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Meet Don - the designer behind Associated Talents and Two Sisters

Meet Don - the designer behind Associated Talents and Two Sisters

We sat down with Don Lynch, the talented designer behind Associated Talents and Two Sisters Needlepoint to learn more about his needlepoint story, his design process and more! Click here to shop his designs.
Tell us about yourself!
Formal resume: University of Kentucky business school graduate (after a freshman year as an art major) with a career in retail management before opening a needlepoint store in 1999. Started professionally designing needlepoint canvases @ 1989. Full Time designer in 2008. Less formal: a Kentucky native who moved to Charlotte, NC in 1989, married Alison in 1993, with two daughters (Preston 1997, Grace 2000.) Aside from family, biggest loves are travel, horse racing, and time at the beach. We took care of that last one by moving full-time to our weekend home in November of 2022.
How and when did you get into needlepoint?
My mother was an avid stitcher, and years ago, she thought I could use my artistic abilities to design canvas for her. My first attempt was a bellpull that started at about 6” wide, but grew as I didn’t realize staying on the same mesh was important. At that point, mom taught me how to stitch, so I would know what would happen. How did you become a needlepoint designer? Technically, I started designing for my mother and her friends. Professionally, I started as a reproduction artist for Carol Gantz (who lived in Charlotte when I moved there after college) and Sandy Steere who owned Associated Talents. This was a side hustle, that actually paid for my wife’s engagement ring (not the intent when I started, but there you go.) Occasionally, while painting inventory, I’d come up with my own ideas and “sell” them to AT. Eventually, after opening a needlepoint store (The Charlotte Needlepoint Co.) Carol and Sandy approached me about buying into the business.
What does your design process look like?
My process is somewhat all over the place. After every market, and at least two or three times a year, I take a deep dive on sales data. If something is going very well, I’ll add that shape or idea onto the “to-do” list. If something has fallen off, I’ll reconsider working on it. (But I do account for seasonal variations or “new” taking the focus off.) I always try to find a “home” for new designs, so is there a color story already going or a theme? I also have a running list of ideas I get from stores, stitchers, and co-workers. Ideas may live on the list for a very long time, or may get hit right away. I’m also a fan of working through an idea with the intent of editing at the end. When you see new designs, there are probably just as many that got painted (up to a point, or completed) that didn’t see the light of day. I also have screen shots and photos in a file on my phone of things I see that may or may not make it to a full fledged design. One current photo I have…that I’m still trying to figure out how to use…is of a marble bathroom floor. Still trying to work out that one.
What advice do you have for new stitchers?
I keep hearing these days that there are “no rules” in needlepoint, and I’d like to point out that is not true. There are plenty of rules, and they’re there to make your finished product the best it can be. I think you should be aware of these rules, but not stress over them, and know when to break them. If one simple change to the way you are doing something can make your stitching experience nicer, or the result turn out better, then why wouldn’t you want to try it? Now, there are no needlepoint police, so if you want to disregard the rules…there is no penalty. Also, when you move beyond being a new stitcher, and want to stretch your skills, always remember that thread is the least expensive part of your stitching. Try the stitch, try the thread…and if you don’t like it, pull it out.
What’s your favorite Associated Talent Design?
The easiest answer would be “whichever design I painted or stitched last.” And I think as a designer and a stitcher, that’s true. I’m currently having fun with the new star shaped Santas, which, when I painted the first one, looked like he had on footy pajamas.
How did Two Sisters become a brand?
Barbara Bergsten (of Barbara Bergsten Designs) was a friend of mine, and when she decided to retire from the needlepoint industry, asked my advice on how to proceed with her business. I gave her a few ideas, but then mentioned her dilemma at dinner that night. My wife, Alison suggested we consider buying her line, and refocus it to include our daughters Preston and Grace. Both girls (19 and 16 at the time) were casual stitchers, with an interest in design. We kept several of Barbara’s original collection, but have continued to add to it, and expand the offerings. To this day the girls still give me ideas and direction (on more than just design…) while they pursue their own careers as a high school teacher (Preston) and a CPA (Grace.) Fun fact: my mother-in-law was also part of a pair of sisters, and her sister (my aunt-in-law?) had named her house “The Two Sisters,” and that’s where the name came from.
Quick Q’s:
18 or 13 mesh count? 18
Favorite place to stitch? Usually in a corner of the sofa, at an un-godly early hour of the day. Gets the day going.
Favorite needlepoint piece? Whatever is on the stretcher bars in front of me, or our family’s stockings.
Favorite thread? Any stranded silk.
Needlepoint accessory you can’t live without? Premax scissors (I have 10 or 12 pair)

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