top of page
  • worksbyabc

Woodlawn Needlework Exhibit

This needlework piece of mine holds a particularly special place in my heart:


It is “Wheels of Color”, designed by Genny Morrow. It was the first real canvaswork piece I ever did.  It was the first time I worked on stretcher bars – even learned what they were.  It was the needlework piece that I was working on when I moved from a two-year stint of living outside of Washington DC in Northern VA to where I live now in New Jersey.  But, perhaps most importantly, it was the first piece I ever entered to the Woodlawn Needlework Exhibit.

From that time living in northern VA, that late winter of my second year, I was looking around for “things to do this weekend.”  And, I stumbled on a listing for this needlework exhibit at a place called Woodlawn.  A needlework exhibit???  I had just been introduced to the idea that my love of needle and thread could go beyond the world of cross stitch, all I had really known up to the point of discovering the pattern to Wheel of Color at a stitching shop in the area.

Woodlawn is a historic home/mansion a few miles from Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA.

Screen Shot 2018-12-04 at 9.51.52 AM.png

Its history is that the land was originally part of Mount Vernon.  George Washington gave it to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, when he married Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis.  They built the home called Woodlawn there.  You can read more about the history here. It has been operated as a historic house museum since 1949.

Nelly Custis was known for her beautiful needlework.  Somewhere, somehow, 56 years ago, a needlework exhibit was born, as I have heard the story, inspired by some of the pieces that were made by Nelly herself over 200 years ago.  It has been going strong all these years, with hundreds of entries on display each year for the entire month of March.  One of the requirements of entry is that the needlework piece must have been completed within the past year.  So, it is all new pieces, every year.

I remember going to see the exhibit that first year, thinking, wow, I wish I had known about this sooner.  Needlework of all types – cross stitch, counted work of other types (blackwork, drawn thread, Hardanger, etc.), canvaswork, embroidery, etc – is displayed throughout the historic home, in the rooms.  The pieces are hung on the walls, placed carefully on beds and pieces of furniture, just completely integrated within the historic space.  At that point during that first visit, I knew that it was already in the cards for me that I was likely moving away from the area.  Otherwise, I could have seen myself getting involved with Nelly’s Needlers, the volunteer group that organizes and runs the whole show.

But, the seed was planted to remember that phenomenal show and to consider entering a piece in there in the future.  Because, I learned that it was a needlework show that accepted mail-in entries. I was so excited and pleased with the Wheels of Color piece that I was working on that year, through my move and my first few months in my new home.  I was even more excited to find a needlework and framing store nearby and get it professionally framed, a first for me.  (Now, in all honesty, that first year, I mailed Wheels of Color to a friend of mine and she so very kindly brought it to Woodlawn on the in-person drop-off day.  Yes, I was a little worried about sending off something that meant so much to me in the mail to a stranger.  But, truthfully, I got over it.  In all subsequent years, I mailed according to the mail-in instructions.)

During the month of March, I took a trip back to visit friends in the DC area and, of course, I planned a visit to Woodlawn. I was thrilled, just thrilled, that my Wheels of Color earned a ribbon, second place, that year.  I was a careful observer, realizing that this was not just any old little fair with a handful of quaint little needlework entries.  This was high quality needlework!  I loved it – there was so much inspiration there, so much to look at and contemplate.  Sure, there were, of course, judging decisions that I could not understand (which is often the case anywhere), but I knew (because the brochure told me) that these were qualified needlework judges at this show.  Earning a ribbon was a big deal!  And, so many categories!  The needlework pieces are often displayed in the rooms by theme, not technique.  So, for example (remembering my most recent visit there two years ago), there might be an animal room, a sampler room, a Christmas/holiday room, a geometric room, etc.  Of course, there are the inevitable “miscellaneous – doesn’t fit anywhere else so let’s just put it in a miscellaneous room” pieces.

In general, they don’t allow pictures.  In searching around now, I found a few places online where you can get a sense of Woodlawn:

This blog post from just this past year 2018 does indicate that some photos were allowed.

This blogger regularly visits Woodlawn and I think this link should bring up her posts from many years, whenever she has tagged Woodlawn.

For many years, I have mailed entries to Woodlawn.  Quite of number of them have earned ribbons.  More than once, a piece that I was so pleased with and proud of did not.  Some years, I have been able to plan a trip to the area during the month, although that has happened less and less in the last few years.  I do wish I lived nearby or could imagine a trip every year.  To see so much needlework, of all different techniques, in one place, is just amazing.

Screen Shot 2018-12-04 at 10.49.48 AM.png

Here is the link to the Woodlawn website page where there is information about the show, including the brochure with information on how to enter (just scroll down a bit to see where it says to click here).  I encourage anyone who can to enter pieces and certainly anyone who is going to be in the DC area any time in the month of March to visit.

A particular huge shout out to Ellen of In Stitches, the needlework store that is just a mile away from Woodlawn.  A few years ago, the volunteers of Nelly Needlers thought they might no longer be able to handle the mail-in entries.  Ellen and her staff took that task on.  She is a lifesaver to stitchers like me who just simply want to be a part!

10 views0 comments


bottom of page