Thanksgiving& Elsa Williams
Thursday November 26th 2009, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Bargello NP,Needlepoint & Me

I hope everyone is having a nice Thanksgiving day (all 3 of you, my loyal readers). I am at my parents and my son, the chef, is cooking up a storm.

The Chanterelle mushrooms he wanted to add to the stuffing were vetoed by my Okie husband, the original meat n’ taters guy. Son also baked a totally from scratch apple pie.

I dn’t think I ever, in my whole long life, have made a pie crust from scratch. Of course, this is all Betty Crocker’s fault.

When I was listing a copy of Elsa William’s classic Bargello Needlepoint book, subtitled Florentine Canvas Work, I got to thinking about Elsa Williams.

She has become maybe the best known name in not only needlepoint but needlework of many kinds.

The list of products and canvases & kits that bear her name is almost endless. I wondered who she was.

Elsa Williams was surprisingly hard to research. Every search brought up her products, products, products.

As you might have guess by now, I do not give up easily so….I kept researching her.

Unfortunately, I am at my folks house with my tiny little travel mac and all my research is on my other (real) computer. Go figure. So here I go again, re-doing it.

The Elsa Williams School of Needlework used to be housed in Homer House in West Townsend, MA.

Oddly enough, I know West Townsend well. We lived not too far from there for many years, when we lived in Massachusetts (you would know I am a MA native because I can spell it). We had friends in Townsend (not good friends but friends) and my niece lives there now.

Without knowing it, I have been to the old Elsa Williams warehouse. It now houses the Hobart Antiques Mall. I have an extraordinary deep purple carnival glass vase in a fluted ripple pattern I bought there, it is a lovely thing.

Elsa Williams bought the old Homer House, which had also previously been the old Ronchen Inn, in 1971 and restored it. She then opened the Elsa Williams School of Needlework there.

Elsa Williams was born in 1912, she was a talented needle artist and a keen businesswoman.

She established Needlecraft House, The Williams Manufacturing Co. and the Elsa Williams School of Needlework, all in West Townsend, MA.

Local women were employed to produce needlepoint & crewel kits for her nationwide wholesale, mail order and local retail business.

The school was closed in the early 1980′s when Mrs Williams retired and sold her company to Johnson Creative Arts, which is still going strong in Townsend as JCA Co, As well the Elsa Williams products, they sell the wonderful Paternayan Persian Needlepoint Wool I use on (had to get at least one link in here)


I learned that on completion of courses at the school students were given a beautiful Sterling Silver & Emerald Thimble in a Velvet Presentation Bags. I understand these thimbles are fairly rare now.

In searching the web I found that many of today’s *needlepoint experts* are graduates of the Elsa Williams School.


It was Elsa Williams mission to bring the Art of Needlepoint to Townsend.

It seems that she did more than that, she made needlepoint available & accessible to everyone.

I was completely unable to find any further information on Elsa Williams.

I can tell you, that the Bargello Book she published in 1967 is still *current* . The colors and the designs seem fresh and modern.

Many of the other older Bargello and Needlepoint books I have, while useful and wonderful, sometimes the colors used in them can seem dated. These do not, not all all.

This only downside to this book is there are no graphs, but oddly enough, the stitching is so precise and the pictures are taken so close-up, that I have stitched a few of these patterns without a graph.

Anyway, it interests me there is not more Elsa Williams info out there, I thought there would be.

So, everybody enjoy this wonderful day. I am thankful for many things (MANY) including this blog. I still can’t believe *they* let me do this.

26 Comments so far

So many things are lost, great teachers forgotten, designs disappear. Oh, well, perhaps now that we stitch blog on the Internet, more will remain in our collective memory.

Jane, waving from CH where I hope I won’t be forgotten

Comment by    Jane 11.26.09 @ 7:55 pm

No, I will not forget you. Unless I forget my own name, then all bets are off.

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 11.27.09 @ 12:04 am

Hello, I enjoyed reading your blog. I attended Elsa Williams’ school several times in the 1970s. She and Jack (her husband) ran the school and brought in teachers from all over the country. They taught every form of needlework and staying in Homer House was always a wonderful experience. The first time you attended you were given a plain silver thimble, The 2nd time the thimble was set with saphires, 3rd time emeralds, 4th time rubies and 5th time diamonds. I have all 5 of the thimbles and love them all. Carolyn Meacham

Comment by    Carolyn Meacham 12.07.09 @ 1:13 pm

Thanks Carolyn, I am glad you told me this, I tried so hard to find information on Elsa Williams. I think the different rings for the number of courses you take is a lovely idea.

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 12.07.09 @ 2:01 pm

I went to the Elsa Williams warehouse in the late 80′s and bought many kits. I miss going there.

