We were raised by a handicrafter, so the single most cherished part of the entire Christmas extravaganza for us is our needlepointed stockings. For a certain type of stitcher, needlepointing a Christmas stocking is an essential part of your life experience, so Boomer naturally made us all stockings when we were kids. We started out with a set of relatively matched rinky-dinky stockings, with red backgrounds and very blocky pictures (think Atari graphics) of Christmas trees or reindeer or whatever. Of course, that set had only four stockings in it, “Dad”, “Mom”, “Kate” and “Liz” (aka Schnookie). When it came time to remedy the lack of a “Nel” (aka Eleanor, aka Pookie) stocking, Boomer went to the stitching store and found a glorious hand-painted canvas that made her think of her wee darling Pookie (or, uh, “Nel”), so that was what she made.
Other than the creepy little jester doll there that looks like Greg DeVries, this is perfect. I absolutely adore the colors in this, and Pookie and I agree that there is something about the rings of light around the candles that just is Christmas for us. I have also always really loved the amorphous, fluffy whiteness of Santa’s beard and hair just connecting with the fur trim of his hat, as well as the delicate little holly sprig at the top of the composition.
The first Christmas after Boomer finished Pookie’s stocking, we discovered a problem: it was bigger than the others, didn’t match the simple designs of them, and pointed the wrong way. In a household of four jealous, squabbling kids, it meant that those of us who weren’t Pookie hurled vicious, petty insults at Pookie for the ungainly beauty of her stocking. Boomer doggedly got to work, then, making equally lovely stockings for the rest of us.
It is impossible for me to look at my stocking as anything other than a child. It is the very embodiment of the feeling of being a little kid who knows how loved she is. Boomer says she picked this one for me because the girl has hair kind of the same color as mine, and I find so simple an explanation to be the best possible kind. I just love the thought of my mother sorting through the canvases at the store and seeing this one, where that one detail provided the connection between it and her daughter. From a completely bratty standpoint, though, I was always jealous that Pookie’s was “prettier”; because mine has a composition that is more about the tableau of tree-trimming, the background sort of necessarily became a plain white. To make up for the lack of royal blue with glowing orange candlelights, my stocking has the silver tinsel to offer. I have always loved how special the metallic thread made this look, and the dog playing with the string of tinsel has always delighted me.
The years passed with us delighting every year when our stockings reemerged from the attic, bringing with them all the thrill of our childhood holidays. Of course, there was one sad little thing to go along with them: Boomer’s childhood stocking.
Yeah, she still had the one she made back when Schnookie was a baby, the one that said “Mom”, but we don’t ever call her “Mom” anymore. It was time to return the favor to her, and give her an ornate, beautiful stocking stitched with love and admiration. We decided we would surprise her, and went to the same store she bought our stocking canvases and threads at, ready to pick out something that would fit perfectly along the mantle with ours. They had a vast array of stockings to choose from, but we quickly discovered that needlepoint design trends had changed a lot since the early ’80s. There wasn’t anything that matched the sort of chunky, colorful look of the ones she made for us, so we decided the next best thing to do was to buy the most elaborate, beautiful, rich canvas they had, with a detail-heavy Nutcracker theme.
Now, neither of us had ever done any needlepoint before, and we were stunned at the complexity of the next step after picking the canvas. When you do cross stitch, the designs come charted, with explanations of what threads to use; if you don’t like the fiber in question, the shop we use has a conversion chart so it’s simple to change out, say, DMC cotton floss for Needlepoint Silk or something. But needlepoint doesn’t have those kinds of instructions. If your canvas doesn’t come with fibers already selected for it, you then get to select the threads you want to use to work the design. In our case, it was finely-detailed enough that we didn’t want to get all hung up in any fancy stitches, but we still had to select about 45 different colors, including 5 different metallic threads. (Because of the tinsel on my stocking, we both agreed that Boomer’s had to have metallic details on hers.) We spent hours on this, and then discovered that a hand-painted canvas and a gazillion silk threads are really expensive. A friend of mine asked, after this project was completed, whether I could make a stocking for her; when I told her how many hundreds of dollars were involved, she decided to get one of those $30 “handmade” ones from L.L. Bean instead.
I don’t know what compelled me to do this, but I decided I wanted to stitch this, a choice that was fine with Pookie, who knew she didn’t really like working needlepoint. It was very odd at first, working without instructions. I was uncomfortable for quite a while with having to decide where to stop with one color while working shading and start with another. And the way the needlepoint stitches fit together on their little diagonal, instead of the square cross stitches I’m used to, took some adjusting. I actually started this, then put it down in frustration, apologizing to Pookie that I doubted I’d ever finish it. Then, after moving back East and leaving Boomer behind in Arizona, I picked it back up again, and in a flurry of productiveness, finished it in about 10 weeks. It will probably stand forever as my all-time favorite project; once I got into the swing of things, it was endlessly enjoyable to work on.
There are so many details on this piece, but here’s a closer look at the richness of the color (and the metallic threads!):
It should be mentioned that all three of these stockings were finished by the people at the shop we bought the canvases from. None of us would really trust ourselves with doing the backing and trim for something as important as a Christmas stocking, and really, the finisher did us proud. They are all exquisite. And finally we have a mantle where all the stockings are equally beautiful and impressive — the irony here, though, is that we’ve never, ever, ever put presents in them. I don’t know why that was one tradition that never caught on at IPB Manor, and the thought of defiling our stockings with something as mundane as stocking stuffers is anathema to us. So instead they are just our very favorite decorations during our very favorite time of year: