Thea Dueck’s Victoria Sampler is a giant in the needlework universe

Company offers 350 unique designs and kits

  • Oct. 14, 2019 7:00 a.m.

– Story by Han Tammemagi Photography by Don Denton

One of life’s little pleasures is being initiated to something new. Last week, I felt a frisson of excitement as I entered the very-new-to-me world of needle art.

North Saanich’s Thea Dueck introduced me to a specialized form of needlework or stitching that produces beautiful art called samplers. Okay, I’m male and this activity, which requires considerable patience and talent using needle and coloured thread, is practised primarily by females. But I was drawn in, fascinated.

This form of needlework has a large, dedicated and ardent — almost fanatical — group of followers spread across the world. There are YouTube videos, Facebook and Instagram pages, specialized craft stores, online chat groups where designs and tips are shared, and much more.

Thea is a giant in this universe of needlework with an enormous following. One of the top designers in Canada, she works with four employees and supplies sampler kits and supplies to enthusiasts all over the world, although the bulk of her customers live in the United States.

Her firm, Victoria Sampler, offers about 350 unique designs made by Thea, a package of the necessary threads and explanatory instructions. Most importantly, the kit includes detailed charts and instructions showing how to stitch the scene. To my unpracticed eye, a chart looks like a complex array of hieroglyphics laid out on graph paper.

Thea’s home is decorated with numerous framed “samplers.” A sampler, I discovered, is needleworker jargon for a piece of cloth on which a scene is stitched, often including a poem or saying. I was impressed by the variety of natural landscapes, animals such as dogs and sheep, and people in various activities, as well as by the harmony of the design patterns.

Thea’s samplers were also inspirational and thoughtful, reflecting her warm, friendly and intelligent personality. I was drawn to a vertical sampler in a brown frame that reads:

Sweet gentle eyes,

a cold wet nose

and silken velvet ears

a heart as big as all outdoors

best friends

throughout the years

I LOVE MY DOG

Six smiling dogs of different breeds sit near the top of the sampler with geometric designs and scenes of dogs playing with people interspersed among the lines of text and special stitches. What a wonderful sampler for anyone who cherishes their dog.

Three-dimensional art is also possible. Embroidered pin cushions and pillows, for example, are common items. Thea makes “gingerbread” houses for Christmas décor with cloth walls that are decorated with stitched seasonal scenes.

Looking closer, I saw that stitching with coloured threads, also called floss, onto cloth to form patterns, scenes and script is painstakingly intricate work.

“It takes about 20 hours over a few weeks to stitch one like this,” Thea said, showing a framed sampler about 20-by-12 inches with an Easter scene. “Most stitchers follow a design. More difficult and time consuming, is designing a sampler, and then transferring the scene onto a chart.”

This is done using graph paper or a special computer program.

A significant part of Thea’s time is devoted to interacting with the needlework community. Fortunately, she has a very friendly, outgoing personality. Furthermore, she is computer-savvy and adept with social media. She has a website, a Facebook page and is constantly making YouTube and instructional videos. Thea also runs a chat room and recently started the online Victoria Sampler Academy with the goal of teaching advanced stitches (beyond the popular cross stitch). The annual VS Retreat where attendees stitch together with Thea is always sold out months in advance.

Born in Holland, Thea was introduced to stitching by her mother and grandmother. Moving to Victoria at age nine, she enjoyed music and art and was naturally creative. In 1988, at age 40, she discovered she had a knack for not only doing needlework but also for the painstaking job of drawing charts so others could make similar samplers.

“I do more than just stitching; I look for meaning and try to place immense detail in a small space.”

She started Lampost Designs to sell her kits, which focused on Victoria tourism; for example, a typical sampler featured the BC Legislative buildings. The Victoria Sampler company was born in 1993. Thea began to travel and teach more frequently and went to a few trade shows in the US.

“It was a wonderful time of discovery, learning the business and learning new stitches,” she enthused.

I was impressed that she had the skill and drive to transform her hobby into a paying business, since nothing beats earning a living from doing what you love. Fortunately, Thea’s partner, Richard, provided unstinting support and knowledge in marketing and business. Now an international business connected to the world through the internet, Victoria Sampler operates from her home on the Peninsula. Thea lives upstairs and downstairs are offices, storage rooms, video setups and more.

What a wonderful world I’d discovered. Thea and her creative, efficient and successful business, I thought, were a perfect subject for a sampler.

You can check out Thea’s website here.

Lifestyle

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cup of tea can be a great hand-warmer on a cold day. (submitted)
Tea: it picks you up, it does not let you down

A good cup of tea never fails to brighten up the day

A map created by Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping, which assesses the sensitivity of Canada’s Pacific Coast to oil spills. This map highlights the Douglas Channel and other inlets and waterways around Kitimat and out to the coast. (Clear Seas map)
Douglas Channel scores ‘medium’ to high’ on oil spill sensitivity study

The study was done by a not-for-profit group specializing in sustainable marine shipping

Jody Craven of Kitimat has been announced as the BC Libertarian Party’s candidate for North Coast riding MLA on Oct. 5. (Jody Craven photo)
Jody Craven of Kitimat in the running for North Coast MLA

BC Libertarian Party has announced Craven as North Coast candidate for riding

Martin Holzbauer, independent, Nicole Halbauer, BC NDP, and Ellis Ross, BC Liberal Party, are the candidates for the Skeena riding in the upcoming provincial election. (Terrace Standard/BC NDP)
Skeena candidates talk northwest education

Online learning access and early childhood education were common themes

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read