Get Thready for the 60th Annual Needlework Festival

Needlework Festival in Woodlawn Mansion

Almost every year for the past 60-plus years, embroidery and needlework enthusiasts have gathered at historic Woodlawn Mansion to celebrate all aspects of needlework. This year, more than 200 needlework artists submitted nearly 400 works of needlework art to the Needlework Festival.

At this longstanding festival, you’ll find needle art ranging from humorous to the very ambitious. All represented through a variety of needlework techniques, ranging from beadwork to cross stitch. You can find exquisite needlepoint and silk ribbon embroidery. With the historic mansion as backdrop, you’ll also find fine hand sewing, smocking and multi-stitch samplers and more.

Each year, a group known as Nelly’s Needlers organize the Needlework Festival. The festival raises funds in support of Woodlawn Mansion, a Georgian/Federal house designed by William Thornton. (If his name is familiar to you, he was also the architect of the U.S. Capitol.) The plantation also has ties to George Washington. More on that below!

Little Known Benefits of Needlework

Just going to the Needlework Festival is good for you! Did you know art can help you manage anxiety? Appreciating art — whether the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, or a pleasing piece of embroidery — helps reduce anxiety. But needlework artists have long known the satisfaction of completing their craft. The Home Sewing Association found that people lowered their blood pressure and decreased their heart rate by taking up cross-stitch. In fact, embroidering apparently releases neurotransmitters that promote joy and well-being, while simultaneously reducing stress hormones.

I recently took up “slow stitching,” a modern-folk art form of embroidery with deep roots in other traditions. Slow stitching is a fusion of Japanese Sheshenko embroidery and boro traditions with appliqué, fabric collage and visible mending. I found samples of “slow stitching” at the Needlework Festival labeled as “surface embroidery.” For me, slow stitching is a form of meditation or being mindful. In fact, embroidering, or hand stitching, keeps us in the moment by silencing the parts of the brain responsible for generating negative emotions.

A Brief History of Woodlawn

George Washington once owned the farm that became Woodlawn. In 1799, he presented Woodlawn as a wedding gift for nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, his step granddaughter. Lawrence, Nelly and their family enslaved at least 90 men, women and children over the almost 50 years they owned the plantation, a story that Woodlawn intends to do a better job of representing in the future.

However, Quaker timber merchants purchased the plantation in 1846 as a radical experiment. Could a plantation be farmed successfully with paid labor? Indeed, yes, they learned. They formed an agricultural cooperative society of free Black and Quaker landowners — a cooperative that lasted for 90 years.

In the early 1900s, Woodlawn’s new owners worked to restore the property, which had fallen into disrepair over the years. Later, another notable resident inhabited the mansion. Alabama Senator Oscar Underwood, best known for his opposition to the Ku Klux Klan and Prohibition, lived in the house between 1925 and his death in 1929.

Know Before You Go

Also on the property, and well worth touring since you’re already right there for the needlework festival, is a Frank Lloyd Wright house! Originally located in nearby Falls Church, the Pope–Leighey House, named for its two owners, is a Usonian, suburban home.

Regular guided tours of Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House begin mid-April 2023.

Nancy Buckley, “Antique Camelback Couch with Fox Hunt Scene,” Canvaswork, traditional.

Getting there: 9000 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, VA
Hours: The needlework festival lasts through the month of March (annually). Closed on Tuesdays; open from Wednesday to Monday each week, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Website: Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House

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