Monday, December 25, 2023

The Needlepoint Dads For Christmas

It's Christmas 2023 and as a special holiday treat, below is an interview I did in November with Dan Blackwelder and Harvey Kravis who have collaborated as The Needlepoint Dads to produce Dan's original designs as counted canvaswork charts.

Because we knew that the NP Dads would also be doing an interview on Fiber Talk with Gary Parr in December, I held my interview.  If you have time, you'll enjoy hearing from the guys in their own words at Fiber Talk's site or on YouTube.

If you are pressed for time, you can read their answers to my questions below.  As always, there are links to the Needlepoint Dads' website, Instagram and Facebook pages at the very bottom of this page plus other sources to learn more about Dan's designs and Harvey's work to bring them to fellow needlepointers.



Dan:  I’ve never really been asked to talk about or explain my work.  But now that I have been asked, it is kind of interesting to put together some thoughts and replies.

I can’t recall anyone in my family, doing any sort of needlework, crocheting, knitting, or even sewing. So no, I did not grow up with that influence around me. However, I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and textile mills were the predominant industry.  There were probably six or seven mills in our town.  I was never really involved in that, but maybe some of that DNA seeped into my being.

In the early 70s, I became interested in weaving. I bought a loom and began experimenting with different natural fibers.  Pretty soon I was being represented by a gallery here in San Francisco and did a few commissioned “art” pieces for Bank of America. But what I really enjoyed more was producing yardage of fabric that could be used in a more practical way. I showed some samples of my work to Gumps, a high end department store here in San Francisco, and their interior design department commissioned me to do fabric for a particular chair they sold. I really found this to be quite rewarding as I liked the physical work of turning out yardage. That relationship lasted a couple of years until they and I moved on to other things.

When did I first pick up a needle?  In the early 80s, we had a house up in the country north of San Francisco. One weekend, some friends came up for a visit, and a guest of a guest brought along her needlepoint bag. So on a rainy morning in the redwoods of Sonoma  county she started stitching, and I was instantly drawn to it. In a matter of just a few minutes she showed me how to do basketweave, and from that point, I was off and running. Just like most people new to needlepoint, I was buying painted canvas kits of things that appealed to me. Pretty soon I was much more drawn to geometric designs as I was making these into pillows for friends, and I thought those designs were easier to incorporate into their  home environment than a picture of something. When I become interested in something, I tend to overdo it.  Eating is a good example.   I produced a lot of work over the next few years, mostly as gifts to friends.  My partner said at the time, "My God, you’ve done enough needlepoint to carpet the White House.”   A bit of an exaggeration, but I’m sure there was a compliment in there somewhere.

After playing with geometrics I started experimenting on my own…winging it as I stitched.  I found it much more interesting than working from a painted canvas.

What inspires my designs?  That's a bit hard to answer as most of these pieces are just “in my head”.  However, once in a while, I will see something that I find interesting and let it be an influencer in a new piece.  Most of my things are original from start to finish.  I certainly start with some sort of idea of what I want it to be, but often the piece begins to more or less define itself as I go.  When I posted my first few pieces on NeedIepoint Nation I mentioned in the posting that these were all freehand and done on a blank canvas. Lots of people found that fascinating and would ask me questions about it.  I have never drawn anything on the canvas, and I also don’t recall ever sketching anything on a piece of paper.  That said, I have had a few pieces that weren’t coming along as I had hoped, and I abandoned them mid project.

I will say, like any dad, I have my favorites.  ONCE AROUND THE SUN was quite a challenge, particularly in the beginning. I almost abandoned it, but hung in there, as it began to take shape.  Now it is one of the ones of which I am most proud.  The others that I am very fond of are the African pieces. Serengeti and Sahara. From my interest in weaving, I had admired fabric that was woven on a backstrap loom. This is a very small primitive way of weaving.  For those not familiar, the weaving surface is very narrow, because the loom is attached to a persons waist, and the other end most likely to a tree or some stable object to give it the tension required. This method is most commonly used by nomadic tribal people who were constantly moving from place to place and couldn't transport cumbersome equipment.  After enough woven strips are completed they are sewn together to make a larger piece of fabric. Usually the different strips don’t match up perfectly when they are assembled and I think that is what gives them the quality that I most admire.  Those African pieces definitely remain among my favorites.