Comment by    mj 01.25.10 @ 9:47 am

Elsa Williams was, probably more than any other person, responsible for bringing about the renewal of the study of needle arts in the 1960s and 1970s in the US. Not only did she teach at Homer House, but she traveled the country promoting the Embroiderers Guild of America and the study of Needle Arts. She was a stickler for correct terminology (Florentine embroidery not Bargello, canvas embroidery not needlepoint) and a wonderful but firm teacher and designer. I have all her books. I once exhibited at her juried show at Homer House and I consider her responsible for my lifetime interest in the fiber arts through the various EGA workshops and seminars that she taught.

Comment by    Janet H Anderson 11.21.10 @ 2:50 pm

Interesting comments on old blogs. The thanksgiving blog on Elsa Williams was last year. Still…I appreciate the comments

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 11.21.10 @ 4:21 pm

I lived in Townsend from 1986-1999 and shopped at the store many times until it closed. I don’t think they had classes there anymore then. Surely I would have attended . . . especially if they involved ‘thimbles.’
The ‘tent sale’ each year was a great source of kits I would send my Mother since she loved doing needlework. Side note: She was born in 1912 also.
I am framing a “Love Stamp” Kit my Mother completed Years ago, and was looking to see if there might be a date somewhere on the web, telling when the Elsa Williams Store closed, I’m sure the kit was from the ‘last days’ since it did not include the thread, which my Mother purchased . . .’with a .20 cent LOVE stamp in hand.’ Gee, remember .20 cent Stamps? Prettier Stamps Then!
Thank you for all the information you have on this site. It was helpful and very interesting.

Comment by    Jenny 01.19.12 @ 1:27 pm

Hello – I have an Elsa Williams Love Stamp needlepoint kit (old) – but don’t have the directions – does anyone have any suggestions for getting the directions. Thanking you in advance.

Comment by    hvfall 02.06.13 @ 1:22 pm

I will put it “out there” to the online NP community and see if anyone can help.

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 02.06.13 @ 1:30 pm

I am thrilled to discover your site.
I was wondering if she is still alive, guess she would then be 101 years old, so probably not.
I started needlework – crewel…[and now have time to do canvas art (needlepoint)] in 1961 when you couldn’t find any books in libraries and had no convenient Internet to search. Both Elsa Williams and Erica Wilson had kits available in a little needlecraft store in my college town of Ann Arbor. I learned the stitches from the wonderful, descriptive and pictured guides with these kits. The first I did were Erica wilson’s two Jacobean trees with fences and a rabbit or a squirrel…did one of them too tight and removed all and completely redid it. This was literally my “learning tree” as a young adult with the summer to learn the crewel craft as my husband got his masters’ degree.
Then I found Elsa Williams and did a bunch of things I do not see or even shown on the Internet by her. I did all six or eight (can’t recall and don’t know where they are today) dining room chair seat covers…cherries, maybe a peach, apple, etc….. and a dandy bell pull. but the most exquisite ever, of anyone’s designs has to have been the Elsa Williams design of a cluster of blended grapes. I doon’t know what became of this one either but it was gorgeous, gorgeous.

I have yet to do (this is the year….I am 75 and hoppin’ along with all cylinders!)…..some of her needlepoint kits that I am glad I bought then, can find time to do now, when not playing in four community bands and still teaching a day’s worth of harp students. Thanks for being here! Nancy Morse

Comment by    Nancy Morse 04.18.13 @ 11:58 am

Hi Nancy, I just found your comment, sorry I am such a slowpoke. Elsa Schaff Williams died in Monterey, CA in 1995.

She was instrumental in bring Bargello Needlepoint to American stitchers and her Townsend, MA factories, schools and her employment of local women was world famous.
my niece lives in Townsend now and she tells me the only mention of Elsa there now is her portrait in the town hall.

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 04.30.13 @ 10:25 pm

I just came across your blog because I’ve been cleaning out my mom’s house and brought home one of 3 crewel pictures that I bought at an auction at Elsa William’s home in W. Townsend back in the 1980′s. The auction was held on the grounds of the house and I purchased 3 framed crewel pieces and on the back of 2 of the pieces it says that Elsa Williams worked them. The smallest one says “Original design – worked by Elsa S. Williams (1972), Design adapted from Nettlecreek bedspreads in the dormitory at Homer House – Design called Blue Lotus.” Since the handwriting on both pictures are in the same handwriting I believe the notations to be in Elsa Williams own hand. The other signed picture says “This is the original of the design called Gainsborough – It is from a china platter found in Museo das Cruzes in Madeira. This museum was formerly the home of Christopher Columbus and is claimed to have been built by Zarco the man who discovered Madeira. The platter is early 15th centure with all blue shades on white. The needlework of this piece chiefly worked by Elsa Williams 1970-1971″ Although, at the time, I was the only who bid on the pictures and they didn’t cost a fortune I suppose they might now be somewhat valuable now. I love the pictures and have two displayed in my own home. The third is a large Jacobean picture with a stylized tree very fancy worked hills and several animals – a deer (stag) dog, rabbit, frog on lily pad and a snail. I’ve enjoyed reading the entries and answers.

