Common thread runs through her life, with embroiderer's needle

September 28, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

DOWNSVILLE - People frequently can point to a common thread running through their lives but in Ruth Ziem's case, it's a real thread - be it silk or wool - at the end of her embroiderer's needle.

A charter member of the 30-year-old Hagerstown chapter of the Embroiderer's Guild of America, Ruth said she was introduced to embroidery as a child.

"When we were little and sick, my mother would get stamped pillowcases for us kids," she said.

That gave them something to do while confined to their beds in those pre-television days.

Ruth, 74, said her horizons expanded to the various styles of embroidery, then knitting and other such art forms through the years. But she always comes back to her embroidery.

"The definition of embroidery is anything done with a needle with an eye," Ruth said. "It's not knitting ... it's not crocheting."


Ruth's passion for samplers is apparent in the large stone home near Downsville she shares with her husband, Bob, 81.

"I've run out of wall space," she said.

Holding a position of honor in the living room is a sampler she inherited from her grandmother, Ida Vogel, who stitched it in Germany in 1878 when she was 13 years old.

The Hagerstown chapter was formed in 1976 by Harriett Downing who heard of the guild through a friend in New Jersey.

The first meeting drew so much interest that the new chapter was formed with 22 members, Ruth said. The current membership, which includes men, numbers between 40 and 45 stitchers.

The embroiderers started meeting at Hagerstown Community College, then at several bank meeting rooms, and the Funkstown American Legion.

For the past five years, the guild members have gathered at the Hagerstown Seventh-day Adventist Church on Robinwood Drive the last Tuesday of the month.

The guild had a display at a recent quilt show. One member, David Freese, took Best in Show a few years ago at an embroidery show at Woodlawn, a plantation near Mount Vernon. He won for an embroidered lily.

"I've won some ribbons but that's not why I'm into it," Ruth said.

At the monthly meetings, members work on new things, help each other with ongoing projects and sometimes have speakers and demonstrators.

A waste canvas project will be explored at the October meeting. In November, Ruth will show members how to make an embroidered Christmas ornament.

The guild members have made door hangers for Habitat for Humanity and recently completed a sampler for a new cottage at San Mar Children's Home.

Ruth said she and Harriett Downing embroidered seat covers for the Miller House.

The Ziems moved to Washington County 35 years ago from Bethesda, Md., where they lived while Bob was employed at NASA and later at the Pentagon.

When they moved here, "Bob wanted to have a winery - it was his dream," Ruth said. They grew grapes and operated the winery for 23 years, calling it quits eight years ago.

The Ziems have three children, a daughter and two sons. Through the earlier years, Ruth was a stay-at-home mom and now that Bob is retired and the children are grown, they are at home.

"I used to sit from 6 to 11:30 p.m. each night watching television and doing my embroidery - you can do both at the same time," Ruth said.

The guild members have a retreat at Cacapon State Park in West Virginia each fall, where they enjoy each other's company and share new techniques for this old art.

The guild hopes to attract younger members to keep things going into the future.

The dues are $42 a year, some of which go to the national guild office and help pay for the bimonthly embroidery magazine which highlights old-fashioned techniques as well as new innovations such as beadwork and jewelry.

"It's not your grandmother's needlework anymore," Ruth said.

For more information about the embroidery guild, contact Joyce Higgins, the current guild president, at 301-739-9035 or e-mail her at

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