One of the most exciting events of the Boston period, was when I discovered the ELSA WILLIAMS SCHOOL OF NEEDLEART was located in West Townsend, MA, not too far from where we were living! OMG, I was thrilled to learn this. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the school for a week, staying at the school. Fortunately I wrote up a report of the week and found it in my files. Here’s a summary (the original is 4 pages long!)
The school was housed in an old but restored 2-story house with a long history, called Homer House. It was beautifully decorated with antiques and lots of needleart, both needlepoint and crewel. Each guest room had a different coordinated color scheme, highlighted by needlework pieces. The rooms were attractive and comfortable. Meals were served buffet style and guests dressed for dinner. Dinner was preceded by sherry and appetizers. The menu was not exotic, but not plain, with lots of French sauces, fancy sea food dishes and elegant little desserts. The overall feeling of Homer House is “elegance”
I arrived at the school about 5PM, Sunday, May 25, 1975 and was immediately shown to my room and introduced to my roommate. Once we were unpacked and got a little acquainted, we went down to the living room and met the other students and teachers. There were only 6 students this week, although they often had as many as 15, and we were a varied group but all with a love of needlework. Several were needlework teachers, including Shay Pendray. Our teachers were Maggie McLea and Elsa Williams. There was also a teaching assistant, Elsa’s husband, and the manager of the school, who was a little like a housemother!
After our very first dinner (the food was awesome BTW) we were introduced to the workroom in the basement. Huge room with perfect lighting. One end of the room was all closets containing threads, canvas, linen and more. That first night Maggie and Elsa both talked about the school and its aims and about our course of study, “Design and Techniques of Needlepainting”. We were instructed about color value and strength. We spent the rest of the evening thinking about our first project, which was to be a “scene”, and began sketching.
Breakfast at 8:00 and by 9:00 we were in the workroom ready to go. We worked everyday till noon, lunch, then till 5:00, dinner, and on into the night till we couldn’t keep our eyes open. It was divine.
Maggie taught overdying with a most instructive demonstration. Especially interesting was seeing how different fibers take the dye differently. Today this is pretty well known to many stitchers, but it was all new to me then. While I enjoyed the learning, I did not “take” to dying fibers. Just not me.
Wednesday we toured the yarn factory, which was next door to the school. We saw how they did blocking and finishing, the warehouse, and the kit assembly area. Processes and design were no longer shown because they had had some instances of Industrial Spying! What a shame. In the afternoon we visited an Episcopal church in Keene, NH, to see the needlepoint kneelers they have made and were making, which were beautiful.
During the week, we had several sessions with Herself, Elsa Williams. She talked about the elements of design, about seeing light and dark areas and how to simplify and cartoon a design. She demonstrated stitches and ways to vary a stitch. She also guided us to draw a still life from a real object.
Friday evening was the Silver Thimble Dinner where we all received certificates and sterling silver thimbles. It was very fancy and elegant, complete with champagne and much speechifying!
It was a wonderful week and I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to attend. I learned so much from the Master and the other teachers. I kept in touch with several of the other students for a few years. Subsequently I took a one-day workshop at the school in pulled work. The school closed a few years after I was there.
(Sorry about the weird formatting. Blog has a mind of its own! Especially when you cut & paste!!)