For the fifth year in a row, Odell Library Director Cathy Grafton was selected for the Directory of Traditional American Crafts, described by its organizational magazine “Early American Life” as the equivalent of the Academy Awards for “an artist working in traditional styles, media, and techniques.”
    “The judges look for authentic design and workmanship, whether the piece is a faithful reproduction or the artisan’s interpretation of period style,” said Tess Rosch, publisher of Early American Life. “Scholarship, as well as use of period tools and techniques, is particularly valued in this competition.”
    Grafton called it an “incredible honor” to be so recognized, and offered insight into how she got into quilt-making and what makes her embroidery worth such high honors.
    “I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and just when I got out of college, ‘Early American Life’ had an article about something called ‘The Feast of the Hunters’ Moon,’” she said of the historical re-enactment of a gathering that took place between the French and Native Americans in the 18th century, held in West Lafayette, Ind., each year since 1968. “I decided to go, and before I got on the ground, I could smell the wood smoke and could see the teepees. I knew I just wanted to be part of that.
    “So I’ve been quilting ever since, and eventually even wrote a book about it (“Nature, Design & Silk Ribbons, published by the American Quilter’s Society in 1996”), and I’ve also been going to the  ‘The Feast of the Hunters’ Moon’ ever since as an artisan, as well.”
    Grafton said that with the country’s bicentennial celebration in 1976, she received invites to show off her abilities at a number of different places, many of which she still attends. She noted that some stops she’s made so far in Illinois this year have adapted to celebrating the state’s own bicentennial.
    The library director said that because she attends authentic historical events, she typically does floral and Pennsylvania Dutch designs with influences from the Shakers, a Christian breakaway sect of the Quakers.
    “Many of the pieces I do are based on early American designs,” she said. “At the moment, I’m working on a couple of heart designs that are Fraktur, like Pennsylvania Dutch that are just very stylized designs with these very voluminous hearts, and they have a lot of birds and flowers.
    “I also take a lot of ideas from the Shaker designs, who did these beautiful pen and ink drawings of trees, like of the their Shaker Tree of Life, and then I interpret those drawings in needlework.”
    Grafton said she leaves enough room in interpretation for it not to be just merely reproduction, but to be her own creation — often with some playful anachronism.
    “I put these little silk ribbons bees in a lot of my pieces, and the reason is because I studied the Bayeux Tapestry in France which is a thousand year old embroidery and the stitch on that is a very tight couch-laid stich,” she explained. “That’s helped it last all these years, so I wanted to use that stitch in my own work, so I did that by adding bee skeps to some of my designs, using that stitch.
    Once I had the skep, I had to figure out out to do the bees, and then I learned that and so now a lot of my pieces have a little bee on them. I find that people are very attracted to that.”
    Perhaps that little extra flair is what makes Grafton the bees knees when it comes to embroidery.