Recently, I was speaking with a friend about our cross stitch beginnings. She shared that she couldn’t remember anyone teaching her how to cross stitch and that she thinks she just taught herself. My story is similar…even though my mother and grandmothers had done some needlework, I wasn’t introduced to it by any of them.
It was a slow summer afternoon at the restaurant where I was waitressing. During my college years, I waitressed during my breaks to help pay for books and tuition. Sometimes in July and especially when it was hot outside, the restaurant seemed like a ghost town. About the only thing happening was the occasional ring of the phone with a customer calling to order a bucket of fried chicken for take-out. There wasn’t much to do during this time – you might have one table to wait on if you were lucky. During these down times, one of our hostesses stood at the counter by the phone and sewed…that’s what it looked like to me anyway. When I looked at what she was working on, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at. It was sewing but it kind of looked like a photograph. It seemed to slightly resemble the stamped cross stitch I had done but with much more detail and no Xs printed on the fabric. What was she doing and how in the world did she know where to put the stitches? I watched in fascination as she worked on this wedding sampler for her son – if I recall correctly, it was very floral with lots of peach tones. When I asked her what it was, she told me it was called counted cross stitch. I knew what cross stitch was because I had completed a few stamped pieces but other than that, I had never seen real counted cross stitch before. I was in love and instantly wanted to learn. She came back the next day with about half a dozen cross stitch magazines and tried to explain some basics to me in between waiting on tables and taking phone calls. I had *no idea* what I was doing but took the magazines and thanked her. I paged through them that night at home, eager to start, but each project was beautiful and I couldn’t decide. That was until I got to the end of one of the magazines and saw a beautiful stitched piece, featuring St. Cecilia, the patroness of musicians. Perfect! I was a music student at college and a pianist since age five…what better way to start my cross stitch hobby than with this piece? There were even neumes (neumes!) in the sampler which made it even more perfect since I actually knew what neumes were, having just learned this the previous semester (the only thing I probably did learn) in the most absolutely boring music history class I ever took at college.
Here is the beautiful St. Cecilia and the way the piece *should* look when finished:
The pattern came from Cross Stitch and Country Crafts which I think eventually became Cross Stitch & Needlework. Does anyone remember that magazine? I got a subscription shortly after graduating college and stitched many things from the magazines. Here is the issue with my St. Cecilia pattern:
Because I had absolutely NO IDEA what I was doing, I just went out, bought some Aida cloth and DMC threads and decided to tackle this immense project. What was I thinking? Where were the wise women who should have gently guided me away from this project to something else? There were metallic threads in this piece and quarter stitches and three-quarter stitches and backstitches and maybe even French knots….who knows, but one thing I do know, I had no clue how to do any of it. I just started stitching, in blissful ignorance of my complete and utter lack of knowledge.
So, in the spirit of giving everyone out there a good laugh, I have decided to share my piece with you. I’m sure you guessed I did not ever finish this project, that I abandoned ship after a few weeks of working on it, never to return. It has stains on it and is just a complete mess in general although the back is not as bad as I thought. I will also freely admit it wasn’t until a year or so later, when I visited my first local needlework store, that I learned all the cross stitches should go in the same direction. What?!? You mean you can’t just go from bottom left to top right in one row and then go from top left to bottom right in the next? That poor shop owner was probably wondering who the nut was in her shop, buying advanced patterns with only a little bit more of a clue than she had when she first started. Actually, I probably gave her a good laugh but that’s okay…I’m hoping to do the same for you today, too.
So without further ado, here is my very first cross stitch piece, with my deepest and sincerest apologies to the designer!
There is something to be said for being ambitious enough to learn about a subject on your own but never underestimate the value of a good teacher. Years ago, when I was just beginning, I didn’t know anyone who could help me become a better stitcher and I certainly didn’t have access to classes and conferences where I could learn more about the craft. Today, the opportunities are endless for stitchers to grow in their knowledge and to take their hobby to the next level. As for me, I will always cherish that unfinished mess because every time I see it, it reminds me of the great motivation and enthusiasm I had for cross stitch which has stayed with me throughout the years.
I would love to hear about your cross stitch beginnings. How did you learn? What motivated you to pick up needle and thread?