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Customer Corner – Ellen Johnson, Needlepoint / Needle Arts Artist & Teacher

Customer Corner – Ellen Johnson, Needlepoint / Needle Arts Artist & Teacher

We’re excited to introduce you to Ellen Johnson of Serendipity Needleworks. Ellen is a lover of all things needle-made—truly, if you can use a needle to create something, she’s likely taught herself how to do it and mastered the skill to boot! Ellen has run two needlework retail stores, written books on needlework, created her own line of patterns—some of which were carried by stores as far away as France! Ooh la la!—and now teaches classes online. She’s relatively new to CraftOptics and has already done an amazing job sharing her experience on her YouTube channel, Needlepoint TV. (Thanks for the many kind words Ellen!).

What do you love best about creating?

Stitching does two things for me: It relaxes me, and it lets me express myself artistically.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of needlepoint and there are two different types of needlepoint projects. Some are done entirely in a tent stitch where you do the same stitch over and over. Those projects are relaxing and meditative; they really help me to unwind. There’s medical evidence to show that people’s blood pressure drops when they’re stitching!

Then, there are the more artistic needlepoint projects, especially those where you embellish needlepoint canvas. You start with a two-dimensional design painted on canvas and you transform it into a three-dimensional piece of fiber art through your choice of thread and stitches. These are more challenging, and they provide an opportunity to express my creativity in a different way. Some people paint with paintbrushes; I paint with a needle and thread.

I like to tell people that anyone can do this. Yes, you need some skill to interpret your canvas and some knowledge of art theory is useful, but you can learn those things. Too often someone was told along the way that they’re not creative, they can’t draw. And that’s a shame. Because anyone can do this, and everything is art.

I don’t want needlework to be lost—I’m very encouraged to see it’s thriving among younger people. As human beings, we’re all makers and have been since the beginning of time. I think we have an intrinsic need to create. There are all kinds of value you can attach to art, but to me it’s really more for the sake of making beautiful things and surrounding yourself with beautiful things.

Tell us a little about your history in creating.

My father’s mother first taught me when I was seven years old. She started me on a stamped embroidery kit from the dime store and I’ve been stitching ever since. She instilled a love of needlework in me at a young age.

Both of my grandmothers lived far away from the town where I grew up. My mother doesn’t do any needlework—she’s done beautiful embroidery, but she doesn’t like doing it—so she never encouraged me or worked on it with me. So, I’d practice my hobby as best as I could on my own and take my projects to my grandmother.

I picked up counted cross stitch in high school by teaching myself. My husband and I got married in college and for our first Christmas, I cross-stitched nearly 100 tiny ornaments for our tree. I still have them and it’s such fun to get them out every year.

I did cross stitch for a good long while, then I started smocking and eventually owned a smocking and heirloom sewing business from 1991-1996.

I discovered painted canvas needlepoint in the early 1990s—I went into a trade show thinking I knew everything there was to know about needlepoint and whoa Nellie! There were so many beautiful projects, it was just amazing. I found a “stitch guide” at the market and taught myself.

After I sold my first retail business to my partner, I started writing articles for craft publications, needlework magazines and Romantic Homes. I wrote a book, The Embroidered Home, I had my own line of needles and videos and I began to design my own patterns, which I sold across the country and some of them even ended up in France!

I enjoyed all those things, but then one day when I stopped at the local needlework store to get thread for a project, the owner asked how I’d like to take over for her. I didn’t think I wanted to do retail again, but I told her I’d think about it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I missed the connections having a store had given me and gave it one more try. I stayed there for 14 years until my husband had a medical emergency—he’s fine now!—and I realized that between that and my aging mother, I wanted flexibility in my life that owning a store did not allow.

After closing the store, I started to teach online. I went to college for education and used to be a first-grade teacher. Now I’m using my education background in a new way.

You could say my life has been one long journey through needlework!

Please share a favorite project—or something you’re working on now.

I’m currently working on a project that I’m about to rip out! It’s a piece with the word “Believe” painted in gold – surrounded by a simple background pattern. I thought I’d chosen the stitch I wanted for the background and now that I’m about halfway done, I realize it’s not the look I want.

I remember when I first had the lightbulb moment that it’s always possible to fix something in needlework. You can change things, you can change your mind, you can start over. You can really make your project whatever you want it to be. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single project where I didn’t run into some kind of snag along the way.

Even to this day, I still try to learn something new with every project: There’s too much to learn to ever know it all! I approach every project as an opportunity to learn something – and the finished piece always gives me a sense of accomplishment.

When did you start using CraftOptics glasses?

I bought my first pair in 2019.

I believe I first saw them at a trade show—Kelly Clark was demonstrating at her booth and had a pair. I’m not 100% sure they were CraftOptics but I’m guessing they were. At that point, my eyes didn’t bother me—I didn’t even wear glasses—so I didn’t give them a lot of thought, but I did notice them.

I had started to use a magnification lamp, more for the light. And then I started using the magnifying glass. But there were challenges with that: I couldn’t take that big ol’ lamp with me everywhere I went and if you bumped the lamp that was a problem, too. I think I came across CraftOptics on Facebook and called the company to learn more.

I got to talk with Lynn (CraftOptics’ on-staff optician) and she answered all my questions and walked me step by step through how the glasses worked. I’ll admit I gasped a bit when I saw the price tag, but I decided it was worth it: They were a business expense and my eyes aren’t getting any younger!

Tell us why you love CraftOptics.

They are truly amazing. Now I can take my needlework anywhere I go—including the doctor’s office. My mother is 87 so we go to the doctor a lot.

If I didn’t have these, I wouldn’t be able to work on the fine 18 mesh canvas, which I love—being able to see that was huge for me! Having CraftOptics has meant I never had to give anything up, I could just move seamlessly from being able to do this sort of fine work with my glasses, to being able to do it with CraftOptics. Having something that gives you twice the magnification is huge—I don’t think people fully appreciate what that means until you try them.

One thing I can’t stress enough: Get the WOW package with the DreamBeam light. It makes such a huge difference. You can use it in low light, good light, no light. It doesn’t matter. It is such a good, good light—if you don’t make the investment, I think you’ll regret it.

One last thing. The founder of CraftOptics (Charles Caplan) was a dentist (who created and introduced this product to dentistry). You can tell that he perfected these over a long period of time and really thought of everything.

Anything else you’d like to add?

As wonderful as the glasses are, I have to rave just as much or even more about the customer service: It is truly outstanding. Having been a retail store owner, I know how hard it is to deliver exceptional customer service, and CraftOptics really does. That’s huge.

Where can people see more of your work?

Visit my website, check out my Facebook page or my Instagram.