The State of My Stitching

Normally, I view New Year’s as an excuse for a day off and, maybe, a bottle of champagne, whereas the beginning of September (when school starts and when my birthday rolls around) is a more natural time to think about the year to come. I must be long enough out of school and off the academic calendar, because this year is the first year I find myself taking stock as 2009 gets underway. Of course, because I’m pretty happy with my job, house, and social scene, I don’t have too much to take stock of, so instead of thinking about serious things like resolving to pay off the mortgage sooner or to exercise more regularly, I’m all about contemplating 2008 and 2009 from a stitching perspective.

Whenever I get to thinking of my stitching in any sort of big picture terms, my mind wanders back to this:

First Sampler 1993

This little gem here was my first ever sampler in silk on linen. Prior to this, all my projects were kits ordered from The Stitchery, a pamphlet-sized catalog that arrived in the mail every month, brimming with charts with “witty” sayings about the laundry not being done, or how spoiled the cat is. Many of my middle school years were spent making a series of wizards that featured what I thought were very sophisticated design touches — backstitched backgrounds and shiny metallic thread. The things were hideous. I started with this one, and then moved on to several others. I’m not sure why Boomer or Dad didn’t intervene, even just to ask, “Um, Pookie? Why? I mean, you don’t even like sci-fi or fantasy?!” Why I made those projects will remain a mystery. (I’m fairly certain they were finally and mercifully thrown out in Boomer’s latest move.) Then one day when I was 15 we took a family trip to the Mercer Museum. While this trip is famous in our family for being the time when Great-Aunt Marie saw the very phone that was hanging in her kitchen displayed in a museum with a label declaring it “obsolete”, the trip is special in my heart for being the one where I impulsively chose this from the museum shop when told I could get a souvenir. I remember Boomer distractedly telling me the silk wouldn’t be any harder to use than cotton, and that the linen would be fine, but it still seemed exotically different and challenging.

It turned out to be easy as pie and oh-so-much better looking than another dumb sparkly wizard on Aida. Dad got it finished with a big suede matte and a fancy frame and I was pleased as punch. But then I turned to knitting and didn’t make another serious stitching project for almost 10 years. But that’s not that point! The point is that looking back on it now, could the verse on my first ever serious stitching project be any more appropriate?

Behold This Early Sampler

Show Readers At A Future Day

That I Was Taught

All Sorts of Idleness

Behold this early sampler may…
Show readers at a future day…
That I was taught before too late…
All sorts of idleness to hate.

Not only is it ridiculously apropos, it’s also what I look to now to understand why 2008 wasn’t a total bust of a stitching year.

I finished a grand total of six — count ’em, six — cross-stitch projects last year (and only two in the first six months). None of them was substantial in any way. “1824”, “Live Each Season”, “November Windows”, “When Witches Go Riding”, “Santas and Snowmen” and “Greetings”. None of these projects took longer than 3 weeks from start to finish. That’s pathetic. I should feel shame. I should be beating myself up over the fact that this was the first year since I started committing serious time to stitching that I didn’t finish a single big sampler. I should be looking at the stack of pieces I started this year and didn’t finish and crying. But I’m not! Why? Because this was also the first year that I really truly believed myself when I said, “This is a hobby, and you should do what makes you happy.”

There were two stitching moments that really stood out for me in 2008:

1. Stash shopping at the Attic with Schnookie and Boomer. We spent a day and a half immersed in fibers, linens, and charts, surrounded by stitching friends. We left the shop with bags and bags of projects to last a lifetime, but honestly, the thing I most take away from that weekend is the company I enjoyed.

2. The look of sheer joy on Boomer’s face when Schnookie and I told her we both wanted to start quilting. Her entire face lit up and she all but jumped up and down clapping her hands. She was just so thrilled to have another hobby to share with us, and that just makes me happy beyond belief no matter how many quilts I end up making.

The lesson I’m taking from this is that in the past, I’ve viewed “idleness” and “unproductive” as the same thing. Starting and not finishing “True Wisdom”, “My Town”, “MFB By The Sea”, “MFBville” and a Prairie Schooler santa piece, used to be tantamount to wasting my time. But now I realize that I wasn’t being unproductive, I wasn’t wasting my time. I was spending countless hours with my friends while enjoying my craft. I read once someone referring to “process knitters” vs. “results knitters” and had started joking about being a “process stitcher” as a way to justify starting new projects willy-nilly. But it’s not a joke. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t embrace the process as the important part of the equation. Is it nice to have finished projects? Heck yeah! Is it nicer to look at said finished project and remember fondly the time I spent working on it, even if said time spans months or years? Even more heck yeah! One of the most beautiful projects in our house is a Kay Montclare blackwork sampler that Boomer made. She started it when I was a baby, maybe earlier, and didn’t finish it until about five years ago. When any of us looks at it, we don’t just see the piece — we see ourselves twenty years ago, playing in the pool with Dad after he got back from work, while Boomer sat in a lounge chair stitching away. The experiences that accompany a piece are just as important as the piece itself, and that’s the philosophy I want to embrace going into 2009.

