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Photos: Coquitlam group finds therapy in needlearts — 'It's our valium'

“This is a very important part of my life,” said Melanie Nicholson, who in June will head to Edmonton for a retreat  with nine other Coquitlam NeedleArts Guild members.

Three times a month, except in the summer, a couple dozen members with the Coquitlam NeedleArts Guild meet to finish their projects, join a workshop, share their knowledge and a giggle.

Using magnifying glasses and head lamps to get a clear view of the thread on their canvases, they toil in embroidery, cross stitch, blackwork, whitework, knitting, gold work, Hardanger and crewel work. “Anything with a needle,” said president Jan Poersch.

Started in the Expo year 1986, after placing an advertisement in the Tri-City News, the guild gathered at the Poirier Community Centre under co-founders Joan Smith and Penney Hook as “a group of ladies who like to stitch,” said Poersch, who now calls Port Coquitlam home.

Now, it boasts 39 members who regularly drop in for a “bitch and stitch” at the Coquitlam Legion on the first Saturday of the month from noon to 8 p.m., as well as at the Lions Club in Pitt Meadows on the second and fourth Monday of the month from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Their hours are long to accommodate daytime workers.

“It’s an incredible group of people. We enjoy each others’ company. And I truly believe that I can phone anybody here and four people would just show up,” said Hook, a retired SD43 library assistant.

Their aim, Poersch joked, is to get at least one stitch in per meeting. “It’s needle in, needle out, but we also do a lot of talking in between.”

Six members go back decades when they were with the Lougheed Area Girl Guides; together, they nurtured their needlearts passion. “It’s a huge stress relief because it puts you in your own little space,” said Sue Loewen of Chilliwack. “It’s satisfying to see the result.”

Others also spoke about the hobby being their form of therapy. “This is our valium, creating and being with each other,” said Melanie Nicholson, who is with the Embroiderers’ Association of Canada and has taken seminars with instructors from England to Australia.

Among her teachers was Tanja Berlin, who did goldwork for royalty.

Needlearts is not dead, the members make clear: Football players have been seen stitching or knitting on the sidelines during games; British swimmers have also taken up stitching needles when on the pool bleachers. Even Vanna White, the letter turner on the TV show Wheel of Fortune, has a series of books and patterns on crocheting.

As well, many young people are also picking up the craft to relax.

“This is a very important part of my life,” said Nicholson, who in June will head to Edmonton for a retreat, hosted by Alberta Embroidery,  with nine other Coquitlam guild members. “It’s going to a road trip that’s fun, without our spouses, kids and pets, and a lot laughter.”

To attend a Coquitlam NeedleArts Guild meeting, drop in or call 604-944-0560. The first meeting is free; bring your own patterns, materials and supplies. The annual membership cost is $60.