the excellence of stitching, basically teaching people the right ways to embroider,” she said.

The group was bonded by their love of embroidery — “They say if it has a needle with an eye, it qualifies,” Bennett said. But members also used their skills for community service projects. They embroidered the State Seal of Indiana, the City of Indianapolis seal in silk and gold, and, for the Governor’s Residence, a fireplace screen and canvas bands for benches in the foyer.

A particular focus has been Ronald McDonald House Charities. At the organization’s facility in downtown Indianapolis, guild members have made nearly 100 embroideries to add color, flair and beauty to the walls and doors. They’ve stitched an oversized House of Bears depicting various spirit-raising scenes.

“The little bears are performing different things within the house. It’s something the kids can look at and appreciate and understand,” Kellar said.

In addition, they’ve made the house a five-panel counted thread Nativity, which is only hung at Christmastime. In the late 1990s, the work was appraised for $7,500.

Chapter members have also created a wall hanging for the Riley Hospital for Children, as well as a massive piece for the children’s section of the Richmond Public Library.

Now meeting at Christ United Methodist Church in Greenwood, the Indianapolis chapter remains as focused on special events and exhibits as they have throughout their history. But on their 50th anniversary, leaders felt it was important to do some special features in recognition of the milestone year.

The centerpiece of the 50th anniversary celebration was a luncheon held April 22 at the Skyline Club in downtown Indianapolis. Cissy Bailey Smith, an expert in stitched samplers with a teaching certificate in canvas work from the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia, served as the luncheon speaker.

She shared a presentation on antique Scottish and English samplers, while members shared examples of needlework artistry.

Two days prior, Bailey Smith led the chapter in a special class, “Samplers Stories Huswif,” at Christ United Methodist Church.

A second class, “Autumn’s Bounty,” will be featured on July 27. The course focuses on a surface embroidery piece with gold work highlights taught by Marylyn Doyle, a teacher and exhibitor of a range of embroidery techniques and holder of guild certification in silk and metal thread on fabric.

On Sept. 13 and 14, the chapter presents “Beautiful Windmills,” highlighting counted canvas work to be taught by Ann-Marie Anderson-Mayes of Beautiful Stitches based in Perth, Western Australia. A two-day class, the event is designated as Indiana State Day and is open for registration by all Embroiderers’ Guild of America Indiana chapter members and Great Lakes Region members.

All classes will be held at Christ United Methodist Church.

To tie it all together, organizers chose the theme of “Golden Threads” as a nod to a quote by John Evelyn, English diarist and founding fellow of the Royal Society. “Friendship is the golden thread that ties the heart of all the world,” Evelyn wrote.

His words speak to the core of what the Embroiderers’ Guild of America stands for, and the lasting friendships that have been stitched into place over the years.

“It’s a wonderful group of people. We’ve all become friends,” Kellar said. “It’s been a nice thing to do together.”


Embroiderers’ Guild of America Indianapolis chapter

What: A national organization aimed at fostering the art of needlework and associated arts.

Founded: 1974

When do they meet: 10 a.m. the second Monday of each month, 6:30-9 p.m. third Tuesday of each month

Where: 8450 U.S. 31 South, Indianapolis

Information and how to join: