Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Myrtle Grace Motifs & Strawberry Sampler - Norden's Needleworkers!

When did you begin designing your own patterns and how did that turn into a business?
I started designing punch needle patterns 6 years ago.  I bought my first pattern and loved it – but I wanted to adjust it and make it my own.  I realized I could make it my own and delved right in.  I did punch needle patterns exclusively for about 3 years until so many shops asked me to convert them to cross stitch – so I gave that a shot.  It was worth going outside my own comfort zone to do something other people love.

How important is social media in the cross-stitch industry and how do you make use of it for your company?
It’s so fun to be able to connect with stitchers, shops, and designers through social media.  The ability to get instant reaction to new designs or ideas has been so fun.  Even naming patterns – it feels like more of a group effort sometimes.

Do you stitch your own models, or do you have model stitchers?
I am blessed to have three wonderful model stitchers that do my cross stitch models.  I do all my own punch needle models – but these three lovely ladies count all those stitches and make each piece look awesome.   Without them – there would be no cross stitch versions of my patterns.

Do you have any advice for any aspiring designers out there?
Design what you love – not what you think other people will love.  I’ve found the patterns that I like the most – other people love too.

Have you ever exhibited at or attended a TNNA trade show, and if so what are your thoughts on it?
We love exhibiting at the TNNA trade shows.  We’ve had the privilege to do so the last five years and hope to continue to do so!  We love to have the opportunity to see our friends and customers face to face, hear feedback and get to know each other better.  It’s also a great time with fellow designers.  TNNA is a great organization and we feel blessed to be a part of it.


Would you like to share a favorite recipe?
I have so many favorite recipes, even blog most of them at
One of my favorites that I can’t have too often (I am sadly allergic to lemon.)
Lemon-Cream Cheese Cupcakes
What You Need!
1 pkg. (2-layer size) white cake mix
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.) Lemon Flavor Instant Pudding
1 cup water
4 egg whites
2 Tbsp. oil
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 pkg. (4 oz.) Cream Cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Make It!
HEAT oven to 350ºF. Beat cake mix, pudding mix, water, egg whites and oil in large bowl with mixer on low speed until moistened. (Batter will be thick.) Beat on medium speed 2 min. Spoon batter evenly into 24 paper-lined 2-1/2-inch muffin cups.
BAKE 21 to 24 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.
MEANWHILE, beat sugar, cream cheese, butter and juice with mixer on low speed until well blended. Frost cupcakes.

Do you have any pets?
We have one 80 pound bounding lump of fur named Rusty.  He’s about 7-8 years old and we’ve had him for 5 years already!  He still acts like a young pup – but he’s getting up to middle age.  He’s the inspiration for one of our favorite patterns – Rusty Bucket. He’s a Labrador-Retriever-Pit-Bull mix with something else that makes his tail curl at the end.  He’s a goof but we love him.

Meet Bronwyn!
What do you want to achieve in life?
My husband and I both would love to have a house with grass.  Currently we have a townhouse with some shared grass.  We’d love to be able to have our own grass to plant things and complain about having to mow.  We might even be thankful for the snow that we’ll need to shovel… but oh that will be a good day.

What would you do if you won the lottery?
If I won the lottery today, I will still go to work tomorrow.  I have a day job and I kind of even like it … We would do things like pay off debt, save a sensible amount, pay off our parents’ mortgages, not go crazy with it… sadly we’ve thought it through.  Sadder yet?  We don’t even play the lottery.  My husband’s theory is he will only play once – when he knows he will win.  Will we every play?  Doubtful.

None of us are perfect – tell us about something that embarrassed you.
After asking my husband what he’d like me to bake for dinner with friends – he suggested his grandmother’s jelly roll cake.  Begrudgingly I got the recipe and baked it.  As I was rolling it up with the jelly inside and powdered sugar all over it, I rolled it right off the counter, all the way down my body and it landed square on the floor.  Rather than cry, I picked the sucker up, plopped it on the tray, added more powdered sugar and made sure our friends knew the path of travel for that sad cake.  We laughed and laughed about it.  I’ve had plenty of baking failures and I find the more I share – the better I deal with them.

Featured Shop

The Strawberry Sampler
364 Wilmington Pike, A-2
(Rt. 202)
Glen Mills, PA  19342
1-800-634-6106 and 610-459-8580
Hours ~ Tuesday - Saturday 10AM-5PM

How long have you been in business?
My mom, Ruth Ellen Duncan, opened her first shop in 1975 in the basement of our home.  She learned to stitch in 1971 after getting an Eva Rosenstand kit in Holland, where a teenage girl in the shop translated the basics for her & got her started.  She came home & taught me, so I’ve been stitching for almost 40 years.
When we moved to Delaware, she sold that shop & swore she’d never do that again.  Famous last words.  By the spring of 1979 we were looking for space.  We opened in the upstairs of a farmhouse in September of 1979.

Picture, left to right: Ruth Ellen, me (Beth, in the back), Carma (my aunt) & Abby (my little sister).
I’d like to say I was MUCH too young to work….but I worked every Saturday!  I had my own “group” of customers who visited on Saturdays, shopped, went for lunch, compared goodies & came back for more.    In fact, I just got an email from one of “my” Jersey girls a few months ago.  Now, after much movement (both of the shop & the people), we are just 2.5 miles from our original location.

Ruth Ellen signs the checks & does the accounting (much to her chagrin, as she likes to point out that she sent me to college for 4 years & I am a CPA ~ blech!  Not for me!).  The shop is run by myself & Molly Keith, who joined us in 1989.  She was originally going to work here for a year or two, get some experience, then move to New Hampshire & open a shop.  20+ years later, she’s still here, thank goodness!!  While I grew up working in the shop, I can say without a doubt that I would not be able, nor would I want, to run this shop without her.  We are a team ~ we have worked together so long, we are like a cliché of the old married couple – we finish each other’s sentences, we have our own language….it’s quite sad actually!!  So for this bit of sharing, like everything else around here, our answers are really a group effort!

Do you have an online webstore, and if so how do you feel it has affected your business?
We absolutely have a website!  Before the internet (yikes! When was that??), we offered mail order to people who weren’t close by.  We have always had a newsletter. It began as a piece of paper, typed up by my mom about 4-6 times a year, featuring a chatty greeting, some hints & ideas & an update of lots of new stuff.  We Xeroxed it, typed up labels & sorted the bulk mail.  Stitchers loved it ~ my mom is a natural communicator & teacher.  As things progressed, our newsletters became more detailed, eventually including photos & color printing.  Ruth Ellen did not enjoy keeping on top of the newest, latest ways to do this! For several years we had a print catalog & even created a video catalog (we STILL laugh about taping that…it wasn’t pretty, but people loved it).  Now instead of our stitchers hearing from us 4-6 times a year, they can subscribe to our online newsletter & hear from us about once a week.   Ruth Ellen has a blog (that she does in fits & starts), Molly has a blog that is more tied into what’s up at the shop & another gal who works with us has a blog & keeps US up to date with what others are stitching!  With the advent of the internet & the “information age”, keeping our stitchers updated & in touch with us has become a full-time job.  It was initially a love/hate thing…actually it still is!  We resisted getting caught up in all that new-fangled internet stuff at first!  But we quickly learned that like anything else in life, you better be able to adapt to new ideas & tools, or you will find yourself left behind.  Our website has certainly expanded our exposure from Southeastern Pennsylvania to stitchers around the world.  We regularly send orders to Europe, South America, Australia & Japan.
There is so much out there & trying to stay on top of everything can be exhausting.  Many times we find out about new designers from a stitcher who has seen something on someone’s blog & asked us if we carry it.  Our suppliers do a wonderful job keeping us informed of what’s new. We find new & exciting things almost weekly & with our website we can keep our stitchers around the world up to date as well.
But what remains the same is our desire to reach our stitchers as friends.  Our newsletter, which I typically write, is part new-goods, part shop update, part personal update. I tend to share bits of personal goings on from all of us ~ new puppies, new grandkids, little league scores (my nephews both play almost year-round), hilarious happenings & the latest good thing we’ve eaten (usually chocolate ~ although by far the best day of the year is KRINGLE DAY!!).  We also do some unsolicited commentaries on new stuff we’ve seen.  We’ve been known to recommend books we liked & shoes we wear.  We have a page on our site called “Favorite Things” which is a conglomeration of, well, some of our favorite things aside from cross stitch ~ from jewelry to the Phillies, from Dansko clogs (the headquarters & factory outlet is about 15 miles away) to Longwood Gardens (even closer).    We hope these personal touches bring smiles to folks & make them feel like part of that gang, even if they live in Kansas or California or Maine.  We know we’ve had many folks who have come in & said they took a roundabout route home to stop in because they stay in touch thru the website.  We love putting faces with familiar names.
There have been times where I have been known to go off on a complete rant about things ~ be it copyright infringement, the cost of shipping (& the people who think it should all be free) or the times when our world seems to be a perfect storm of WRONG.  In the end, what it all boils down to is a (hopefully kind) reminder to  “do unto others…”  I think the internet is a necessary evil, but I also feel that it keeps us from actually connecting in the real world. Having 697 Facebook friends is not the same as having FRIENDS.  While we recognize the great benefits of the internet as a business tool, we try very hard to make it more personal, more helpful & more fun ~ we realize that a stitcher can get their supplies anywhere, so we do try to at least be their cheap entertainment for a few moments!
So while the internet requires as much work & sometimes more than the shop, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without it.

What types of products do you offer?B:  When we opened our shop, we had single Xeroxed graphs that we kept in sleeves in 3 ring binders. There were about 25 design companies ~ Ginnie Thompson Originals, Graphs by Barbara & Cheryl, Designs by Gloria & Pat, Canterbury Designs, Green Apple Designs…and kits from the Danish Handcraft Guild, Eva Rosenstand & Clara Weaver in Denmark.  Now we have leaflets, charts, books & kits from all over the world.  We have progressed from  that little hand-charted turtle graph with 15 stitches in it, to computer-generated reproductions of famous artwork.  While it is wonderful to have always-more-challenging designs to continue to create, there are times I feel some of these “design” companies aren’t really designers at all, but very nimble computer people.  I find it really annoying to see “cross stitch designs” that have never been cross stitched, only scanned & digitized.
We had 14ct aida, 18ct aida & 22ct hardanger in white, ivory & a couple of colors.  There was 18ct, 27ct & 30ct linen in bleached & unbleached.  There were about 200 shades of DMC.   Now, I can’t even count the varieties of colors & counts of fabrics.  We have over 450 colors of DMC,  silk threads, metallics & overdyed fibers.
When we first started seeing embellishments, particularly Mill Hill beads, my mom was mystified.  Why would you want those on your stitching?  Now we routinely use beads, buttons, charms & more.
One of the most interesting changes is in the “overdyed” fabrics & floss.  We used to have fabric come in “splotchy” & no one wanted it ~ it looked dirty.  Certainly no one wanted threads that weren’t perfectly uniform.  Now, overdyed fabrics & fibers are the norm.  And yet, my mom still says, “when I started, this would have been the reject stuff”. 

Who are some of your personal favorite designers?
My personal favorite designers run the gamut: Merrily Beams, Stitches in Silk, Rae Iverson, Eileen Bennett, Cricket Collection, Shepherd’s Bush, Drawn Thread, Victoria Sampler, Heartstring Samplery,  Ink Circles, Lizzie Kate, SamSarah… Obviously my first love is samplers, but I like new & shiny just as much as old reproductions.  I love borders & symmetry & clean lines.  And almost anything blue!

Have you attended a TNNA trade show, and if so what are your thoughts on it?
We do go to markets.  My first market was in Charlotte in 1979!  Before the advent of the internet, markets were our best avenue of finding new designs, new designers & great ideas.  The Charlotte market was by far the best gathering of cross stitch designers & I think we have suffered from the demise of that market.
Since the internet, the role the market plays has had to change & I don’t always feel they have made themselves the tool they could be.  The cross stitch industry is composed of many small, almost micro-businesses.  When INRG combined with TNNA, many of the designers were put in a difficult position.  The cost of a booth for an exhibitor at a TNNA market is much more expensive & many  designers simply could not afford to put themselves out there, particularly new designers.  It follows from this that if there are less exhibitors, then shopowners have to weigh the cost of travel with the benefits of seeing what’s new “in person”.   As the markets have moved back to a hotel setting, the costs have declined, but the designers have been slow to jump back on the bandwagon.
The Nashville market is great, but always falls at a difficult time of year for many people to depend on good travel weather (from ice storms to snowstorms to floods ~ February is just not the best time to travel thru the mountains of Tennessee).  We haven’t attended that market in several years, but are hoping the later scheduling for 2013 will be a better fit, especially because Nashville is such a fun city!!  We went the first year of the combined TNNA/INRG show in Columbus, but found it to be completely dominated by needlepoint & knitting & really not a good market for our shop (however, we stayed in a great area outside the city & did some serious shopping & eating!).  We attended all the markets in St Charles & found them to be good opportunities to find new goodies.  Also, we LOVED being in St Louis ~ great restaurants!  Our only regret was not ever being there while the Cardinals were in town.  Last year we went down to Baltimore for the day & again, brought home bunches of great stuff!  Typically, we go to a market & do as much as we can on Saturday ~ on Saturday night we go out & it never fails that there is some sort of hilarious occurrence.

 One year in St Louis, we saw a guy walking down the street with a guitar.

He walked a block where a girl was having car trouble.  The guy did nothing to help her, but he did stand there and sing to her until the AAA guy got her car started!

Then we head back to our hotel room, stock up on vending machine candy & diet Coke, fire up our computers & scanners & start updating our customers! 

