BY TATIANA FERRARO, CLASS OF 2014 —
If you thought needlepoint was just a hobby your grandmother loved doing, you should probably think again. The art of needlepoint continues to thrive in a little shop in the heart of Philadelphia. Located in Center City, Rittenhouse Needlepoint is a hobbyists business owned by Russell Palmer and Stephen Janick. The owners Russell and Stephen are partners in life and business.
“We build small businesses from our hobbies with the intent on selling them, We have sold all the businesses we have started in the past and will do the same with this one some day,” Russell Palmer said.
Rittenhouse was established 4 years ago by owners Russell and Stephen. “We built Rittenhouse needlepoint from scratch,” Russell said. (The shop is located on 1737 Chestnut Street on the 2nd floor, on the Northeast corner of 18th and Chestnut streets above the T-Mobile.)
There are not too many full-service needlepoint shops left in the United States, but owner, Russell Palmer doesn’t believe needlepoint is a lost art form.
“No, we would not agree with this statement. Where needlepoint is a niche market it has a great following and not just with the hobbyist type people,” Russell said.
In fact, Needlepoint was recently seen on the runway during Milan Fashion Week for Dolce and Gabbana’s Fall 2012 collection. It was a baroque inspired needlepoint. Clearly needlepoint is fashionable again.
Rittenhouse is a place that inspires that. The owners refer to Rittenhouse as a full-service needlepoint shop. “We are 1 or 3 in the USA that does everything needlepoint under one roof. Full retail store with 137 lines of thread, accessories, books, stands, and 2500-3000 canvases at any given month in stock,” said Russell.
The staff at Rittenhouse includes finishers, painters, charting custom designs, and woodworkers. “There’s finishers on staff building pillows, ornaments, Christmas stockings, wood trays, ottoman’s with upholstery, etc,” said Russell. Rittenhouse also has a charity program.
Rittenhouse has the largest online shopping website with over 40,000 items. “We have been lucky to come across many people that love needlepoint and will email designs that they like from fabrics, magazines, schools, logo’s, or Google images and have them painted, stitched and finished by our shop,” said Russell.
Many of these needlepoint lovers don’t actually stitch themselves. “As an example we have a customer in Michigan who sent her dining chair inserts that are in poor condition. Our painter took the fabric off to use as a template to reproduce the covers in needlepoint from photos that the customer sent. Our woodworker will reconstruct the entire wood frame insert. Our upholsterer will apply the finished/stitched canvases to the inserts at a later date,” said Russell.
Needlepoint is considered to be a meditative art by some. “Everyone’s descriptions of needlepoint is different. Mine is that it is a meditative art. I have an essential tremor which is a direvitive of Parkinsons, when I stitch the shaking stops,” said Russell.
Wendy Neale is an employee at Rittenhouse. She has been the store manager for over three years. “I started needlepointing in my late teens but learned to embroider when I was about 5 years old. I would consider it one of my hobbies,” Neale said.
“Needlepoint is a lost art probably partly due to everything being machine made for cost -effectiveness. It is an expensive hobby that can only be enjoyed by a relative few,” she said.
Needlepoint is a very specific kind of art, it requires much concentration and patience. “Needlepoint is a little bit like painting by numbers, but the real art form comes from using decorative stitches and alternative fibers to create texture and visual interest. It is also a very therapeutic and meditative hobby if someone does not want to go the creative route so it is appealing to all types of personalities and abilities,” she said.
Teresa Percontino is a full-time student at the University of the Arts in Center City Philadelphia. She has a part-time job as a finisher at Rittenhouse. “As a finisher, I don’t needlepoint, but rather construct customers finished needlepoints into whatever they desire, such as pillows, Christmas stockings, ornaments, coasters, eyeglass casses, and so on,” she said.
Needlepoint is in demand more than ever during the holiday season. “I would say needle point is currently in demand since we are very busy in the finishing department for the holidays,” Teresa said.
Needlepoint has been growing in popularity for decades and like knitting has its up and down years. While Needlepoint’s popularity is on the rise, but there are still many shops that are closing. It could be assumed that maybe these shops aren’t embracing the technology and future of this specific art. It’s a very expensive hobby and for that reason it is hard for many people to start a shop like Rittenhouse, which, according to the owners, is very successful.
Russell Palmer and Stephen Janick strive to keep their pricing below the national averages. They have gotten into a lot of trouble with this philosophy because some vendors won’t sell to them as their mark up is not the norm, which is too bad for them!
Go to Rittenhouse’s new home page www.myneedlepoint.com and there you will be able to see all of the divisions of Rittenhouse. The owners are very proud of their charity site as well which teaches people of low income and other disabilities the art of needlepoint and the wonder of its meditative abilities.