Truly Excellent: The Needle’s Excellency

I visited The Needle’s Excellency with my parents this past April.  My mother made a beautiful needlepoint canvas for me and wanted to have it made into a pillow.  I have designed pillows before, but none using a needlepoint canvas and never one with sentimental value. I chose fabric and trim from the remnant section at Vogue Fabrics, and together my parents and I cabbed it over to 1630 Central Street, practically across the street and a stone’s throw west of Northwestern University’s Ryan Field.

The name The Needle’s Excellency comes from a poem, The Praise of the Needle, written by John Taylor and published in London in 1631.  (Yes, that is the correct date and not a typo.)  Amrita Goldberg, a classically trained artist who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, owns and manages The Needle’s Excellency.  Amrita designs canvasses, teaches classes at her store and other locations and provides guidance to collectors and museums about needlepoint arts.  She provided us with suggestions about turning the canvas into a pillow, and then expertly guided Mom as she chose another canvas for her next project. The array of designs and products Amrita stocks is vast, but not nearly as diverse as the types of fibers and colors available on site to bring the flat, grid-like designs to life.  Examples of finished pieces sit in display cases and on easels; they are lovely in their complexity and beauty.  The store/studio is roomy and collegial, making it inviting for people to work on their projects right there.

Others have described Amrita as world-renown in her skill as a designer, artist and teacher.  If needlepoint is your talent, passion or hobby, you have to visit The Needle’s Excellency. It’s everything you ever imagined and more.  Open Monday through Saturday; call 847-864-8228 to verify hours.

Welcome to the Neighborhood, AMLI Evanston

There is a new neighbor in the southeast corner of Evanston: AMLI Evanston, a luxury apartment building at 737 Chicago Avenue. The completely smoke-free building, built to achieve LEED Silver Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, includes 214 rental units ranging from studios to three-bedrooms, plus 19 live/work ground floor apartments. The first tenant moved in this past April and already a third of the apartments are leased or occupied.

LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and Silver is one of four possible levels (the others are Certified, Gold and Platinum). There are six categories including water efficiency, indoor environment quality, energy and atmosphere and materials and resources.  Each category is evaluated based on established criteria and points awarded for meeting or exceeding the standards. Silver Certification requires 50-59 points. The goal of achieving Silver Certification drove every decision for AMLI Evanston, such as how best to conserve water, filter air, recycle trash and more.  Even the landscaping selected for the rooftop terrace garden is drought-resistant, all part of an effort to promote healthy living, sustainability and a truly green community.

According to Steve Ross, lead developer for AMLI Evanston, for the past five years he participated in or led meetings with Evanston residents, government officials and others to make certain the developers knew about, communicated with and listened to the viewpoints of all the various constituencies.  These discussions affected aspects such as the height of the building (four floors of apartments plus retail on the ground floor), how it ‘fits’ in with the rest of the structures on Chicago Avenue and the addition of the open plaza on the corner of Kedzie and Chicago Avenues. The finished project is one of the largest private investments in this part of Illinois in recent years.

The upscale amenities include many that one expects of a luxury building: a gym appointed with flat screen televisions; a residents’ lounge with more televisions and a kitchen and bar area; free WiFi; a bicycle room; a business center with computers and machines for copying, scanning, faxing; a Pilates/yoga studio; and covered reserved parking with enough spaces for every resident (note, parking is an additional fee).  But there are also some very cool amenities such as a private dog run and paw wash; electric car charging stations; a rooftop terrace with a fire pit, outdoor grills and multiple areas for lounging and conversation; and a one bedroom suite that residents can reserve and rent for $85 a night for out-of-town guests.

At the opening event I attended, AMLI prominently promoted the work of SAGE (Schools Are Gardening in Evanston), a non-profit organization that cultivates ‘health, learning and environmental stewardship through edible school gardens.’  The garden at nearby Lincoln Elementary School is bursting with all kinds of vegetable bounty, and similar gardens exist at 15 other Evanston schools.

SAGE was the perfect organization for AMLI Evanston to support and fully in synch with their environmentally aware, energy-efficient, healthy living philosophy. It was a generous gesture for a new neighbor. Welcome to the ‘hood!

Evanston Lakeshore Fine Arts Festival

The 40th annual Evanston Lakeshore Arts Festival presented 140 talented artists the first weekend in August at Dawes Park (Sheridan Road at Church Street).  It was a gorgeous, sunny weekend and perfect conditions for browsing, buying, eating, listening to live bands, and just lolling around the lagoon.

Evanston 2013 Lakeshore Fine Arts FestivalEvanston 2013 Lakeshore Fine Arts Festival

I explored the festival late on Sunday afternoon and three artists in particular entranced me with their wares.  The first one, Gary Jackson of Fire When Ready Pottery, teaches at nearby Lillstreet Art Studio.  His intricately designed vessels are stunning, unique and functional, but what made me flip over Gary and his work was the wonderful signGary Jackson of Fire When Ready Pottery to parents posted prominently in his booth.

Pottery is so tactile, a wonderful duality of strength (after being fired in a kiln with temperatures of nearly 2000 degrees) and delicacy, it would not be unreasonable for anyone to be skittish when handling these pieces. But Gary’s philosophy and eagerness to introduce kids to art is so generous, he earned my respect immediately. The crescent-shaped items at the forefront of the photo below are rattles…fun and interesting to touch, with the added bonus of sound! Gary’s parents help out on show days; the next festival for them is in Barrington, IL in September and then a studio sale right before Thanksgiving.

Gary Jackson of Fire When Ready PotteryGary Jackson of Fire When Ready Pottery

Another artist I met was Natalya Sots, a ceramicist who lives in Schaumburg, IL. Her brightly colored works are elaborate with pattern, glazes and whimsical flourishes. Many of her pieces are functional, such as cups and butter dishes, and some are works of art only to be admired. All of them are beautiful.

Natalya Sots PotteryNatalya Sots PotteryNatalya Sots Pottery

The third artist whose work grabbed me was Sonia Kuhlmann of Eskay who makes beautiful handcrafted bags, wraps and assorted other items.  The yarn on this periwinkle wrap was luscious, so thick and cozy that I wanted to snuggle up with it right there.  Her bags are charming, a bit funky and very textural, with a sense of fun clearly evident in every design. Sonia is also happy to make customized purses if you don’t see the color or style you have in mind.

Sonia Kuhlmann of EskaySonia Kuhlmann of Eskay

Regretfully there were many artisans I did not have a chance to meet. The festival is always held the first weekend in August at Dawes Park, and is absolutely worth your time next year.  Mark your calendars, get your gift lists organized and save August 2-3, 2014.