The Needle’s Excellency

hero image
The Needle's Excellency
15 Feb 2010

Maybe it was a coincidence, but then again, maybe it was an intentional act of marketing genius. The storefront was eye-catching; warm light that cast an ethereal glow through slightly fogged panes of glass and floor to ceiling, wall-mounted canvases that created a remarkable display of design and color. The sign said, “The Needle’s Excellency”.

It was within six blocks of the hospital and I’d passed that storefront twice each day during my treks back and forth for treatment. It was psychological and it was subliminal, the word “needles” being very much on my mind. For months I’d been wanting to stop in and have a closer look, but I was too fatigued to make the effort. The day I finally made it inside the shop, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

Definitely I was “the kid”, since the demographic composition of students attending class on that particular morning tended to run one or two generations ahead of me. It was a circle of intensely occupied needlewomen, all engaged in the craft of fiber art and, upon closer inspection, each individual piece proved more exquisite than the next.

Having no idea where to begin, I purchased a small needlepoint kit that came with prepackaged fibers (you quickly learn to stop referring to it as “thread”). After knocking it off in a week, I returned for another kit. After two more kits, I selected a larger project and signed up for classes. There was something soothing about it and the irony was obvious: while medical needles provided a gateway for chemotherapeutic demolition, these needles provided a gateway for a different kind of therapy: restorative, creative, healing. I was putting artistic pieces of myself firmly into this world as a keepsake.

The other women attending classes, some for over 20 years, had formed connections over time. They shared their stories, bits of fiber that formed the tapestries of their lives, and I listened. Many of them were coping with medical conditions or life-threatening illnesses and had discovered the shop on their way to or from the hospital. There was a broad background mix, but a substantial percentage of women were working on canvases with Judaic themes: challah covers, t’filin bags, decorative atarah neckbands for the tallit, Israeli landscapes.

The store’s proprietress, Amrita Goldberg, is a gifted teacher, a talented master crafter, an artist extraordinare. As she moves round-robin among the circle of women in attendance, she teaches complex stitchery, lends advice on the use of fiber, dispenses praise, gently directs or offers corrections. I’ve come to view her as an art therapist, a shaman of sorts, a healer. I realized this was a shared perception when one woman jokingly remarked, “Needlepoint is an organic form of relaxation and I have something beautiful to show for it! So, nu…who needs valium?”

Those daily treks to the hospital are behind me now, but I’m still a regular at the shop six blocks away. For me, it’s become a sanctuary. My canvases are filled with twisted linen, turquoise, purple and scarlet wool: a woven design, a view of Jerusalem, the work of an embroiderer. I pray for continued good health, the ingathering of exiles, the rebuilding of a tabernacle with ten curtains. May Har Ha-Bayit be restored speedily in our days by master crafters who ply their art with wood, metal, precious stones, and the needle’s excellency.

The Needle’s Excellency is located at 1630 Central Street, Evanston, Illinois, 60201. (847)864-8228

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.