Insights on business, and practical
ways to improve your own.
Excerpt from Talk Gertie To Me
©2006 Lois Winston
Dorchester Publishing, ISBN#0-505-52684-0
by Lois Winston (May 1, 2006)
(Note: Lois is much more than one of the industry's top
needlework designers. She's a novelist, too, whose stories have a
strong craft influence. Here is an excerpt, Chapter 11. The novel is
available at Amazon.com and book stores throughout the country.)
"How many of those do you own?"
"What?" I followed Hyís gaze to the lavender and pink
hydrangea-decorated straw shoulder bag I set on the black granite
counter of his ultra modern, stainless steel kitchen -- a kitchen
easily twice the size of my daughterís entire former janitorís
closet apartment nine floors below. In such a setting my decoupaged
purse looked about as out of place as a pork roast among Orthodox
Jews. (And yes, I do know of such things. I may hail from Ten
Commandments, Iowa, but that doesnít mean Iím ignorant of other
peopleís beliefs and traditions.)
Hy turned his attention to a frosted glass-doored cabinet above
the sink, retrieving a burnished stainless steel sugar bowl and
cream pitcher. I settled onto one of the zebra print stools
surrounding the island that served as a kitchen table. "Your
bag," he said. "Thatís the third one Iíve seen you
I shrugged as he placed a smoky gray glass mug on the placemat in
front of me, somewhat surprised that he had even noticed my
pocketbook. Earnest certainly wouldnít have. "So? Lots of
women have more than one purse. Even women who come from Iowa."
He glanced down at my matching straw pumps as he brought the
teapot to the table and poured for both of us. "Did you make
Okay, so maybe they didnít exactly go with my new sophisticated
wardrobe, but I liked my purses. And my matching shoes. And hats.
And belts. Even if they did embarrass certain people. Like my
daughter who kept the ones I had given her buried in the deepest
recesses of her closet.
Besides, those high-heeled sandals Loretta had talked me into
buying were not exactly comfortable for someone used to wearing
penny loafers and low-heeled pumps. Talk about an impulse purchase.
And having worn them, I now couldnít return them. I donít care
how sexy Loretta said they made me look. They hurt my feet.
I scowled at Hy. He was dressed to match his apartment -- all in
black. Didnít anyone in New York ever wear any colors besides
black and gray? I glanced at my purse and decided it didnít look
out of place at all. It added much needed color to this depressingly
monochrome room. As a matter of fact, both Hy and his entire
apartment could stand a good splash of color, and I intended to tell
him so. Right after I reproached him for his condescending attitude.
"Well, thatís not very gentlemanly, even if my accessories
are too Midwest for you."
Hy laughed. "My dear Constance, you donít give yourself
I eyed him suspiciously but couldnít help noticing that his
voice didnít sound teasing. Or condescending. On the contrary, he
seemed to be thoughtfully appraising my purse and shoes rather than
condemning their lack of elegance and sophistication. "Credit
He sat down on the stool next to me and took both of my hands in
his. Gazing into my eyes, he said, "Connie, Iím about to make
you an offer you canít refuse."
And then he did. Except I didnít believe him. I pulled my hands
out from between his and laughed. "You have got to be
"Iím totally serious."
Still, I kept waiting for the punch line.
Eventually it occurred to me that maybe he was serious. As
well as insane. "What makes you think anyone in New York -- or
anywhere else for that matter -- would pay for my decoupaged
handbags?" After all, as much as she loved me, my own daughter
keeps hers hidden in a closet. For that matter, I often suspected
that Marjorie and my other friends only carry theirs when they know
theyíll be bumping into me. And thatís back in unsophisticated
Ten Commandments, Iowa.
But Hy was persistent. "Trust me, Connie. Iím in the
trends business. And I intend to make these purses of yours tomorrowís
biggest must-have item."
Right. The man had gone delusional on me. "You told me you
were an importer."
"I am. I import trends."
How can someone import a trend? Apparently, Hy had already
figured that one out. Quite successfully, too, if his apartment was
any indication of his bank account and stock portfolio.
He drained his cup of tea. "Iíll be right back." He
stood and strode from the kitchen. A minute later he returned with a
newspaper and set it in front of me. "This is the Sunday Styles
section of The New York Times." He flipped open the
paper and pointed to some tacky-looking fuchsia and chartreuse vinyl
purses embellished with five-and-dime plastic flowers and
I scrunched up my nose. Even in Ten Commandments the women had
better taste than to be caught dead carrying something like that.
"Those are hideous."
"Read the caption."
I bent over the paper and gasped. Those Salvation Army rejects
were selling at a place called Henri Bendel for...I spun around and
gaped at him. "Five hundred dollars?"
"Handmade by the fourteen-year-old daughter of a banker who
lives on the Upper East Side. Weíve already sold six hundred, and
the store only started carrying them last week. Iíve recently
signed a contract to have them mass-produced in China, exclusively
for Target Stores."
"Six hundred people have already shelled out five hundred
dollars each for..." I pointed at the monstrosities.
Hy smiled. "Itís all in the marketing."
By the time he explained his marketing strategy to me, he had me
believing I was going to be the next Martha Stewart. Pre-stock
scandal Martha, of course. Goddess of all things domestic. Iíd be
lying if I didnít admit the idea appealed to me. Suddenly I had
visions of my face plastered all over Wal-Mart the way Martha was
plastered over K-Mart. And then there was the Connie Stedworth
magazine. The Connie Stedworth television show. The Connie Stedworth
empire. Iíd be a household name. Iíd be a somebody
finally, rather than an addendum to my husband and daughter.
