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CYBURBIA

THE GOODS : Be You Serious or Fun Seeker, the Net Can Keep You in Stitches

August 25, 1995|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's a game I play when introducing someone to cyberspace. I tell them, "Just pick a topic." Then I dazzle them with all the information to be found on the subject on the Internet. I had every reason to believe this trick would work when my friend Hope, who does consulting work for the National Endowment for the Arts, dropped by to check out the Net. Arts types are usually easy--they pick something like theater, dance, performance art or opera, topics that can be widely explored online. But Hope had something else in mind. "Needlepoint," she said, turning expectantly toward the computer screen.

"Is that one word or two?" I first had to ask.

As I typed her request into an Internet search program, I wasn't sure we'd come up with even one hit. Needlepoint is not exactly one of the common pastimes of cyberpunks. I've yet to read a feature about it in Wired. But it was my turn to be impressed. The search turned up several colorful sites devoted to stitchery--including needlepoint and its close cousin, the cross-stitch. There were lots of pictures showing enthusiasts' creations, many of which were of the precious variety found only in the homes of aunts and in certain bed-and-breakfast establishments.

One site, sponsored by the British magazine Needlecraft (on the World Wide Web at http://www.futurenet.co.uk/ crafts/needlecraft.html#Stitching), features a different stitchery project every month. The current one, "How to stitch a charming floral card," is so very British, it's the kind of item you expect to see parodied on "Absolutely Fabulous." But there were also needlepoint pieces that made use of wonderfully handsome, geometric designs similar to those used by quilt makers. And some of the cross-stitch work resembled tapestries.

I was taken aback by how expensive a hobby it can be for serious stitchers. A woman known only as Theodora sells, via her WWW page, hand-painted canvases for use in needlepoint. Her "Mother and Infant" was priced at $260; her "Santa" cost $360. At least that's not the norm. "But a pattern can easily cost you $30," explained Hope. That's why one of the most interesting ventures of this type on the Internet is "Wonderful Stitches" (http://www.webcom.com/~stitch/), sponsored by Diane and Roger Schultz of Montrose.

In the mid-1970s, Diane was a textile major at Cal State Northridge, where she specialized in weaving. "But the prices of materials just went out of sight, and you needed so much of it for weaving," she said. "A lot of schools stopped carrying weaving. That's when I discovered needlepoint, and I thought it was charming." Eventually, she developed her own decorative stitches to give an increased range of textures within a design.

She and her husband published a couple of books on the topic, but print wasn't a satisfactory method for distributing examples of her work. "When you are running a small business, you can't afford to have big printing runs or even color," Roger said. "On the Internet, it doesn't cost you anything more for color. And you don't have the printing costs." Being a computer scientist, Roger knew the online world well. They made a deal with a Northern California Internet publisher to get a site on the Web (it now costs $50 to $60 a month), and Roger set about designing their pages.

Unlike many sites that are purely commercial, the Schultzes decided to give away at least some information on "Wonderful Stitches." "It's kind of like the ethic of the old ARPAnet," Roger said, speaking of an early version of the Internet started and operated by the U.S. government. "The idea of the Net back then was that it was for a free exchange of information. You should give as much as you take."

The current "Wonderful Stitches" page shows detailed views of 24 decorative stitches developed by Diane. With each comes a chart showing how the stitch can be used to make various patterns.

Additionally, the site shows pillows and other items that have been tastefully adorned with decorative stitches. Giving away this information is not totally altruistic. Roger said he hopes it will attract people who will like Diane's work enough to order one of her books. If they keep coming back on a regular basis, they will be able to collect all of Diane's stitching charts.

"They would have to keep coming back for four or five years, but they could get them all that way," Diane said. "We have to hope there will be people who like what I've done and won't want to wait." Maybe sites like those of the Schultzes will strike a chord with the cyber crowd, bringing a whole new aesthetic to the craft. I can't wait for the Doom-themed monitor covers and matching mouse cozies.

* Cyburbia's Internet address is Colker@news.latimes.com.

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