He was the only man among more than 50 needlework entrants in the 2004 event, said Judy Williamson, superintendent of indoor exhibits at Washington County Ag Expo.
Freese, 65, is retired from two careers in the U.S. Coast Guard - as a commander after 24 years of active military service, then 13 years as a civilian employee. His "Stargazer," a cross-stitched portrait of a lily he'd photographed in his garden, was named "Best of Show" at the 40th annual Needlework Exhibition at Woodlawn, the Mount Vernon, Va., estate of George Washington's nephew. "The largest and longest running exhibit of its kind in the United States" includes the work of artists from around the world, according to the Woodlawn Web site at www.nationaltrust.org/national_trust_sites/woodlawn.
Freese was told it was unusual for a work in cross-stitch to win the top prize.
Another of his designs, "Point Loma Sunset," won the Embroiderers' Guild of America's Mid-Atlantic Region Juror's Choice Award in the 18,000-member organization's 17th national exhibition which toured several U.S. cities.
When the two men first met at an area Quilters Guild presentation Prodonovich teased Freese. "Only sissies do that," he said.
Freese, one of three men in the 35-member Hagerstown chapter of the Embroiderers' Guild of America, acknowledged that people who are insecure in their self-image might hold that view.
"Paul and I simply have chosen an unorthodox medium (needle art) in which to express our artistic talents," Freese said.
"I'm not embarrassed," Prodonovich said.
A hooked hearth rug Paul Prodonovich saw in a Williamsburg, Va., shop a few years ago inspired his award-winning hobby. The small rug cost more than $300.
"I can do that," Prodonovich told his wife.
Her quilting also helped to get him started. Patty Prodonovich quilts while she watches Sunday afternoon football games and has something to show for her time, Paul Prodonovich said. He wanted something, too.
He adapts designs from other things. A hooked wood duck was inspired by an etching. The design for his current project, a large area rug, was taken from a photograph of the mosaic floor of a cathedral the couple visited in Rome.
The rugs are made from recycled wool fabrics - sports coats, jackets, skirts - cut into 1/8- to 1/4-inch strips and hooked into burlap, linen or synthetic fabrics. Prodonovich works with two hands, one under and one on top of fabric stretched across an 18-inch embroidery hoop. An Oriental-design rug 31 inches by 51 inches contains about 375,000 loops.
Freese's wife, Helen, also a quilter, was instrumental in her husband's hobby. She used to do a lot of counted cross-stitch, but when a brain tumor took the vision in one eye, she stopped. She had several kits, and David Freese didn't want to just give them away, so he decided to try in 1990. A hobby - a passion - was born
By 1993, he had scanned into his computer a photo of a sunset and lighthouse at Point Loma in San Diego. Using simple software, Freese took two months to design his current project - "Swallowtail." It is taken from a photo he made of a black and yellow butterfly on yellow zinnias at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.
When completed, the 14-by-18-inch work on 16-stitches-to-the-inch aida fabric will have 62,000 stitches in 98 colors.
Freese works with two hands at an adjustable frame he bought in Seattle. Also a woodworker, he made a smaller, portable version so he can stitch when he travels.
Both men find their needlework calming. They sometimes listen to music - Prodonovich, classical and some soft jazz; Freese, classical and some Christian.
"My mind just goes," Freese said. He thinks about something else, about people, and sometimes he'll say a prayer.
Prodonovich sometimes gets into "the zone" he used to notice his wife escape to while she quilted.
And then there's the satisfaction of seeing a project completed.
He likes that, too.