Jeannettes' Needlecraft Shop has been making its point for nearly 4 decades
Jeannettes Needlecraft Shoppe on Coolbrook Ave. (near Queen Mary) is a Montreal landmark, an ongoing tradition of needlepoint.
Converts to this art form still drop in for newer and bigger projects and owner Leonard Katz, who has continued the family business from his mother, says that now younger people are taking up the various art forms through school projects.
"I think this is an exciting and gratifying business to be in," Katz says, "because it’s so enjoyable for the artist and it’s a lot of fun when we demonstrate various techniques to Customers."
Katz first became involved with the shop in 1965 and by 1969 he was already buying materials and canvasses overseas from France, Portugal, Hungary, Germany, England and the Netherlands. He also picked up "the ins and outs of retailing along the way" and literally took over the business overnight.
Today you’ll find a resurgence in needlepoint specially with the Tramme canvases because they are three dimensional and far more sophisticated than painted canvases. Plus there’s a return to traditional works of art so that Gauguin, Renoir and Matisse reproductions are highly popular.
"These reproductions are exquisite," Katz said, "because the people who prepare the canvases are true artisans."
Needlepoint has become sophisticated. You can hand stitch an entire carpet using three thousand different colors. Then again, if you’re a novice, Jeannettes will start you with something small like a cushion or chair seat.
"We carry all the supplies you’ll need, all the instructions and aids. But most importantly we can show you exactly how to accomplish your project with confidence," Katz said.
Aids are tremendous. Suppose you want to work on a huge piece while sitting in a chair. You can purchase a working frame which allows you to work well from several positions while maintaining the correct tension and position of your material.
Jeannettes will finish all your projects professionally. They reupholster, make cushions, block and frame canvases, mount tapestries etc. so that your heirlooms will remain intact. Jeannettes also does museum quality framing for paintings, lithos etc. on their premises as well.
Jeannettes also does "road shows" with needlepoint parties and local demonstrations.
Beyond beauty and durability, needlepoint is a relaxing form of meditation. Your mind is focused yet free to wander. The world around you vanishes.
And as Katz points out, "When I sit on the sofa cushions my late mother made, I feel her arms around me. When you create pieces like these, it’s like putting your very own spirit into them."
Art of tapestry
Hands-on business owner of Jeannette's Needlecraft Shoppe does restorations, finishing, upholstering and framing himself.
JENNIFER M. ELLSON
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Making a point in Montreal is what Jeannette's Needlecraft Shoppe is all about. For more than four decades, the store has been making its point as a Montreal landmark.
Started by Jeannette Katz in 1958, the store describes itself as the largest in Canada to specialize in imported tapestries and exclusive needlepoint canvases.
The shop is known for its Tramme - a kind of canvas that uses yarn, instead of paint, to indicate the pattern.
Now owned and managed by Jeannette's 59-year-old son, Leonard Katz, this Montreal. store is a cross between a needlecraft shop and an art gallery.
Upon entering the 45-year-old store, one would be transported back in time to the Renaissance period, with scenes from that era preserved on tapestries on the wall. Tramme reproductions of da Vinci's The Last Supper are on display. Canvases with replicas of other famous paintings are framed throughout the shop's two levels - some using as much as 2,000 colours and are twice the size of the Mona Lisa.
As expected, tapestries of all styles adorn the store's furniture. Jeannette's own chair from 1939, with flowers embroidered on the cushion, is prominently placed by the entrance.
"The tradition of needlecraft is an art form," Katz said. "Before taking over the store in the 1970s, I went to museums in Germany, England and Austria, which exposed me to the culture of paintings and tapestries," Katz said.
Now the traveling has stopped. He relies more on the Internet to sell and purchase materials.
About 30 per cent of his clients are south of the border, and he imports canvases mostly from Europe.
"The Web is a big part of the business," he said. "We have to watch our expenses when times are tough and the Internet is a great way to cut costs."
He said his international and local clientele are either direct clients of his late mother or their descendants.
"Tapestries become heirlooms, which are passed from generations to generations. In most cases, the descendants go back to the shop their grandparents dealt with."
One such client is 79-year-old Paula Katz, no relation to him.
"This was my mother's hobby," she said. "Now I do it in my spare time to relax."
