Sheryn Blocher of Crownsville (left) and Mary Anne Brown work on a panel of a tapestry depicting 19th century Annapolis. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / December 29, 2011)

They sit hunched over a single needlepoint canvas that is bathed in astoundingly bright light, fingers flying.

"Where am I? My needle is under here," Joy Wiley of Lothian says to herself as she stops to examine her work while feeling around beneath the canvas for her dangling yarn and needle.

"We hate these tails," says Sheryn Blocher of Crownsville with a sigh, glaring at what look like weeds standing up from the canvas. She will imperceptibly secure the base of each wisp of yarn, or tail, before trimming it away.

Mary Ann Brown leans back, giving her eyes a rest, looking around the living room of her Edgewater home. The room has been eaten by this project — with its 84-inch-long frame that stretches the canvas, baskets and pallets of yarn piled everywhere, a large photo of the canvas occupying the sofa, and needlework tools all around, plus a gaggle of lamps.

The three women, part of a core group of about 10 needlepointers, are stitching the second of the three tapestries, each 3 feet by 6 1/2 feet, in a needlepoint project known as the Annapolis Tapestries.

When finished, the large tapestries, plus the three dozen smaller ones, will depict three centuries of Annapolis history.

That won't happen for another five years or so. But there's a milestone coming in late January:

The first big tapestry, which shows the first century of the city's charter government that began in 1708, will make its public debut, along with 10 of its smaller cousins, at the Historic Annapolis Museum. The exhibit will run through November. Meanwhile, the tapestries are being prepared for display.

"You can see Annapolis and significant events and people of the time," said Remy Agee of Crofton, who heads the project.

Visitors will see a homegrown blend of art and history, and a view of the very green Annapolis of the 1700s — before substantial development and the Naval Academy fleshed out the town. Punctuating the landscape are detailed images. Those include George Washington resigning his commission, the Liberty Tree under patriots gathered, and a Queen Anne loyalty pendant worn in the Colonies as well as in England to show allegiance to the queen for whom Annapolis is named.

The first large panel, completed in October 2010, took 39 shades of Persian yarn, 3,266 volunteer hours and about two years to complete.

Figuring out which shade to use can be a major challenge, requiring a group decision.

"We have blue-greens and spring-greens," Brown said, holding a cardboard palette of nine shades of green. "The difference between dark green and dark spring-green is barely detectable."

These women generally don't do the smaller tapestries, which show people and events that didn't make it onto the main canvas. Among those are Gov. Horatio Sharpe's racehorse, Othello, and four signers of the Declaration of Independence — Samuel Chase, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, William Paca and Thomas Stone, who historians say made Annapolis the only town in the country where all of a state's signers lived at one time or another.

Jean Russo, associate general editor of the Archives of Maryland online and staff historian for the Historic Annapolis Foundation, was among the experts who vetted designs for accuracy.

She's also a stitcher. Besides occasionally working on the large canvases, she's done two small ones being prepared for the exhibit.

"I worked on it at staff meetings, heritage area meetings — things that were history-related so they couldn't complain about me sitting there doing it," Russo said.

The exhibit will guide visitors through the creation of the tapestries on display. And it will continue a feature that's been part of the project all along: the community stitching of smaller pieces. Plans call for museum visitors to be able to add a few stitches to a small canvas in progress.

There have been hundreds of community stitchers. Some, like students at the Montessori International Children's House in Annapolis, have done entire pieces. But now word has gone out that anyone can help make history by putting in six stitches on a small canvas that women in the project take to area events.