Cross stitching and needlepointing are under appreciated and rewarding ways to escape reality and to brighten one’s home decor repertoire. It happens to be the oldest form of embroidery and people all over the world love to cross stitch. Right here in Oakland Park we have a store dedicated to cross stitching.
Nestled in the gorgeous pine tree lined parking lot of 1600 NE 26th Street is the charming and homey Cross Stitch Cupboard. This store, owned by Karen J Owen, has been open since 1981.
Business Among Long Time Friends
Karen and two of her friends from Fort Lauderdale High School thought up the idea of opening a cross stitch and needlepoint store after a couples’ ski weekend that was highlighted by needlepointing.
The three friends initially opened one half of a kiosk at Coral Ridge Mall back in 1981, and in the mid-90s relocated to another location behind Egg n You on Federal Highway. Eventually, they sought out a new and fresh location where they could build a place they could call home. When they visited the site of their current location, they loved the pine trees so much they decided to make it their new home.
Karen and her friends Wanda Irwin and Kathy Swartzwelder built the building and secured a variance to save the 8 pines trees that beautifully adorn the driveway. Collectively, they launched Cross Stitch Cupboard as a needlework and a gift store, Yellow Orchid Gifts directly next door to Cross Stitch Cupboard.
Steadily the allure of needlework trumped the combined stitch and gift idea and Karen splintered off to open Cross Stitch Cupboard. Wanda Irwin took ownership of Yellow Orchid Gifts and Kathy Swartzwelder became Karen’s employee, framer and chief ornament maker.
Needle Point and Cross Stitch: There's a Difference!
If you are unfamiliar with needle work you probably don’t know the difference between needle point and cross stitching. Owen helps us understand explaining that “Needlepoint is a craft with a printed canvas design (also called serigraphed) or a painted on canvas design that one simply follows, using a variety of fibers. Cross stitch is a craft with a completely blank fabric where one follows a chart to create a picture with fibers, by counting and stitching x’s.”
An Art for All
While cross stitching may seem like an art that is just for women, it is not. It is dominated by women, 75% of the stores customers are women, but 25% of them are men. In addition, while traditionally needlework is the domain of older women increasingly younger millennials are attracted to the non immediate gratification art of needlework, or as Karen describes it, “Painting pictures with fibers”.
Apointment Based Shopping and Free Lessons
According to Karen, before the pandemic, the back table, which displays many finished framed models was a bustling location for needlepoint, needle punch, cross stitch and other classes for all ages, from children to seniors.
Currently, due to Covid, Karen offers appointment based shopping, although she will gladly accommodate a walk in crowd if necessary. She teaches prospective shoppers to stitch and even offers a free lesson.
COVID-19 Impact on the Store's Flow
Karen closed for several weeks at the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, and reopened with a an increased mail order business. She reports 400 new mail order customers since 2020.
Some of the pandemic’s austere lessons were also invigorating for Karen. The surge in new stitchers seeking a home based hobby to relieve stress and to boast self satisfaction was unforeseen. Additionally, many stalled needle point and cross stitchers commenced the hobbies again due to boredom or a need for a stress outlet.
Lastly, many customers sought out restoration of cherished needlepoint pillows and other framed family crafts/heirlooms as increased time at home sparked freshening up/renovating interest.
Cross Stitch Cupboard Isn't Going Anywhere Soon!
Karen foresees that perhaps an interested customer may one day take over the reigns of Cross Stitch Cupboard, but for now she remains open and ever enamored with her passion.
Karen hosts an annual needlework contest in June-July where customers can showcase their creations. She regularly attends the “market”, an annual Nashville needlework show where she gathers copious amounts of new, fresh patterns.
Karen has contributed to the community by collecting for Habitat for Humanity for a build 10 years ago and is always willing to donate to local Wilton Manors and church based fundraisers when approached.
A Hidden Gem
As a frequent traveler to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, during my childhood, I can parallel the quaint, comforting needlework craft vibe with the charming Amish craft vibe of Lancaster. The only difference is you can get that vibe right here, just stone’s throw from Oakland Park, in Wilton Manors without having to travel anywhere in a horse and buggy!
Stop on by to learn about this ancient manual art that has persevered through the ages and continues to capture the interest of people from all walks of life. Cross Stitch Cupboard is a deservedly enduring 40 year old small business, a hidden gem, worth the visit and worth the stitch.