I needed to lose twenty pounds. Fast.
"What else do you do?" Hy asked, pulling me from my
"Do? Well, I make a mean pickled beet that wins a blue
ribbon every year at the county fair." Connie Stedworth gourmet
Hy scrunched up his face. "Iím not sure the world is ready
for pickled beets."
Okay, so we wouldnít be featuring a line of gourmet foods in
the Connie Stedworth empire. Yet. I had brought some jars of pickled
beets with me for Nori. Hy would change his mind after he ate some.
"Come downstairs with me," I said, taking a last sip of
tea. Iíd show him my painted jumpers and the various other craft
items I had made for Nori.
Then Iíd feed him some pickled beets.
"Meet Iowa haute couture," I said a few minutes
later as I pulled half a dozen fabric-painted denim jumpers from the
closet and spread them across the bed. "Hardly what youíd
find at that store you sent me to yesterday."
With one hand cupping his elbow, the other stroking his nearly
white goatee, Hy stared at the array of painted cows, chickens,
teddy bears, geese, strawberries, and sunflowers that wound their
way around the hems and covered the bibs of each garment.
He picked up a jumper and fingered the row of black and white
speckled hens parading around a burgundy and taupe checkerboard
border. "Weíve already revisited the tie-dyed Sixties and the
disco Seventies. Everyone is cacooning. Family is paramount,
especially after what this country has been through over the past
few years. Perhaps the time is right for a reemergence of the
American country look of the Eighties."
He dropped the jumper back onto the bed. Deep in thought and
continuing to stroke his goatee, he paced back and forth over what
little available floor space there was in Noriís bedroom. His eyes
darted around the room, stopping occasionally on the few pieces of
my handiwork that Nori hadnít hidden away in her closet.
"Yours?" he asked, lifting up a dresser box I had
decoupaged with Iowa tourist brochures.
He continued to pace. "And this?" He pointed to an
ivy-painted flowerpot on the windowsill. Within it rested the
remains of a geranium that had long since passed on to wherever
neglected plants go when they die.
I offered him a sheepish grin and a shrug. Nori never met a plant
she couldnít kill in record time. "The pot only. I take no
responsibility for my daughterís murderous tendencies toward all
He bent down and squinted at the dead plant. "What in the
world is this?"
I stepped around the bed to take a closer look, expecting to find
a mealy bug or two attempting to eke out a bare-bones existence on
the remains of a dead leaf. But Hy wasnít referring to anything
creepy or crawly. He pried something off the surface of the caked
dirt and held it up for closer inspection.
My belly flip-flopped. Red-hot heat surged up my neck and into my
cheeks. I felt as embarrassed as the time my mother caught me
reading The Joy of Sex. And I was already married then.
"Thatís nothing," I squeaked out through a suddenly
restricted windpipe. I grabbed for the item in his hand but he
refused to part with it.
He held it up to the light of the window, turning it to inspect
the one-inch object from all directions. He cocked his head; his
forehead furrowed, his bushy white brows knitting together. Then he
laughed. "Iíll be damned. It looks like a younger version of
I filled with pride that he could so easily identify the
caricature representation of Nori I had painted on the piece, but I
really didnít want to have to explain the origin of the item he
held in his hand. "Uhm...yes...well, itís nothing. Really.
Just a stupid idea I once had."
I donít know what I was thinking when I came up with that
lunatic notion. Maybe I had suffered from PMS that day. The entire
incident was too embarrassing to dredge up and explain. I distinctly
remember tossing the piece out years ago. How strange that Nori had
picked it out of the trash and saved it.
"Is it stone?" Hy weighed the irregularly shaped piece,
slightly larger than a marble, in the palm of his hand.
"No, I didnít think so." He bounced it in his hand.
"Too light." He studied it once more. "And too oddly
shaped for stone." He peered down at me. "Connie, this is
fascinating. What exactly is it?"
I shook my head. "Iíd rather not say."
He raised his head and stared at me, an expression of disbelief
and astonishment settling over his face. "Why the bloody hell
"Youíll think Iím nuts."
"Why would I think that?"
"Because it was a crazy idea. And weird. Everyone said
He raised an eyebrow. "Iím not everyone."
No, he wasnít. And he hadnít patronized me and my countrified
crafts projects once. Hadnít referred to them as tacky or
unsophisticated. Not that what he held in his hand was anything
close to a typical "country" craft -- either in technique
or style or subject matter. Not by a long shot. This was no painted
sweatshirt with little piggies or a floral decoupaged ice tea tray.
Hy hadnít once laughed or rolled his eyes or made a face the way
my highfalutin sister-in-law Florrie did behind my back. He actually
expressed admiration for what I created. Wanted to market them.
I chewed my lower lip, trying to decide whether or not to divulge
my secret. But what was the worst that could happen? Heíd roar
with laughter the way Marjorie had? Still.... "Promise you wonít
I took a deep breath. "Itís a belly button casting."
(Note: Lois has sold a second novel to Dorchester
Publishing, Love, Lies, and a Mocha Latte, a romantic suspense set
whose heroine is a renowned needle artist. It is scheduled for
release in the second half of 2007. Lois continues to design
needlework products. Her latest is published in the June issue of The
Cross Stitcher. To contact Lois, email firstname.lastname@example.org
and visit www.loiswinston.com.
To read previous entries in "Kate's Collage," click on the
titles in the right-hand column.)