Danville woman creates art with needle and thread


Kay Dunn cannot remember a time when she didn't have a piece of needlework in her hands. As a kid, she created decorative tea towels. Now, she stitches elaborate works, most of which are auctioned for charity.

"I truly, truly enjoy it," says Dunn, who answers the phone at Kentucky School for the Deaf at night.

She remembers the first counted cross-stitch piece she made. It sat around in a drawer for a long time before she got up the nerve to work on it. It had Christmas bells on it and was a "tiny thing."

"After I figured out how to do it, I was hooked," says Dunn, a Boyle County native.

She even finished a piece started by her mother, who died when Dunn was 9.

Dunn has been a member of an international sorority, Beta Sigma Phi, since 1964. When she finished that first Christmas bells piece, a sorority sister who owned a paint store that did framing took it and had it framed.


"The sorority pays to have it framed," notes Dunn. "The sorority does gifts for Luminosity - each person is responsible for a gift."

Luminosity is a fund-raising event for Central Kentucky Cancer Program. Dunn says she prefers the pieces she creates for Luminosity, which usually have a Christmas theme, to be auctioned there. She remembers Barbara and Ben Sochacki bought the first piece she made, and Dr. DeLuca bought last year's piece, which brought in nearly $1,000, Dunn says.

"I always liked doing Christmas things"

"I always liked doing Christmas things," she adds of her favored theme. "I gave (pieces) away as gifts."

She started at the beginning of the year working on next year's piece for Luminosity, which will have beads, she says. This year's work already is done and needs to be framed.

She points to a cross-stitch piece in her bedroom, a Santa Claus. His face had to be done first, although most cross-stitch pieces are begun in the center and the stitches are counted. "You're constantly changing thread back and forth."

But she wanted to see if she could do the face, and then the border. Both would need to match up perfectly, she says.

She succeeded.

As she moves from room to room, rabbits and a colonial theme permeate her home, located in - of course - Colonial Heights. "I love Williamsburg," Dunn says. "I just love the colonial aspect. (My husband) Jerry and I have been going there for the last 20 years. "And I love rabbits. I've always loved them. I have rabbits in every room."

So she was delighted when she found a counted cross-stitch pattern with Santa Claus and rabbits.

Two special pieces in her living room

Her living room holds two special pieces: Her signature piece, "The 12 Days of Christmas," and a partial replica of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which Dunn calls "The Wall." Dunn's first husband, Ronald L. Million, was killed in Vietnam Dec. 6, 1968. Dunn, who says she has a patriotic inclination, notes she got the pattern from a national park publication. "I just put different names in there," she says, adding she included the six soldiers from Boyle County who died in the war.

Dunn says probably five other "12 Days of Christmas" are around, and it's a pattern for which she frequently is asked. She declines to pass it along because it is her signature work.

She gets many of her patterns from stitchery magazines, but sometimes good patterns are not easy to find.

"It's getting harder to find really pretty patterns," says Dunn, who does most of her work on weekends now.

The time spent on each piece varies, she adds. The longest she has worked on a piece was six months. Her tools and thread are kept in her grandmother's sewing basket.

Two aspects of counted cross-stitch are particularly difficult, Dunn says.

"Working with metallic thread is hard - it wants to fray and you have to use short pieces," she explains. "And beading is difficult. The bead needle is fine, and getting the bead to lay flat is hard."

But that doesn't diminish her pleasure in her needlework. In fact, her patriotic sensibility got her to thinking about more Walls. "I had thought about anyone with family on The Wall - I'd be glad to do (a piece) for nothing," she says.

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