Comment by    Linda Wesley 05.09.13 @ 8:19 am

Count me as another delighted reader who just found your blog via this Elsa Williams & Thanksgiving 2009 post. I was wondering if Elsa Williams was a real person, since the name is so similar to Erica Wilson. And since the fictional Betty Crocker persona was a reflection of 20th century advertising, I wondered about Elsa. I just learned Erica’s backstory (and that she died in Dec. 2011), which I had no idea of when I stitched her kits in the 1970s as a young person. Your blog is wonderful, I like what you have to say. I am experienced exclusively in ‘freestyle embroidery,’ as it is marketed now. I always wanted to do needlepoint/canvas embroidery. Anyway, now I’ll go look for the Bargello book with colors. I wish I had gone to a workshop where a thimble was the reward. Oh well, I can ramble right along with you! Glad you made this blog–I have a lot of catching up to do in reading all entries. I know you like color, but do you like blackwork needlepoint for something different? I thought I’d start there. I like the graphical aspect of Eva Rosenstand b/w sampler-style kits.

Comment by    Maurine Bryan 05.09.13 @ 9:59 am

Thanks, it is amazing t me that that old Thanksgiving blog is still being read.

I think I will write another *Elsa* blog. I too love her work. Her Florentine book (bargello) is still one of my *go to* books.

I once adapted one of her bargello designs, to very god effect. I wil look for the picture of it and post it.

To answer your question. I love blackwork. One of my favorite uses of it is clothing embellishment. There is a terrific book out there about that. I will see if I cn find it again.

anyway, thanks again…..marianne

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 05.09.13 @ 12:58 pm

Hi Linda, Thanks for yur nice comments about my Elsa blog. It remains one of my favorites.

I loved your story about buying Elsa’s own stitching work. I am from Boston and know Townsend well.

I would imagine your pieces have some value, if not considerable value.

If I was you, I would contact the ANG (American Needlepoint Guild) and tell them your story, They might be able to direct you to someone who would know this.

In fact, your pieces sound like they belong in a musem The Winterthur Musem might be a good idea too. Contact them. There might be someone there who can help you. Please, let me know what comes of this….marianne

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 05.09.13 @ 1:04 pm

I too was thrilled to read this blog. I have been an avid needlepointer since the 1970′s (wow, does that make me sound old!) and it is good to know that people are using the Internet to keep up with the art!

Comment by    CynthiaDare 05.23.13 @ 3:34 pm

Amazing the response I am still getting to my old blog. I think I will do another Elsa Williams blog. My niece lives in Townsend, which was where the school and all the other EW enterprises were. I think I will ask her to ask around…who remembers what about Elsa and the school and the jobs.

So look for a blog about this in a few weeks (or when my niece gets around to it)

No, are not old by my lights. I am waiting for them to say that 80 is the new 60. As us baby boomers age, it is coming.

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 05.23.13 @ 4:27 pm

I found one of Elsa Williams needle points pictures already frame it is exquisite is a oriental base with beautiful flowers. Is about 3 ft long. I’m trying to find the value, I will be happy to post a picture.

Comment by    Olga Ferrer Cintron 07.10.13 @ 7:05 pm

I don’t have any idea what it could be worth but I am willing to bet it does have some value.

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 07.16.13 @ 2:44 pm

Love Elsa Williams crewel kits. Does anyone know the name of the fabric she used in her kits. I like to work in crewel and would like to buy some of the fabric. The fabric has a very nice hand feel. I am delighted to have found this blog Carol

Comment by    Carol 10.28.13 @ 1:25 pm

Hi Carol, It is funny, this blog post is from years ago and still get comments. Unfortunately, the company (JCA, in Townsend, MA) that made & sold the Elsa Williams kits (and Paternayan Yarn) has gone out of business after many years.

They sold the Paternayan color formulas & name to a dye house in Maine (Saco River Dyehouse) but I never heard of anyone picking up the Elsa Williams kits. I have no idea what kind of fabric she used. Maybe someone will see this who knows.

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 10.28.13 @ 1:35 pm

Back in February, hvfall asked if anyone has the instructions for the Elsa Williams Love Stamp needlepoint kit (old). I just picked a complete kit on e-bay; assume it is the same one. Hvfall, do you still need the instructions?

Comment by    karen 11.27.13 @ 12:15 pm

I don’t know but I will post your question and Thanks, this is very nice of you

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 12.08.13 @ 8:14 pm

Wanted – Instructions Only for Elsa Williams Vintage Crewel Kit “Tree of Enchantment” KC206.
Please, I’m really wanting to complete this kit that my Aunt left for me 3 years ago. I have the linen and yarn… just no instructions!
I anyone has, or knows where I could find the instructions – please help :-)

Comment by    L Murray 03.17.14 @ 1:43 pm

Sorry it took me so long to post this. I am going to post it on Facebook in the needlepoint group, as well

Comment by    thedutchessofneedlepoint 04.14.14 @ 3:01 pm

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