Even eye surgery did not stop her from doing needlepoint. She recently did a tapestry with 330,000 stitches.
Although older women make up most of the clientele, about 10 per cent of his clients are male, Katz estimated.
"Some of them are doctors who do it to steady their hands for surgery."
Katz said enthusiasts believe the art is therapeutic, especially for stroke victims and people with arthritis.
He relies mostly on word-of-mouth advertising, but also does print and Internet advertising, direct e-mails and a lot of telephone calls to entice clients.
Although he has no formal training in business management, Katz has a strong business knowledge acquired through years of experience. "I learned the hard way," he said with a smile
Katz has no employees and only has his wife, Frayda, to help him. It's an arrangement that cuts costs, but means less vacation time.
"We vacation separately because he is not comfortable leaving the store in someone else's hands," Frayda said.
Indeed, Katz works with his own hands. He does restorations, finishing, upholstering and framing of finished projects himself. He also specializes in tapestry appraisals for insurance companies.
He claims needlecraft is a good investment with its value increasing annually.
"A $5,000 tapestry could easily be worth $25,000 when finished."
One client from Boston has spent over $15,000 on different projects since 1993. These projects are worth more than $100,000 today, according to Katz.
But needlepoint is not only for the rich, he said. Canvases are priced from $25 to $6,000.
"But remember, whether you spend $100 or $1,000, you're creating an heirloom that you can pass to your kids."
He said he will sell the business when he retires, but only to someone with great passion for the art.
"A person has to be happy with what he's doing to succeed in this business, because this is all about making other people happy."
Historic shop Jeannettes is queen of the craft circuit.
The Chronicle West End Edition
February 6th 2008
Leonard Katz, owner of Snowdon's Jeannette's, in front of a 40-year old needlepoint featuring Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, done by his late mother Jeannette Katz.
I was 1 year old at the time, so I missed its1958 opening. I am learning very quickly, however, of the high esteem in which people hold Jeannette’s, a needlecraft and framing store birthed by the late Jeannette Katz. It’s a legendary Snowdon business today, although it has moved all over the West End in its time, from Prud’homme to Queen Mary, to Monkland, back to Queen Mary and to its present location, at 5015 Coolbrook.
Jeannette and her husband, William, traveled across Europe the Azors, Paris, Vienna, Portugal - perusing artistic masterpieces, searching for concepts that would later become needlepoint canvasses. Looking around the store, one can see some of Jeannette’s early original pieces, which have become cherished family heirlooms. A large 40-year old tapestry of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef holding court at one of his palaces hangs on a wall behind the counter. It’s filled with fascinating detail; even to untrained eyes such as mine you can spend half an hour staring at it. “There are more than 800 shades of colour used here,” Katz points out. “It is very intricate.”
Leonard has been trained by the best, his mother included. “I learned the art of tapestry stretching, blocking and restoration from an old Hungarian man named Yeso Vachi, in the early 1970s,” he recalls. “When my father became ill, I would go to Europe for my mother and do the scouting for her. Every trip was memorable, because of the spectacular art.”
Jeannette’s sells all the supplies needed and also utilizes expert craftsmen to create custom furniture, like footstools, couches and tables that showcase your favourite needlepoint art. “We teach the craft to novices, making ourselves available to anyone who encounters a problem while working on a piece.”
Framing is also done here and that entails anything, from needlepoints, to photos, documents and shadowboxed artifacts. Stop in to see the place and you may well be inspired enough to create your own family heirloom.
Point taken: Yarn and a mesh canvas don't have to be kitschy
MAXINE MENDELSSOHN, Freelance
I think there's a stereotype about what needlepointing is and who does it. And let's just say it's not the coolest.
Let's hear it.
Well, for example, in the movie Juno, the stepmother is very into needlepointing French bulldog images. She's kitschy and a source of ridicule. That's the type of person who I imagine does needlepoint. Am I wrong?
Well, you have the proof that you're wrong right behind you.
Okay, there's a grandmother, mother and son learning to needlepoint together.
That's a young mother making a prayer shawl for her oldest son. While she's here, she's also getting her youngest started on a little swan needlepoint. Tons of kids are picking this up. It's good because it teaches youngsters to work with their hands but it requires no skill.
Small kids can't even spread butter on a toast. How can they do needlepoint? Doesn't it require dexterity?
