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Sunday, February 16, 2020

The “well-dressed” tallis or tefillin bag is proudly adorned with colorful needlepoint scenery, turning a mere piece of fabric into an heirloom treasure. Needlepoint, traditionally defined as embroidery stitched on canvas, can give the most mundane object, like a luggage tag or lampshade, designer status. A skilled needlepointer can create a stunning piece of art, to be admired on a wall or a shelf.

Michele Mandel and Renee Seidman, co-owners of Gone Stitching in Bergenfield, have been helping people with the craft of needlepoint for 10 years. They guide customers in picking out patterns from their large collection or on websites, and do custom designs for people who want to turn an idea into a project. Not sure where to begin? They will show you how. “We teach everyone, whether you are a beginner or have been doing needlepoint for 40 years,” said Mandel. “You may have learned from your family or a friend, but never learned why you should do it a certain way, and why it matters. Teaching is infused in everything we do.”

“That’s what brings people in here,” Seidman added. “Most shops do not teach. You buy a canvas and walk out.” The store holds group classes and monthly classes by mail, sending out kits with thread and instructions.

Throughout the day, women (mostly, but not exclusively) will stop in to search for a pattern, or find just the right color in Gone Stitching’s vast selection of thread. But sometimes they come with a work in progress, to ask a question about how to master a certain technique, or get an opinion on how to proceed, often staying for a while to schmooze and stitch.

Mandel said that women often begin needlepointing when their oldest son is approaching bar mitzvah age and they want to make him tallis and tefillin bags. After mastering the first one, they continue. “More and more people want heirlooms, something for their children and grandchildren to remember them,” she said. “People will come in to replace a zipper on a tefillin bag they’ve had for 40 years. Kids always appreciate the effort that went into making it, though maybe not at the moment.”

Judaica is a Gone Stitching specialty. Rows of patterns display Jewish themes, including a wall-hanging titled “Keepers of the Flame,” and a Pesach seder plate to cover matzah. Mandel designs siddur covers with a needlepoint panel completed by the customer, which Seidman attaches to suede backing. Needlepoint can add a personal touch to a lulav bag, an atara (crown, or band placed by the neck on a tallis), even a chuppah.

A needlepoint chuppah is not for the person who wants instant gratification, but the reward of a custom-made wedding centerpiece is motivating. Karen Barel was already an accomplished needlepointer who advanced her skills with Gone Stitching’s classes and projects. Last June, she began planning the wedding of her daughter Nicole, an architectural design major at Cornell University, and asked Seidman to help them make a needlepoint panel for the front of the chuppah. “Nicole wanted to do the design, so I gave her the working dimensions and said, ‘Now draw,’” Seidman related. “Then I put it on the canvas and painted it.” Now Barel is in the homestretch of needlepointing the chuppah for a July wedding.

Alice Marcus is combining two loves: Asian art and needlepointing. She just completed a needlepoint kimono, embellished with a padded flower stitched on top that will be attached to a lampshade. She has the perfect spot for her new lamp on an antique desk. While Seidman and Mandel usually do the finishing work, Marcus is doing it all herself.

Gone Stitching often brings in noted experts in the craft to give classes. Miriam Stiefel had one tallis bag under her belt when she signed up for a class with needlepoint guru Tony Minieri. Her canvas depicts shoes in many styles and colors, and also sports a padded silk ribbon, giving the design even more depth. The framed wall-hanging adds a lively touch to her entry hall.

Needlepoint also makes beautiful children’s room decorations. Gone Stitching has a line of Gucci-inspired initials that several women are using to make letter pillows for grandchildren. One creative customer is making a needlepoint poster of her child’s life, with sports figures and logos of camp and school. Needlepointed stuffed animals—to look at, not to play with—add a whimsical touch to the decor of children’s bedrooms.

Both Gone Stitching partners grew up in homes where stitching was an integral part of their mothers’ lives and they learned as well, first at home and then with more formal classes. The women met when Mandel moved to the area and joined the shul where the Seidmans belonged. Before long, they were helping their friends and giving small classes. Opening a business together was the next step. After starting in their homes, Gone Stitching opened at 31 South Washington Avenue, Bergenfield in 2008.

Seidman is the main artist, painter and designer; Mandel takes cares of the books and inventory. Both partners and the staff teach. “We work off the same playlist,” Mandel said. “Customers have a warm, inviting experience here. When they come in, anyone can help.”

By Bracha Schwartz