The Piedmont Virginian's Blog

Serving and Celebrating America's Historic Heart

Zen and the Art of Needlework

By Pam Kamphuis

While organizing a photo essay on the “Lace Ladies” that will appear in the forthcoming spring issue, I found myself musing and pondering the role of arts and crafts in everyday life.

Years ago, I read an article about the return of the popularity of the “Needle Arts” after September 11, 2001. I cannot find it or credit it, but the main points stuck with me. The terrorist attacks shook women to the core. It awakened needs in them that had been buried in womankind for decades, maybe even close to centuries. The need to connect with other women, of past, present, and future as well as the need to produce something tangible and handmade, even to the point of feeling that you are leaving something of yourself on this earth– something to be treasured by future generations. Needle Arts, as implied, pretty much covers anything made with a needle and/or with textiles. So knitting, sewing, crocheting, beading, embroidery, weaving, would all apply. Along with lace-making. Which I will get to.

I am, perhaps, like many women today; I am busy, constantly thinking and planning, constantly moving (even if it’s just at a computer keyboard), and never doing less than 3 things at once. I am aware, of course, that I should do a number of things differently. . . exercising, relaxing more, deep breathing exercises, meditation, etc. But I have such a hard time doing those things… all I can think about is all the things I have to do when I finish my “relaxation”  It’s not terribly relaxing.

But a few years ago, I took up beading-I used the tiny seed beads and did what was called bead weaving. Basically a needle, thread, and picking up a bead after each stitch. It was a very repetitive process, but quite soothing. Once you get going, you develop a rhythm, and soon your breathing matches it and your mind empties a little. In a good way, I mean. Although purists would perhaps not agree, I believe it had the qualities of meditation. Except you were also producing something while you were at it. Which was perfect for people like me who feel they must be productive at all times.

I met Anita Barry, president of the Piedmont Lace Guild, briefly for coffee DSC_0305when I picked up the examples of lace she had to be photographed for an upcoming article, and while we sat, she tatted, which is making lace by knotting thread with a shuttle. She showed me the basic knots she was using, and the importance of keeping the correct tension on certain areas of the thread. So the similarities struck me, as I watched her tat, knotting and shuttling back and forth, the thread working through her fingers steadily and evenly. It is not a simple thing, by any means-I’m sure it takes quite a while to learn. But I couldn’t help thinking as I watched her, as she knotted automatically, subconsciously, while she talked, that I should have taken this up instead of beading. After mastering the basic knots, I could have churned out MILES of this stuff as I sat at baseball and soccer games when the kids were growing up. So small and handy, just a small shuttle and thread. No annoying little beads that roll all over the place!

There are many things you cannot do while working with beads, or lace, or any needle art: watching tv, surfing the internet, answering emails, texting, cooking dinner, etc. As far as I can tell, there are only 2 things you can do while needle-art-ing. DSC_0317You can listen to music, and it gives you the opportunity to really listen, not just having it in the background all day. But the most important thing you can do is: to talk. Really talk to people. The feel of the thread or yarn or fibers or beads sliding through your hands, the soothing, repetitive motion, the calming of the mind, can actually make for some thoughtful and real conversations. Think back to colonial times, with quilting bees and the like. Community, friendships, gossip, real interaction between women, binding them together while accomplishing tasks that needed to be done anyway. We don’t do that any more. Teleconferences have taken over.

But anyway, this post serves as a sort of wayward introduction to our “Art Gallery” coming up in the spring issue. It will be a photo-essay/article showcasing the lace, hand made locally by the Piedmont Lace Guild in Remington. You will be amazed at the difficulty, intricacy, and beauty of these pieces.

Many thanks to Jordan Koepke at for the print and web photography.


  1. Needle art is on my bucket list! Looking forward to learning more about the Piedmont Lace Guild and seeing their fine work.

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