Stitching a Creative Journey
A Threading the Needle Submission on Mindful Creating
I stare at my computer screen, desperately thinking of a hobby to do in my spare time that gives my eyes respite from looking at a screen. Gaming has been a passion of mine since I was a tot, sure, but being a system administrator and looking at a screen all day to solve helpdesk tickets has worn enthusiasm for digital consumption down considerably. With my library of books both read and unread standing stalwart on my bookshelf, they seem like the most obvious choice, yet I lack the energy to dive headfirst into a tale after an emotionally taxing day existing. I even considered re-investing in Perler beads before realizing the mess it's liable to make. I also consider picking up one of the existing mediums of traditional art I have stowed away – watercolors and oils I have had since middle school, or using colored pencils I recently invested in and could stand more use. My problem with these mediums is that I lose my desk for however long it takes for me to have the energy and will to see a work through to completion. Not to mention my current lack of self-esteem for traditional art has nearly crippled my desire to sketch, much less complete a work in which I find earnest satisfaction.
"There has to be something out there I can do for a good unwinding activity," I mutter to myself before looking over at my desk where a cross stitched bookmark peeks out of a cup. A friend's mother made the bookmark with my name and a few flower embellishments on it as a late birthday gift over a decade ago. I start looking up cross stitching as a hobby and find myself entrenched in several how-tos, websites devoted to cross stitching, and forums dedicated to both cross stitching and embroidery. I find a kit on Amazon that has 100 skeins of different colored flosses, embroidery hoops, needles, aida, threaders, and more for just under $20. I place the order and eagerly wait for the kit's arrival before perusing the internet further for a free pattern to try out first.
I was directed to DMC's website for embroidery supplies after several people mentioned their quality for embroidery floss. I skimmed through the free patterns available and found a beginner level patter for a "Love Rose," and decided I will do that one to see if this really is the hobby for me.
A few days pass, and my embroidery supplies arrive. The hoops feel flimsy, the aida is rough and gridding not quite pristine, the floss is unnumbered and a pain to figure out, but I feel oddly at ease and excited to begin stitching. I take my time to try to color match the floss to what DMC numbers were listed, and I feel unsure, but I press on anyway. In my great trepidation to start in the center, I instead start at the top leaf and begin stitching downward. I double- and even triple-check the rows for the colors and count, and I start with one lone cross at the tip. I then begin to feel like I could possibly do this.
One stitch turns into three, and three into twelve, and before I realize it, half an hour has passed, and all I have to show for my endeavors is a tiny leaf. I take pride in it and breathe a deep sigh of relief and somehow feel more at ease. Another two hours pass, and I finished some of the top petals. I felt time escape me as I focused solely on the project at hand and not on the woes of the day or anything amiss in my life at that point. Freedom and relaxation grew as I made cross after cross on the aida, and before I knew it, I was looking forward to completion around the corner. Something new I started that I could possibly finish for myself. Something I could easily say, “Let me finish just this one last bit of floss, and I can call it a night” and a craft that can be put away on the nightstand without it taking up too much space.
This could be the start of a worthwhile investment of my time. I sense a joy bubbling from within and am eager to finally complete my project.
It took a couple weeks longer than I thought, but I finally finished the Love Rose. I beamed with delight at finally completing it, and I found my unscented soap to gently wash it and let it dry. Sure, the back is messy and nowhere near as neat as many finishes I have seen online at that point, but it matters not to me. I finished a project and now am chomping at the bit to start another. A friend sent me a cross stitching book for Christmas, and my dad got me another set of floss (this time closely numbered to DMC’s colors) with its own storage container. I start the outline for the next project Christmas Day and look forward to filling it in and sending the finished pattern to her, making it the first planned gift of many more to come.
I recall what a counselor once suggested to me back in October when I had a rough patch in my life, and that was to try meditating. I felt uncomfortable in letting my thoughts roam free at that time, but stitching brought forth its own means of decompression and untangling of my thoughts and emotions. It may be the reason why I felt compelled to continue stitching as much as I could.
Amazing how all it took was a bit of looking in the right place at the right time, and I did not know at the time that stitching would be the nexus for keeping sane and keeping together in the times that were to come.
My home state of Mississippi enacted lockdowns due to COVID-19. Plans I initially had for the year to travel for conventions and to see friends went down the toilet. The rotating schedule I had with my supervisor was a boon because it meant that not only could I stitch more, I could create more.
And create I did.
I came across more cooking and baking YouTube channels, and I gave a shot at making cookies from scratch that were so delicious that I had to share them with friends. I baked many a batch for them and sent nibbles of joy along the way. Following the directions and putting the recipe together had me in a state of calm, despite how frantic I may have appeared in the kitchen. There was an unspoken serenity had when my mind was in maker mode; the world kept turning without me, and I was fine being on my own rotation.