Unfortunately, we never seem to be able to get the Phillies game on TV & there is NEVER anything good on, so we watch bad TV, write a newsletter with lots of pictures of new stuff (& what we had for dinner) & hopefully share our excitement with our stitchers.  By the time we get home, we generally have orders for lots of the goodies we’ve brought back!
What we enjoy most at market is 1) reconnecting with friends that we only see at market ~ we really are a community of stitchers who are simply trying to share our love; 2) eating out ~ seriously, sometimes this is #1; and 3) seeing things stitched.  We hear this every day from our customers & we know how true it is.  You just can’t capture the beauty of a piece in a picture (& if you have a bad photographer it’s nearly impossible).  Finishing ideas are always inspiring as well.  But if you really want us there find a city with good food & drinks!

A Little Bit About Beth and all the girls at Strawberry Sampler

Besides stitching and running your business, what are a few things you renjoy in your free time?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  When I’m not working or stitching, I’ll let you know!  Actually, I am lucky to do what I love, so work isn’t WORK, & I’m also fortunate to work with great friends who do make it possible for me to be gone sometimes. Favorite outing: a girls’ day out at Sephora & Cheesecake Factory (not necessarily in that order).  Molly & I try to swing a day off together now & then & that’s our fun day out.  We hit King of Prussia mall & spend hours playing in Sephora (if you’ve never been, it’s like a makeup candy store!!).  Now that I think about it, we haven’t done that in a long, long time….we’ll need to rectify that problem.
I spend LOTS of time at Little League fields.  I have 2 nephews, 10 & 11, and they play almost year-round.  I coached them when they were little, but after a couple years I had taught them all I could (play hard, have fun, catch the ball, throw the right way).  So now I am the “official” scorekeeper for both of their teams.  It’s a great time & there are 20-25 boys yelling “Auntie, what’s the score?” or “Auntie, what’s the lineup?”  It’s a great way to spend time with my nephews & build something we’ll share for a long time (or at least until they start saying, “Don’t talk to me while my friends are around!”). 
I also LOVE to read!  And I have a tremendous affection for food magazines & cookbooks.  No, I don’t cook.  I do bake & in fact my younger nephew bakes with me.  I buy cookbooks based on their covers & if they’ll look pretty decorating my kitchen!
 My aunt is 5 years older than me, so she’s more like my big sister.  She now lives in New Zealand, so I’ve made a bunch of trips there.  Love the people (especially all my new Kiwi family!) & it’s a great place to just be.  I like travelling, but don’t get to do nearly as much as I would like.

Do you like to read and if so what kinds of books do you enjoy reading?
 I love reading, but I really prefer books ~ as opposed to BOOKS.  No Oprah book club books, no critically acclaimed works.  I want either a good mystery or a mindless happily ever after story.  It’s my entertainment – I don’t want to have to work at it or be depressed (I can watch TV for that).  I have a Kindle app on my iPad, but I hate reading like that.  I only use it when I travel.  I want a REAL book I can touch & (more importantly) sniff!  You know how books just have that book smell….
However, I do have a few favorite authors & 1 best book.
BEST BOOK EVER: The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Favorite authors: hometown girl, Lisa Scottoline!  And Jen Lancaster (Bitter is the New Black, Such a Pretty Fat).

Do you have any pets?

Several of us at the shop have pets, mostly dogs.  My girl Casee comes to work on Mondays. 

Molly has 3 pups, all rescues. 

Lise, our framer extraordinaire, has a German Shepherd & is also an obedience trainer (although she has yet to train us to properly fill out framing slips). 

Catherine, who handles our mailorder, just got a new puppy ~ a Rottweiler who is 4 months old & weighs in at a dainty 70 pounds!!!  We have been known to leave people waiting at the register while we go out & love on their pups (who are usually outside with a husband or child).  Some stitchers know now to just bring their pups in when they come, & then just hand them over to us while they shop.  Consequently, we are pretty much not Philadelphia Eagles fans ~ as soon as they get rid of  Michael Vick, we’ll think about coming back.  Maybe.  If our dogs say it’s okay.

What would you do if you won the lottery?
As Cindy, who works with us on Saturday, says, “I’m just 1 ticket away”.  And if I ever end up with that winning ticket….wow.  First, a big chunk goes to charity.  After that, more space for our office.  And then, my own private island in the Caribbean, complete with pool boy & chef.

If you could be an animal, which would you pick and why?
If I could be an animal, I’d be my dog.  Whoever came up with the phrase “working like a dog” has never met my dogs.
A tough life: do I swim today?

Maybe play a little baseball?
Time to wat yet?  Is it Monday?
Must be time to go get breakfast at McDonald's, then head to the shop, take a nap, get a chicken strip when Lise come in, wait for my buddy the UPS guy to come play with me, if the FEDEX guy stops buy, he'll bring me another treat.


time for another nap...
Yep, that's what I'd go for.

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