During the pandemic, Sarah Klishevich was in pursuit of a creative outlet— “something to keep my hands busy and pass the time,” she recalls. She dabbled in acrylic pour painting and epoxy resin, but when her two young boys also took interest, she decided to search for a more solitary activity that would provide the “mental health break” she craved. So, she purchased a cross-stitch kit. While that would prove too arduous, it did point her to the perfect craft for unwinding: Embroidery.
Inspired by movie quotes and song lyrics that made her smile— “We watched a lot of Wes Anderson films and listened to a lot of ’90s rap during quarantine,” Klishevich says—she created pieces that resonated with her “weird sense of humor,” as well as small gifts for family and friends.
She initially embroidered on early 20th-century dresser scarves provided by her mother, a sewer and quilter with an affinity for vintage textiles. To pad her collection of linens, she soon took to perusing Wilmington antique shops and estate sales (“Many of them are these amazing time capsules with things that no one wants anymore!” Klishevich notes), adding other adornments like retro upholstery, hat ornaments and vintage frames for finishing touches.
“It started out as a way for me to decompress at the end of the day after the kids were in bed,” says Klishevich, who works full time as a facilities manager at a Delaware-based investment firm. “But then it got out of hand. …I had made so many pieces that my husband finally said, ‘We don’t have enough walls to hang all of this. You should try to sell them.”
Klishevich had learned from a friend and fine artist about a woman who was stitching Missy Elliott lyrics and charging $400 on Etsy. Although she maintains that price is outrageous, it did spark a curiosity about turning her own works for profit.
One day her husband came home after visiting the Bellefonte Brewery and told her about a Sunday craft fair the venue was hosting. As a form of encouragement, he’d already asked them to hold a spot for her.
Skeptical about what the response might be to Wu-Tang Clan lyrics, The Big Lebowski and Designing Women dialogues, or somber idioms ironically stitched into Battenburg lace doilies, she was surprised to sell five of the 20 works she’d showcased—and even more puzzled by which pieces people liked.
“The first one I sold said, ‘What doesn’t kill you gives you unhealthy coping mechanisms and a dark sense of humor,’” Klishevich remembers. “I thought it was weird that the woman was purchasing it as a wedding gift…but then I learned that the recipient was a therapist.”
Another, featuring Beastie Boys lines from the song “Intergalactic,” went to a female pastor.
Soon after, that same artist friend—a former exhibitor at the Brandywine Festival of the Arts—suggested Klishevich apply. She knew the event was looking to diversify media, and she’d never seen anything like this.
A few months and dozens of new works later, Klishevich had a rented a tent amid several regionally renowned painters, potters and jewelry makers at Brandywine Park. On a balmy fall weekend that attracted dense crowds, Klishevich welcomed fellow “weirdos” with an appreciation for her wall hangings. (Her mom stood on a nearby corner directing passersby— “You have to come in and see everything; it’s not like ‘live, laugh, love!’”)
“I sold 65 framed pieces, plus a handful of embroidered masks and sweatshirts I had decided to make at the last minute,” Klishevich says, still in disbelief. “That first day was furious—I was selling something every 15 minutes.”
The experience attracted a new following, some seeking commissions for loved ones or their own homes. Now Klishevich is concepting holiday themes, which can be viewed on her Instagram @sk_stitch, and she has no plans to stop stitching anytime soon.
“It’s my therapy,” she says. “It makes me even happier now to know that these pieces are going to a good home and making other people laugh.”