■ BY SUE ERWIN
Tricia Heaton describes herself as a needlepointing, party throwing, traveling bookworm. An eternal optimist who sees beauty in everything, she almost always has a camera in hand.
Both her paternal grandmother and her mother were needlepointers, and she enthusiastically learned to stitch by the time she was six.
“As a teenager I finished my grandmother’s projects for her when she could no longer see the canvas clearly,” Tricia said.
She’s originally from Bronxville, New York, a village in Westchester County that’s located about 15 miles north of Manhattan.
Growing up, she attended an all-girls boarding school in Massachusetts.
“It was actually really fun,” Tricia said. “We didn’t have to stress out about boys … we could dress comfortably … it was a very supportive environment. And to this day, I have amazing friends from the school.”
As a college student, Tricia majored in fine arts at St. Lawrence University and went on to become a special education teacher. She has two master’s degrees, one in general education and one in special education. After college, she returned to Westchester County and taught special education there for seven years before having children. She also later taught special education at a high school in Vermont.
“I taught kids who had challenges, and they worked really hard to improve their lives,” Tricia said. “I was their cheerleader and I loved it. I am still in touch with most of them today. Several have become very successful, and I am very proud of them.”
Although she is not teaching anymore, she is on the board of trustees for the Long Trail School in Dorset, Vermont, a small, independent coed college preparatory school that has the only international baccalaureate program in the state. Four of Tricia’s children attended the school.
Tricia met her husband, Donald, 15 years ago. Mutual friends introduced them and they began dating. They are celebrating 10 years of marriage this year.
Tricia and Donald have seven children: Jasper, Brooke, Colin, William, Adam, Scotty and Courteney.
“They’re all great kids – I encourage them to follow their dreams and find what they love.”
Tricia discovered Boca Grande via her daughter Brooke, who visited the island six years ago and couldn’t wait to tell her parents all about the experience. Brooke, who also attended St. Lawrence University, came to Boca Grande on a spring break with family friends.
“She knew we wanted to buy a home in Florida, and when she came home she told us we had to go visit the island,” Tricia said. “Boca Grande actually has lovely St. Lawrence connections.”
Now that they are empty nesters, Tricia and Donald are enjoying a longer season in Boca Grande before they head up to Vermont at the end of May. They’ll be driving up with their two rescue dogs, Finn and Daisy.
“The dogs came out of shelters in Vermont, and now they are living the life in Boca Grande,” Tricia said. “They love the dog park and riding in the golf cart.”
The kids live all around the country and overseas, and they all love coming to visit their parents in Boca Grande.
“They tend to bring friends down with them, and we also get together in Vermont and Michigan in the summer months.”
Tricia and Donald have a family cottage in Empire, Michigan, which is located on Lake Michigan in the Lower Peninsula.
“This summer we are bringing a group of friends from Vermont,” Tricia said.
Due to her needlepoint design experience, a board member of the Boca Grande Art Center invited Tricia to teach a workshop last fall, which was very successful. She taught three classes this past season and is planning on teaching three sessions again next year. The one-day workshops are open to anyone interested in learning more about the hobby. Tricia creates colorful kits that include everything from handbags, pillows and pillowcases to eyeglass cases. One of her products was a purse that she donated to the last Hank Wright fundraiser. It consisted of five pieces that would become a purse that looks like a fictitious Slim Aarons cocktail table book displaying Boca Grande landmarks.
“I sell the needlepoint we design with all of the fibers – they are super high quality, like what you would find in a needlepoint store. And I deliver the kits in my golf cart.”
Her daughter Brooke is a needlepoint designer who creates many of the needlepoint designs that Tricia sells.
“She is 26 and she has a very successful needlepoint design business,” Tricia said. “She was featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine three years ago. Her company is called Thorn Alexander. We were trying to think of ways to help support her business. I had retired, so I decided to start my own company to create another venue to sell her needlepoint – and it just really took off.”
Tricia’s business is called Tricia Heaton Designs. Visitors to the site can find many unique and original creations like kits and accessories.
Tricia and Brooke’s businesses have both grown dramatically. Tricia will be adding new designers on her site this summer.
“It’s been an extraordinarily busy year and a half for both of us,” Tricia said. “I always tease Brooke that I am riding on her coattails … I started it just because I wanted to work with her in a different way.”
A significant line of Boca Grande canvases will be available to purchase next fall. It’s possible that one of the shops on the island will be carrying them.
“I work much more than I ever anticipated, but I am having such fun,” Tricia said. ‘I am constantly creating all day, which I love. And I’m actually looking for a small office on the island so I can have more space.”
When Tricia and Donald came to visit the island five years ago, they immediately loved it and left with a real estate contract that week. They’ve been enjoying spending the winters in Boca Grande for the past five years.
When she is not working, Tricia enjoys reading, travel, cooking and entertaining and of course needlepointing. She also loves photography and is a member of the Boca Grade Camera Club.
Although she will be heading north soon, Tricia admits she is not ready to leave beautiful Boca Grande.
“This island is a magical place. I love everything about it – the people, the old Florida feel and all the wonderful events offered during season.”
Tricia can be seen on her golf cart all around town, personally delivering needlepoint packages to island customers at The Gasparilla Inn & Beach Club and at their homes.
To learn more about Tricia’s needlepoint projects and her business, visit TriciaHeatonDesigns.com.
Look for the announcement about Tricia’s workshops at the Boca Grande Art Center in November.