GREENVILLE–Tim Nealeigh has been competing in the Domestic Arts Department at the Great Darke County Fair since 1999 and was this year’s Featured Exhibitor.
His display was set up in the building across from the main Domestic Arts Building.
Ever since he began competing.
“I have received at least one rosette for each of the top three awards presented…the Superintendent’s Award, Best of Show, and People’s Choice…each year,” he said.
He jokingly tells the organizers of the department his only goal is to win enough prize money to pay for his fair ticket.
“He brings unbelievably beautiful, intricate, well-made, and historically accurate clothing in the home sewing category along with interesting projects in crochet, knitting, and other categories,” said Betsy Nisonger, Domestic Arts manager. “He willingly shares his knowledge and enthusiasm for the skills and arts. He and his wife, Katheleen, along with his children and grandchildren at times, have spoken and demonstrated at our revue, educating us on the fashions of the past.”
Nealeigh estimates he began sewing around the age of 6 when his mother and grandmother, working on a treadle machine, would give him and his five siblings articles of clothing to sew up. He also watched them knit and crochet and became interested in that as well.
He remembers being an eighth-grader when he wanted his own pair of pajamas; so, he made them.
“My sewing really got started in 1967,” he said. “That was when Katheleen was pregnant with our first child. She was sitting at our treadle machine, which we used in 1969, making herself a dress. I bought some patterns, and fabric and made her some more maternity dresses. She quit sewing then.”
Most of his skills are self-taught after researching, reading, and experimenting with threads and materials.
Besides the categories he enters in the fair, he is also an expert in lace-making, loom weaving, spinning, and tatting. He willingly demonstrates these talents at the fair for the public. This year, he was seen demonstrating his 1920-something knitting machine.
In keeping with his interest in history, he and Katheleen, throughout their lives, have participated in re-enactments and festivals across the country, including many on the East Coast, The Fair at New Boston, and the Jane Austin Festival.
The Nealeighs give talks and demonstrations at museums. All the clothing he makes is based on historical accuracy, using authentic patterns researched in museums in the UK and in Janet Arnold’s books on historical garments.
Between 1974-81, the Nealeighs had a weaving shop in their home called “The Wool Wheels.” He stayed at home to help raise their children, Deirdre and Thomas, but closed the shop when he began teaching, primarily French. He retired from Tri-Village Schools in 2009 after 24 years.
At Tri-Village, he taught French, computer science, humanities and theater.
One of his most memorable experiences, he said, was being involved with his wife in a teacher exchange in 1994-95 in Senegal, Africa. He taught French while there, thanks to the Fulbright Teacher Exchanges program.
When asked what his favorite art is, he initially stated it is whatever he is doing at the moment. However, when pressed, he admitted weaving might be his favorite. He has a sewing room, which is off limits to everyone, and where he spends time throughout the day when he has a few minutes.
He has multiple projects in the works at all times and picks up whatever he is in the mood for at the time. He acquires his supplies and patterns wherever he travels, and sites found in his research such as in historical magazines and journals.
Most of the items he has made he has either donated or given away to friends and family. He doesn’t sell them.
His future plans for projects are to try new and different skills he hasn’t done before.
Nealeigh was raised in Darke County and has early memories of the Darke County Fair, such as eating cold chicken from the trunk of the car parked by the old chicken barn.
He has been active in the community his whole life. He has been director of his church choirs at St. Louis Church in North Star for 50 years, does the living history re-enactments for which he has developed characters and made garments for them, such as St. Nicholas, St. Martin of Tours, and the soldier at the foot of the cross.
He may even be seen around the fair dressed as some of his other favorite characters. He is involved in musical theater, Darke County Civic Theater, and Irish dancing competitions and sings at weddings and funerals. He also does hospital visitations for his church, and he has collected nativities from around the world, which are on display each Christmas at the Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics.
Katheleen retired in 2005 as an English teacher at Greenville City Schools.
“She reads constantly,” said 80-year-old Tim.
“Tim embodies what a featured exhibitor is meant to be,” said Nisonger. “He has great talent, knowledge, and skill in multiple domestic arts. He produces items which are well-made and historically accurate. He is willing to share his knowledge with others. He is always humble in his winning and gracious in his losing. He never judges others’ work and is always encouraging and admiring to others. He exudes excitement for the projects people bring to the fair. He is always looking for new skills to learn. He is supportive of the department, such as donating fabric annually for the fabric challenge. He is inspirational in his attitude, skills, and knowledge. The Domestic Arts Department is proud to have him as this year’s featured exhibitor.”