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By: Miriam Sasson

Lisa* threw her carry-on into the overhead compartment and sank into her seat, smiling. True, she wasn’t fond of lengthy plane rides, but she couldn’t wait to lose herself for the coming few hours in her favorite pastime: needlepointing. She lifted a green cloth bag onto her lap and removed a large canvas splashed with various hues of blue and gray. Lisa began to stitch in delightful monotony until a strange “ahem” jolted her back to her senses. “Excuse me, Miss,” a stewardess addressed her, pointing to the green needlepointing bag. “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but I see so many travelers with these bags! What are they?”

Lisa held up her SM Stitches bag and showed the curious stewardess its contents. She had a good laugh as she realized she was just one of hundreds with a needlepointing hobby.

SM Stitches, a Needlepoint Oasis

Selene Schweky – the woman behind the trademark green needlepointing bags – is the owner of and brains behind SM Stitches, along with her son, Morris Schweky. SM Stitches is your start-to-finish custom needlepointing shop and second home to hundreds of needlepoint enthusiasts. From the classic tallit bag (kuracha) to wristlets, challah covers and pillow cases, SM Stitches has it all. In fact, Selene states, “You think of anything that can be needlepointed, and we will do it! Anything!” The options are endless, as Selene has made canvases for book covers, backgammon sets, belts, table runners, silverware caddies and more. SM Stitches has executed people’s more unusual needlepointed visions too – rocking chair cushions, baby photos, lulav covers and even a Monopoly board. Amazingly, each needlepoint canvas is hand-painted.

SM Stitches boasts thousands of canvases, patterns, colors and threads, as anyone who has visited the place can attest. There are eight staff members on hand, friendly and patient, to walk customers through their stitching experience. What is found at SM Stitches cannot be found elsewhere.

It All Began with a Challah Cover

Selene Schweky reflects upon the founding of SM Stitches. She relates, “My artistic abilities are inborn; as a child, I drew, needlepointed, and created mosaic. My mother always nurtured my talent and encouraged me, as well.” (Selene’s five children, all of whom are, or at one point were, on staff at SM Stitches, have inherited Selene’s artistic flair, too.)

Selene continues, “Thirteen years ago, I purchased a canvas to make a challah cover for when my son got married.” However, the one she bought simply didn’t do it for her. Naturally artistic, she decided to design her own. She purchased a blank canvas and some markers from a local fabric store – “never mind that both were the wrong kind of equipment for the job!” – and began to draw. She was pleased with her design and, after much trial and error, grasped which tools she needed to do the job properly. Selene, along with her son Morris, designed several canvases until her friend, Caren Rishty, informed her, “You are bringing those designs and presenting them at the [upcoming] boutique show.”  “I came with around twenty canvases and a selection of just forty cotton threads,” Selene recalls. “But it was a huge success!”

Before they knew it, mother and son were in business fifty-fifty, and the orders began to trickle in. “People wanted something different than what was out there,” Selene muses, and they were after the Schwekys’ intriguing geometric patterns. Eventually, the two of them were busy selling needlepoint paraphernalia out of their house from the morning until as late as 11pm.

It was high time the home-based business advanced to the next level.  

Did Selene envision the giant storefront that SM Stitches is today?

“Never in a million years!” she says. She’d married and had her children at a young age, and was content being a homemaker. “I never worked a day in my life!” she exclaims. “If anything,” Selene says, “I thought that maybe one day I’d open a cute, little
home-based business.” Today, though, SM Stitches continues to expand, branching out in different directions. 

Keeping up the Good Work

Things can grow hectic at SM Stitches, but Selene and her crew always come through in what she calls “crisis moments.”

Customers call with last minute emergencies. They might require that a needlepointed item be ready for a swanee, which “oh, by the way, is in two days.” Selene relates, “we’ll get a phone call from a customer several nights before her son’s Bar Mitzvah, saying that she wasn’t able to finish needlepointing her son’s bag and can we please help.” Of course, SM Stitches does.

Tension reaches its zenith before intersession, Selene’s busiest season, as everyone wants something to needlepoint while on vacation. “We’ll be up until five am painting to have canvases ready in time,” says the needlepointing dynamo.

What helps Selene make it through during high-pressure moments?

“Coffee!” is her instant reply.

Selene Schweky also revels in the satisfaction her work gives her. “It’s nice that you can see anyone in the world with our green bag,” she comments. Additionally, Selene loves the opportunity to meet so many new and interesting people. After all, her needlepoint fans hail from all over the world, whether Sephardic, Ashkenazic, or altogether outside of the Jewish community. More often than not, SM Stitches receives phone calls from happy customers expressing their appreciation, which also keeps Selene going in her work.

“And, of course, my whole staff is great!” Selene exclaims, referring to her staff members as her second family. “I couldn’t do it without them.”

Selene Reflects

“You look at the world with a different eye,” Selene, with her artistic eye, states. Selene sees everything around her as a potential design for a needlepoint canvas. She is constantly shooting photos of everyday items around her: a skirt, a fence, a carpet, and stones of a building. “Once, in California, I snapped a photograph of an interesting stair rail that I thought would make an interesting canvas,” she says.

Selene firmly believes that anyone can learn the art of needlepointing. “Even people who start out with no interest in it realize it’s for them and grow addicted,” she states. Relaxing, fun, and therapeutic are some of needlepointing’s most common descriptions.

When SM Stitches was in its infancy, co-owner Morris Schweky declared: “We need to see a change in the needlepoint kuracha (tallit bag) industry. Selene and her son have embarked on the journey that rendered that vision into a reality – a reality from which hundreds are benefitting today.