I had intended to declare that I was going to stitch my initials and “2009” on a big sampler come hell or high water, and had targeted finishing “True Wisdom” as a good place to start. I was going to pick it up and promise myself I wouldn’t put it down until it was done. I was going to start on January 1st. Well… Then I went to Pennginton Quilt Works. This time last year, I’d be ticked at myself for being so fickle as to start a quilt instead, tossing my stitching aside with nary a thought. But this time this year, I think, “I don’t want to look at a finished ‘True Wisdom’ and see the quilt I wanted to make instead but didn’t.” Does this mean “True Wisdom” is never getting finished? Of course not! Does this mean I’m over-the-moon happy right now at the prospect of finishing the quilt top for “Nest” this weekend? Of course it does! And when I look at “Nest”, quilted and finished and stretched out on my lap as I sit in front of the tv working on whatever project is striking my fancy, I’ll think about how much fun the process of making it was, and how much I cherished sharing that process with Schnookie and Boomer.

It only took from 1993 to 2009 to realize that the idleness I should be hating is merely the idleness of not taking advantage of my passion for the process of handiwork and the joy I get from sharing it with my friends.

Early Sampler Detail

[Posted by Pookie]


Filed under Pins and Needles

7 responses to “The State of My Stitching

  1. ::claps::

    Well said, Pookie! And look, you were stitching Dumbledore before it was cool to do so!

    This seriously is such good writing. It made me all winsome for when I was growing up and learning cool crafty things from my grandmother – I don’t have any of my projects from that time, as embarrassing as they were, but I wish I did so I had the physical reminder of good memories.

    I adore that sampler you made in ’93! Heh. And I love that it’s still so relevant now. :D

  2. Schnookie

    And look, you were stitching Dumbledore before it was cool to do so!


    The stories of who we learn our crafts from are so wonderful, aren’t they? I just love how everyone has some kind of personal history tied up in whatever handmade item they make, whether it’s stitching, or knitting, or baking/cooking, or painting, or collage, or whatever. Something inspired them, someone most likely taught them (although plenty of people are self-taught, for sure), there’s the story of what was happening in their lives when they made each of their works, the stories of the people they shared those works with… I just love it! That’s so sweet that you have such fond memories of learning crafty stuff from your grandmother — our grandmothers were both decidedly not crafty, so we got our entire craft gene from Boomer, I guess. :D

  3. Pookie

    And look, you were stitching Dumbledore before it was cool to do so!

    :^:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: I’m so ahead of the curve!

    That’s so cool that your grandmother taught you to be crafty! Although I wonder if she knew that in the end it would be tossing you directly in the clutches of Shivers the Linen?!

    (And thanks for the kind words on the post and the sampler! The strangest thing about it is I looked at the detail shots and was like, “Why does my head hurt looking at these… What’s wrong with these pictures… EEP! The crosses are all WRONG!” I totally crossed my X’s a different way back then! It makes me dizzy to look at them now!)

  4. this is a wonderful post, and I’m so glad you shared this particular project. It’s funny how appropriate the verse is now. But most of all, this whole post is really inspiring, craft-wise, for me. Your new outlook on your hobbies is so refreshing and easy. I’m particularly guilty of making myself FEEL guilty for all of the half-finished projects hidden in my closet, but… maybe if I can also embrace the “process-crafter” in me rather than the “results-crafter” I’d actually get back to crafting in general rather than being crippled by my own procrastination.

    And yeah, that’s totally Dumbledore.

  5. Pookie

    Yes, embrace the process, elizabeth! Now that Project365 is done, you need to get back into crafting! Start by making those button flower thingies and then see where they take you! Look crafts in the eye and say, “Crafts? It is on like Donkey Kong!” And as for the guilt of the unfinished project, I declare 2009 the Guilt-Free Craft Year! Woo-hoo!

  6. What a beautiful sampler, do you happen to know the name and the designer so that I can be on the lookout for it, I would love to stitch it. I love the old samplers with sayings about stitching so as to not be wasting one’s time in idleness! You did a lovely job.

  7. Pookie

    Thanks, Renee! Sadly, I have no idea who designed this or who published it. I wasn’t paying attention to this kind of thing when I was 15!

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