At 14, Airmont resident William "Joey" Gavura has big, strapping hands with long, slim, tapered fingers.

That's just about perfect for a slugger who also happens to wield an expert needle.

Joey, as everyone calls him, recently won the top prize in his age group at the Oatlands Plantation Needlework Exhibition, which ran for 10 days in October. His entry, a cross-stitch picture of a T-38 Air Force jet flown by the Thunderbirds exhibition team, was judged Best in Show from among nine entries in the junior division, open to youths younger than 18.

Counted thread cross-stitch, the type of needlework Joey used for his piece, is done by sewing one short diagonal line and then crossing it with another diagonal. Each set of crossed lines is one stitch. The process is repeated over and over to form a picture on canvas.

The technique is among several accepted at the Oatlands Needlework Exhibition, which attracts amateur entries as well as those of professionals from across the metropolitan area. The only requirements are to stitch a piece in one of the specified categories, to pay the entry fee and to use a hand-held, threaded needle. The event is usually attended by thousands of people, who come to see the displays of piece work as well as special displays such as this year's exhibit of hand-stitched antebellum ball gowns.

Joey says he never expected to win, for the simple reason that the Thunderbirds picture (he's now working on a series of them) was the first complete piece he had ever done.

"I was surprised," he said one evening, seated at his family's kitchen table. "I didn't think it was my work."

"A better word would be shocked," offered his mother, Diane Gavura.

"Yeah, majorly," Joey agreed.

What came as no surprise, though, was that a boy like Joey, who plays baseball and basketball and builds remote-control cars, would be interested in needlework. After all, his father has been stitching for 15 years.

"He saw me doing it and he asked about it and he tried it and he liked it," said Thomas Gavura, an air traffic controller and volunteer firefighter and rescue worker.

The Gavuras are not alone. Judy Munson, the exhibition chairman, said more men and boys are picking up needles these days. She noted that Joey was among three boys and more than a dozen men to enter this year's exhibition.

"It's still predominantly women," she said, "but the interest is really broadening."

In the Gavura household, cross-stitch is for men only. Diane Gavura loves to knit, crochet and quilt, but creating pictures with tiny needles is not her cup of tea.

"Cross-stitch drives me crazy," she said.

At age 5, Joey made an attempt to be more like Mom.

"He tried knitting and found out the needles wouldn't go the way he wanted them to," Diane Gavura recalled.

"The things wouldn't bend," Joey said.

He took his first stab at cross-stitch, he recalls, when he was 8 or 9. No one remembers what the piece was. They know only that he never finished it, and that it mysteriously vanished, along with his interest.

Until July, when he started the Thunderbirds piece. In September, he entered it in the exhibition, just for fun.

Now that he's a winner, Joey says he might just stick with needlework. Besides his Thunderbirds series, he's working on a picture of Garfield, the cartoon cat, and other characters in Jim Davis's comic strip.

The other day, he spent six hours on it, much to his mother's amazement.

Joey shrugged.

"I wanted to finish Pooky {Garfield's teddy bear}," he said.

But there also are those times when his attention span is closer to six seconds than six hours.

"Then," Joey said, "you see {a piece} flying across the room."