Even though I have been stitching for years, I am only recently a member of Facebook's Needlepoint Nation. One day a few months ago I was wondering if there was a Facebook group for needlepointers. Well duh, there is a Facebook group for just about anything you can imagine.  So I joined, and posted a few of my pieces. The response was overwhelming, and I was most flattered at the kind things people had to say.  One of those people is Harvey Kravis.  He and I exchanged a few pleasantries about our work.  Then at one point, Harvey floated the idea of us collaborating on a website to sell charts of my designs. I didn’t even know what a chart was but the offer sounded interesting so we started pursuing it. Hopefully I made very clear to Harvey from the beginning that I had absolutely no technical skills to make this happen. Just sending an email is a personal victory for me.  The term Luddite doesn’t even begin to describe my ignorance of technology.  (If allowed, I can plead  “age”, as I am 81.) Harvey, with his oversized brain assured me that he could take care of that end of it, and he certainly has. He has spent lots of tedious hours, putting our website together and charting my work and it was quite a thrill for both of us when our website finally made its debut.  We are still in the first few weeks since the website launched, and already we have more sales than we expected.  We even had one person from France download our free chart BW Squares.   Multiple people have purchased more than one chart!

Do other male needlepointers hang out together?  Not to my knowledge.   I know we are in the great minority, but I did hear from several men in the group who were curious and perhaps felt an affinity with another male stitcher.  I see no reason why more men shouldn’t take up this hobby, but I think that is a more complicated discussion for another time.  For me, I have always been a rather active person and found it difficult to stop and take a moment for myself. Meditation was impossible for me.  Needlepoint has certainly provided that opportunity. I feel it is calming and a bit contemplative. I do notice as probably many others have as well that time passes very quickly when I am lost in a project.

I did have one thought to add that might resonate with all who stitch.  The thing that appeals to me most….other than the satisfying hours of stitching, is the integrity of the final product.   I think of mine as a fine piece of fabric with a future of many years of enjoyment.  I like the look, the feel and the durable substance of something I helped create.  My pieces always end up as pillows to be used in a very utilitarian way.  Gives me pleasure to think they might be comfortably enjoyed by someone.



Harvey, were you self-taught or did family members do a lot of needlework so that this was something you just came to naturally?

I had 2 aunts that did needlepoint and I thought it was interesting.  I was about 16-17 years old and watching a lot of tv, and thought it would be an interesting hobby to make that time productive.  At first I thought I would be ridiculed, but I got inspiration from Rosie Grier, a well-known professional football player (and the guy who tackled Sirhan Sirhan after Bobby Kennedy was shot).  My aunts did pillow kits so that’s how I started.  One of them taught me how to do the basic half-cross tent stitch.  I still have that pillow 50 years later. I did one more kit which I had blocked, and then I started designing my own.  

My first self-designed piece was a backgammon board with dice on each triangle to count the positions, and a large pair of 3-dimensional dice in the middle.  It’s the only piece I ever put glass on, and I regretted it because it wasn’t museum quality. There was always glare and reflections when trying to take a picture.  I also learned about dye lots, because I ran out of the red background color and the yarn I bought later didn’t match well. In my mid twenty’s I designed a large replica of a Jack Daniel’s label.  Took many months to get the lettering just right on graph paper, and the curlicues.  Then life happened, marriage, two kids, and a 27-year gap between projects.  

Next was a large replica of the King of Spades.  Shortly thereafter I found StitchCraft software.  That opened up a whole new world because it could import a digital photo and spit out a chart in seconds.  After a few easy pieces I tried a Picasso.  I needed persuasion to even attempt it.  48 colors, are you kidding?  Well, that was just the beginning of what I call my masterpieces, well known works of art by the masters including Renoir, Monet, Botticelli, Kandinsky, and Seurat (in progress).  Most of those had around 75 colors with the Kandinsky topping out at an insane 87.  Most of my projects are roughly 2’ x 3’, take 3 years to complete and have around 132K stitches.

How do you choose the artworks you reproduce in needlepoint?  Do you have favorite artists or styles that attract you?