I also began learning how to accept my mistakes with grace. I was once a gifted, perfectionist child, and learning how to accept mistakes was nowhere on my radar because I was someone who could never and should never make a mistake. Now, nearing my thirties, I embrace all of my flaws on every project. Missed a stitch on a project? No matter, no one would likely know it was there in the first place. Added a stitch? Same thing. Accidentally used the tablespoon over the teaspoon for measuring? It just means to re-read once more before combining everything together. The cake’s frosting was a dud? Try mixing the butter when it’s softened instead of liquefied next time.
There will always be a next time, and you should give yourself that bit of grace in attempting again.
I began treating myself as I would my friends – better, with greater kindness and compassion. Changes were being made, and the world felt grander and lighter in light of new social changes and fears.
What a time to experience it, eh?
My gifts for the year have been far more thoughtful for many a friend and family member. I had yet to keep a cross stitch piece at this point and never planned on doing so as I was already gifted with the time spent “mindfully making,” as one commentor put it a couple months prior. Cookies, stitches, book suggestions – all started to come back to me, nearly a year in from when I first began cross stitching. I could breathe deeper and know when my cup of empathy and compassion was about to be empty before it was bone dry, and I would take time alone to create to refill it appropriately. I may not have had a stitch along or a litany or projects like other members on the cross stitching Discord server I joined, but I felt accomplished with every piece completed for each friend.
The months felt like a blur with current events awash in the news and the world feeling like it has been turned upside down, but there has been hope that things will clear. In the meantime, I, and many others, continue to stitch. We create because we feel at ease, and we stitch for ourselves as well as our loved ones.
Whether I stitch and plan for future projects, cook, bake, or brainstorm with others on their creations, there is a release of underlying tension and a sprouting of joy that restores my soul further.
May there be more in the upcoming year!
“The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry,” said Robert Burns in his poem “To a Mouse,” and he is absolutely right.
I planned a stitch along of my own where I would finish a piece a month for 2021, and while I wanted to do as such (even with what I thought was appropriate pacing), depression hit like a ton of bricks in late February and early March. I had planned to finish DMC’s “Botanical Poppies” by the end of March, but I could nary find the willpower to do such with an unspeakable weight in my soul. I relished others’ works, but I felt inadequate with other things in my life being so turbulent.
For once in my nascent stitching career, I forewent a current work in progress and started something smaller. Something that I knew I could finish and could lovingly force myself into doing so.
And stitch I did. Missed feelings of creation, serenity, and overall ease washed over me as I began stitching bit by bit, little by little, and I felt myself melt in joy of the idea that I would complete something again.
Maybe not today. Maybe not next week. But someday.
With new horizons inbound, finishing that project would come sooner than expected.
After completing the small gift for a friend’s mom, said friend kept inquiring about my overall crafting and stitching. “Have you considered making more of your own patterns for stitching?” I sure have and even bought the software for it. “I want to see you write more because there’s just something so captivating about the way you write.” I can clearly see it from the way you kept letters I wrote to you. “You really have a knack for creating, and I think you should tap into it more.”
I would. I sincerely would. But there is just something keeping me away from pursuing it. Perhaps it’s tied to my upbringing? A fear of rejection for my work? The fact that I was always told to have a job that was stable and keep hobbies separate from work? The thoughts thrash about in my head and become word vomit before him, only for him to say, “It’s okay to make something just for you, as you say, but there’s no harm in pushing yourself a bit further.”
From one artist to a fledgling one, this was emboldening and it felt like a nudge in the right direction towards evolving my craft. Not necessarily for profit, but for personal validation to say that I did a thing and completed it.
I mull over his words as I attempt to draft a cross stitch pattern for a friend’s wedding gift. He eyes it over and says, “Is there a way you could possibly stitch it… differently? Make it more jagged and rough for what you’re trying to say?”
I reply that there is, but it’s more embroidery than cross stitching, and I felt more safe cross stitching on aida than embroidering on cotton. He asks me what would I need to do embroidery that I don’t already have, and I answer with a few odds and ends such as fabric and water-soluble pens. A trip to Michaels and $24 later, and he begins sketching on the washed and taut piece of colored cotton. I pull my flosses, double-check satin and straight embroidery stitches, and begin stitching yet again.
I feel nervous, yet invigorated, as I begin stitching along what he sketched onto the fabric. An hour passes, and I finish the first row, feeling similar to how I did over a year and a half ago when I first began stitching and remembered why I wanted to continue this again.
I do this for me to unwind, first and foremost, but mindfulness, growth, and experimentation are very welcome companions for this journey. Mindful creating has somehow reawakened a love of reading, and I read three novels since getting a Kindle for my birthday. Being closer to a non-judgmental artist with all of my art supplies has rekindled a desire for traditional art media yet again.
I examine my new embroidery closely, feeling the textures of the stitches, and exhale deeply as I begin embarking on this next chapter of my creating, excited about what new avenues of creativity have opened up.
It truly is astounding how mindful creating, no matter how it comes, can really pave the way to new experiences one would never expect.