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The Needlepoint Project of the Women of St. John's

Along with the Altar Guild, the "‘Women of St. John‘s“ has contributed an enormous amount of time and talent to St. John‘s over the years. Now no longer a formal organization within the church, this group of women was extremely vibrant during the 1960s through 1980s. Their activities encompassed fund raising, outreach, improvement of the sanctuary and other church spaces, and Bible study. One of their biggest undertakings was the needlepoint project, whose results are still very visible to us today in the upholstery on the altar rail kneelers, the acolyte kneelers, other prayer kneelers and on the seat and back of the Bishop‘s chair. A later article will treat some of their other accomplishments.

Because several of the women who participated in that group have moved elsewhere or passed away, it has been a little more difficult to gather information about its history than about that of the Altar Guild. Three key figures from the group‘s most active period, St. John‘s members Jackie Perry, Janet Redd (now living in Virginia Beach). and Betty Lewis (now living in Williamsburg) contributed their recollections to this article. In addition, needlepoint designer Margaret Perritt (now living in Gloucester County) provided information from her well-kept records.

Trudy Bland made initial contact with Margaret Perritt in a letter dated April 1, 1977. Margaret had done needlepoint designs for St. Mark‘s Episcopal Church in Richmond, and her reputation had spread to West Point and beyond. She immediately agreed to collaborate with the women‘s group, on the condition that she be allowed to enforce strict standards of quality and craftsmanship. Those who wanted to participate in the project had to submit a sample of their work to Margaret for evaluation. In the opinion of all the women interviewed, Trudy Bland herself did outstanding needlework. and the greatest amount as well. After Margaret selected the samples that met her standards, each woman received a specific design to work on. The various designs. along with the names of the women who stitched them, are shown on the following page.

Margaret frequently drove from Richmond to West Point to check on the progress and quality of the work. She says that of all the projects she has ever done, she enjoyed this one the most. She had told Trudy that she would come to West Point monthly at no extra charge, if the women would provide lunch for her, and she has fond memories of the food and hospitality she received here. Betty Lewis recalls that after she had worked for some time on her piece, it was discovered that, through no fault of her own, she had proceeded in the wrong direction. She agreed to redo it, but did not trust herself to tear out the stitches without damaging the underlying fabric. So Margaret took the fabric back to Richmond and returned it in pristine condition on her next visit.

After finishing the kneelers, the group also wanted to do needlepoint upholstery for the Bishop‘s chair. But by that time, they did not have enough money to undertake the project. Margaret belonged to a Richmond garden club, and she knew that its members would enjoy visiting some of the beautiful old houses and estates in West Point and vicinity. So she and the Women of St. John‘s collaborated in organizing a day trip to West Point, complete with an elegant luncheon. The fees which the Richmond women paid for the event enabled the St. John‘s women to fund the Bishop‘s chair project. Margaret recalls that the actual upholstering was done by a man named Leo Kutner, who was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The kneelers and Bishop‘s chair were dedicated on Easter Sunday, April 19, 1981. Thus the project extended over a period of four years. This is not surprising, given that, according to Margaret, one square inch of needlepoint takes at least an hour and a half to produce.