My wife, Lin-Mei, is well-versed in art history.  I never do a piece without getting her blessing.  Two of the pieces I did, Renoir’s Dance at Bougival, and Monet’s La Japonaise, are native to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  We were members and would see those paintings frequently.  The styles of Picasso, Botticelli, the Impressionist pieces of Renoir and Monet, and the Kandinsky couldn’t be more different.  The thing they have in common is they are famous artworks by famous artists.  Except for the Kandinsky, they have all featured women.  I’ve seen most of them available as needlepoint kits, but they are much smaller and less detailed than my productions.

Am I right that you two met on Facebook's Needlepoint Nation when you both started showing off your work?

Although Dan and I do different styles of needlepoint art, we were both awed by each other’s work and the responses from the Needlepoint Nation audience.  There is definitely a sense of comradery being men in group with few of them. When I saw that folks were asking about charts for Dan’s work, I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in a “joint venture” with him being the creative genius and me being the chartist.  I was a software developer before I retired so I also have technical skills that come in handy for developing the website, etc.  My daughter came up with the name Needlepoint Dad for me years ago.  She wanted to promote it on social media somehow, not necessarily for a business, but just for recognition.  We pluralized it and Dan liked the name so we went with it.

How long did it take to set up a website and Facebook page?

It took about one day to create the content for the site and the FB page.  It took about four days to set up the website on Squarespace.  That included consulting from my daughter, a UX designer who designs web sites for a living.  She added a lot of nuances that makes it that much better than what I could design on my own.  The FB page took a few days, spread over several weeks.  That included designing our cover photo and profile pic which has become our logo.  It took a couple of weeks spread over a couple of months to create the charts.  In some cases I could do it from a picture, and in others Dan shipped me the finished pieces so that I could accurately count and select the proper colors.

How do you see the world of needlepoint evolving?  Do you hang out with other stitchers?  Do you have a shop that supplies you with everything from threads to blank canvas to cheerleading and inspiration?  Do you have a local stitching group you recommend to others?

Most people don’t have the patience to work on large pieces with 75+ colors that take 3 years to complete.  Many seem content to do more practical, functional pieces like pillows and Christmas stockings, belts, and reasonably sized pictures for framing.  I don’t see that changing.  But I think you will see more folks start to do custom pieces.  There are websites where you can upload a digital picture and they will produce a chart for you.  It’s a service I’ve been thinking about providing for a long time, and a service that Needlepoint Dads may provide in the future.


When I lived in Massachusetts I bought my supplies from the World of Stitches in Littleton, MA.  I became good friends with the owner, Randi Nelson.  She’s been a great mentor and cheerleader.  She even had a showing of my work in her shop for a couple of weeks a few years ago.  Randi stopped selling my yarn of choice, Appleton tapestry wool, so I began getting my yarn online from various stores.  I’ve never stitched in a group setting.

Anything else you want folks to know about Needlepoint Dads?

We’d love to get feedback from the Contact page of the website, or directly to regarding pricing, preferred mesh count, and yarn vendor preference for the charts we are providing.  Also, we still have many of Dan’s pieces that we plan to chart, and he is still coming up with new designs, so stay tuned!  You can do that by following us on the FB page Needlepoint Dads, and we’ll post them in Needlepoint Nation and other related FB groups when they are available.


We are not selling kits, we are only selling charts.  Customers have to acquire their canvas, threads, and needles on their own.  If we ever do sell kits we would drop ship the materials from a needlepoint shop to the customer.  In other words, we would place the order with an online store and have it shipped to the customer.  The customer would pay us for the materials and a convenience fee, and we would place the order on their behalf.  We would love to get feedback, positive or negative, on this idea.



To learn more about the Needlepoint Dads and to see Dan Blackwelder's designs, visit the Needlepoint Dad website and their Facebook page.

The Needlepoint Dads do Instagram, too.

To see Harvey Karvis' stitching based mostly on classic art, visit this interview with Harvey...

...and view this YouTube profile of his work.  We recommend you fast-forward through the first five minutes of the introduction as it is in Chinese.

Needlepoint Inc. is translating some of Dan's work into a painted canvas.  The first things may be ready in January 2024 although nothing is on the NP Inc. website yet.

Written by Jane/Chilly Hollow
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© Copyright December 15, 2023 Jane M. Wood. All rights reserved.