A 6-year-old can do it. A hearing-impaired elementary class came in not long ago and they picked it up no problem. When you pick up a hobby, you get a natural self-esteem boost. And there's something to be said for seeing something through, for finishing a project. Sometimes a needlepoint project can take months.
All right, so kids are doing it. But do you think needlepointing is becoming less kitschy?
Absolutely. I think in the U.S. they're more into the kitschy things, like kitten bookmarks. Here, we're evolving into fine art redone in needlepoint. I think it's an interesting trend. There will always be kétaine people and we'll always have the needlepoint designs they want. But if you want something a little more fashion-forward, we've got that, too.
So what do you have that's fashion-forward?
We have new lines coming in with images taken straight from history books. We just got in some Gustav Klimt, van Gogh and Monet canvases.
If you want to be really fashion-forward, you should sell things like celebrity mug shots and paparazzi pictures in needlepoint. It would be ironic to put pop culture onto this old-fashioned art form. That would be quite an artistic statement.
There are copyright problems with certain images. Years ago, you could do a few Marilyn Monroes and some Mickey Mouses and no one batted an eyelash. These days, you have to be more careful. And to answer your question, there isn't much demand for celebrity mug-shot needlepoint kits, so you can forget that.
Martha Stewart famously did needlepoint in jail and Katherine Heigl from Grey's Anatomy is also known to be a needlepointer. Have celebrity needlepointers piqued people's curiosity about this?
The last celebrity who set foot in here was Chita Rivera from Kiss of the Spider Woman.
I wasn't talking about celebrities who came here, but different types of people attracted to needlepoint because of celebrities.
Everything celebrities do rubs off on people, whether it's good or bad. And, by the way, I think needlepoint would help Britney Spears.
There's something about the canvas and the colours that put the mind at rest and reduce stress. I think stress is actually released onto the canvas.
Even more interesting: People bring me their needlepoint and I can tell their mood by looking at it. My mother was in pain at the end of her life and I noticed that on her good days, her stitches were smooth. On a bad day she would stitch very tightly. Needlepoint is an art, but it's also about the art of relaxation.
The store is named after your mother, Jeannette?
Yes. She opened this place in 1958. I was 1 year old at the time. We're celebrating 50 years of Jeannette's.
Congratulations. So I think I may have put the cart before the horse. I don't even know exactly what needlepoint is or how you do it.
Well, I'm glad you finally asked. It's a form of canvas embroidery. You stitch yarn through open mesh canvas. We start you off, help you with the first few stitches and then encourage you to come back for help.
Do you give classes?
We don't do classes per se. I'd rather give individual lessons. I don't like the pressure of a curriculum.
Is this an expensive hobby? How much is the Klimt?
Klimt's The Kiss is $599. It comes with the canvas and all the yarn you'll need to finish it.
That's quite expensive.
There are cheaper ones. You just happen to be pointing out the spectacular ones.
What about this $1,150 Mona Lisa?
All the petit point has already been done by hand. That drives up the price.
What's petit point?
It's a small, diagonal stitch that crosses intersections of the canvas. Someone actually did the petit point you see here.
So that means they basically started the project for you. How much time would it take to finish the Klimt piece?
It's hard to say. My wife could do it in two months, but there's no time limit on a hobby.
So once people have invested all this time and money, what do they do with the finished product?
Finished works can be made into pillows, seat covers or holiday ornaments. They can also be hung as wall tapestries.
Hanging a tapestry on the wall seems so medieval.
You're right. In medieval times they hung them on the walls of castles to keep the heat in. But today it's still chic to hang a tapestry on a wall. We can also make custom furniture to showcase your needlepoint.
Like these stools here?
Yes. They're custom-made and hand-carved out of maple. They're designed to showcase this specific needlepoint. Each footstool is $1,100.
That's a pricey footstool, but I guess it's a one-of-a-kind. This is such a cliché, but this seems like a women's hobby. What's it like being a man here?
I've worked here since I was 13. I'm here with my wife, Frayda, every day. I'm used to being around women all the time. If it gets to be too much, I can retreat to my basement workshop. Usually things roll off me like water off a duck's back. It can be hilarious and it can be miserable but most of the time we make the best of it.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008
Jeannettes Needlecraft Shoppe