By Kaitlyn Baker
Katie Howell knew how much time, money and effort goes into creating needlepoint ornaments, so naturally, she freaked out a little when she thought she lost four that her mother-in-law Ty had made. She couldn’t bring herself to tell Ty, so she decided she would try and replicate the ornaments herself. It would be her first attempt at needlepoint.
“I need to order these canvases and make these,” she said on the phone with Needleworks, a needlepoint shop open in Homewood at the time. “I’m not telling my mother-in-law that…I’ve lost these ornaments.”
When the canvases arrived, the shop called her. “Katie, you cannot do this,” they told her sympathetically. “Everybody’s needlepoint stitch looks different, so she will know if it wasn’t her stitch.”
That was it — Katie had to tell Ty what happened. As it turns out, the ornaments weren’t lost after all. Katie had given them to Ty and she had them all along. But by that point, Katie was already committed to learning how to needlepoint. Ty, who learned from her mom, began to teach her, and she got a lot of help from the ladies at the Needleworks shop. Little did either of them know that not too many years later Katie would be running a store for the craft.
Katie’s first project was the front of a Christmas tree topper Ty’s mother had only finished the back of before she passed away in 2001. You can still see where Ty’s mom left off and where Katie started because the color blue is a slightly different shade. To this day, it’s her favorite piece she’s stitched because of the sentimental value it has.
Ever since she “kind of got obsessed” with needlepoint seven years ago, Katie has made tooth fairy pillows (which get used all the time, she says), belts, stockings for each of her kids and more. “I always have a project going,” Katie says. She likes to keep a smaller one in her purse to work on for 10 minutes here in the carpool line at Vestavia Hills Elementary East or 10 minutes there at the doctor’s office, and a bigger project at home to busy her hands while watching Netflix or an Auburn game or just chatting with her family.
Recently, though, her hobby has also become a profession of sorts. In November, Katie, along with Ty and three others, opened up Magic City Needlepoint. Located on Rocky Ridge Road, the shop fills the void Needleworks left after 20 years of business. “When it closed, nobody knew what to do,” Katie says. “So we decided this had to happen.”
The work leading up to opening was tedious, as they had to price and label everything by hand, but now they hear almost daily how much the shop means to the women who come in. “The amount of people who came in [opening day] and said, ‘Thank you so much for opening this,’ …it honestly brought tears to my eyes,” Katie says. “There is a group of women in Birmingham that, this is their thing. When they didn’t have a place to go, it was a big deal.”
Magic City Needlepoint now hosts stitch clubs regularly, offering the community a place to grow together. “They sit around this table and they just stitch,” Katie says. “You learn a lot by just watching what they’re doing.” One woman will get creative and add beads to her project, another avid stitcher will try crazy different stitches, and others will just run with the traditional stitch. “It’s a really cool community because everybody has something different they’re bringing to the table,” she says.
And it’s not just one quintessential age that enjoys the craft. You’ll have a 70-year-old at one end of the table and a 20-year-old at the other. “People want things that they can keep and things that are made from the heart, and I don’t think that’s lost on the younger generation,” Katie says.
Ginger Mayfield, who started Stitch Club Birmingham, says the younger generation of needlepointers have been called “Grand Millennials” by some. “There are a lot of younger people getting into it,” she says. “I think traditionally it’s something folks viewed as a thing that older women did, with more time on their hands, but millennials are getting into it because they want to get off their phones and make something meaningful.”
And that’s Katie’s favorite part about it—seeing her loved ones enjoy the finished products. “I love getting up in the morning, say we’re going to church, and my husband and son are wearing the belts that I made them. Or when it’s Christmas time and all of my kids cannot wait to get their needlepoint stockings out from the basement to put them up,” she says. “I’ve made that for them, and it’s going to be with them forever.”
When Katie starts a needlepoint project, first she picks her canvas. In Magic City Needlepoint, the mesh canvases are sorted in baskets along the walls. Painted in color, there are many designs to choose from. Next, she picks her threads from the back of the store. There are velvets, wools, silks and cottons in all shades of color, and since the stitch is typically the same throughout, Katie says the thread is really what makes it.
Once she has her supplies and colors picked out, it’s time to start stitching. Unlike cross-stitch, which is two stitches combined to make an “X,” needlepoint is just one stitch—“from LA to New York,” Katie explains—over and over again. With needlepoint, you stitch by color until it’s all filled in. From there if you take it to Magic City Needlepoint, she will then send it off to the “finishers,” who turn your canvas into whatever you want it to be—a pillow, a brick cover, an ornament, stocking, etc.
“It looks harder than it really is,” Katie says. Many people look at a finished piece and think, ‘I could never do that,’ so they shy away. But Katie says anyone can do it, and for that reason, she is eager to get people started if they have any interest whatsoever.
It was her encouragement that prompted her friend Blair Moss to learn. Blair, a realtor in Vestavia, taught herself to needlepoint and frequently called Katie with questions. With her first project. a sleep mask, under her belt, she’s now well on her way to making stockings for each of her three kids, Rogers (9), Frannie (7) and Bennett (5), and she agrees with Katie that anyone can do it. She plans to teach her daughter when she gets older, and she’s been trying to convince her husband to learn, although he’s not on board quite yet.
If you have any interest in needlepoint, “just come in and let us show you,” Katie says, “and see if it’s your thing.”
Visit Magic City Needlepoint at 2531 Rocky Ridge Road, Suite 121 or online at magiccityneedlepoint.com.
Meet the owners of Magic City Needlepoint with a passion for the craft.
You can tell how much Katie loves stitching in the way her eyes light up when she explains how it’s done. A resident of Vestavia Hills and full-time mom to her three kids, she’s also an active member of Stitch Club Birmingham.
A native of Vestavia Hills, Ty has been stitching for at least 20 years. Her mom taught her, and she taught her daughter-in-law Katie.
Mary Elizabeth Mays
An experienced stitcher, Mary Elizabeth is president of the Cahaba Lily Chapter of the American Needlepoint Guild. She travels worldwide to attend seminars and stitch-ins, so she’s the point-person for what’s on trend.
A lawyer and an avid stitcher, Leah has a particular passion for projects with geometric patterns.
When she’s not stitching, Karen works in public relations for the Birmingham Zoo. She learned embroidery and cross-stitch when she was a kid, and now she takes classes at national conferences of the American Needlepoint Guild to learn new stitches and techniques.