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Ed Darrah’s counted cross-stitch picture took the grand-champion ribbon for cross-stitch at the 2014 Senior Day at the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair. Darrah’s one-man show of stitched pictures is on display at the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center.
Ed Darrah’s counted cross-stitch picture took the grand-champion ribbon for cross-stitch at the 2014 Senior Day at the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair. Darrah’s one-man show of stitched pictures is on display at the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center. (Nancy McKenzie photo)

Ed Darrah did not set out to become a needlework artist.

Darrah joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1945, when he was 17. The World War II veteran served for 3 1/2 years, mostly working in China to repatriate the Japanese out of China.

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Once he left the Marine Corps, he went into the aerospace industry. "I started out as a tool and die maker, and ended up as an engineering specialist," said Ed, now 86.

After his retirement from General Electric in 1990, Ed and Lois, his wife of 65 years, relocated from Abington, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, to Mount Airy to be closer to their daughter, who lives in Gaithersburg. Their son lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

Retirement gave Ed a chance to focus on woodworking, his favorite hobby. Favorite, that is, until a woodworking accident that nearly cut off his fingers. At that point, "my wife said I had to try something else," Ed said.

The thought of finding a new way to pass his time led Ed to consider the counted cross-stitch art pieces that his daughter was making. "I said to my wife, 'Well, if she can do it, I can do it better,'" he said.

In the last 12 years, Ed has completed about 20 to 24 counted cross-stitch pictures. Many of those, including the picture that won a grand-champion ribbon on Senior Day at the Carroll County Fair 4-H & FFA Fair this year, are on display through Aug. 29 at the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center.

From starting out with less-complicated pictures of lighthouses, Ed now works on large canvases that require a variety of stitches. Currently he is working on a snow scene that will require dozens of French knots on top of the cross-stitches to represent the falling snow.

Ed reports that doing fine needlework is not tiring for his hands and eyes. He can sit and stitch for hours, taking anywhere from four to six months to complete a cross-stitch picture.

Ed likes to keep the whole canvas in view as he works. Even though he has given up on most woodworking, he said, "I make my own wooden frames to stretch [the canvas] out. I'm always looking at the pictures."

One piece that he is particularly proud of is the portrait of the couple's late dog, Freckles, a cocker spaniel. He sent a photograph away to have a chart made of thread colors, and he transformed the photo into a work of cross-stitch.

Cross-stitch isn't the only thing that keeps Ed busy. He's a past commander of American Legion Post 191 in Mount Airy and a past county commander for the American Legion for Carroll County. These days, he takes care of building maintenance for Post 191.

Referring to his cross-stitch pictures, Ed said, "I don't sell any, but I do donate them for various charities. I donated one to the Sons of the American Legion for their drawdown to raise money for different projects. Some woman bid over $600 to get it."

The Darrahs are also active with the 55-Plus club that meets at the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center, and Ed serves as finance officer for that group. "He's wonderful," Angie Walz, center manager, said. "He's done this one-man show."

The Darrahs' home is furnished with pieces he built during his woodworking days and decorated with cross-stitch pictures created by both Ed and his daughter.

When asked how she felt about her husband's needlework hobby, Lois said, "I think it's great. Although, I liked all the [woodworking] things that he made, I like the pictures, too."

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Ed has two canvases in progress — the snow scene and a view of the clock tower of Big Ben in London. "I have to keep ahead of my daughter," he said.

"You work faster than she does," said Lois.

If you go

The exhibit of Ed Darrah's counted cross-stitch works will continue through Aug. 29.

Where: Mount Airy Senior and Community Center, 703 Ridge Ave., Mount Airy

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday

More information: Call 410-795-1017 or 301-829-2407

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