February 27, 2015 by

Cross Stitch Beginnings


Categories: cross stitch, music

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:

St. Cecilia

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:

magazine cover

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!

my first piece

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?

18 Responses to Cross Stitch Beginnings

  1. vonnap

    Holly, I don’t think that is bad at all! In fact, I’m pretty amazed by it! I learned when I was 15. I was at my father’s house for a two week summer visit. I was bored and my stepmother (who stitched) bought me two small cross stitch kits from Kmart. She told me to open one and read the directions and go. And I did and I have been ever since. I will have to show my two first little finishes on my blog soon! 🙂

    • Holly Post author

      Please do….I would love to see them! I really enjoy hearing everyone’s stories of how they became cross stitchers. I had to laugh at the Kmart comment…it’s dating us because we remember the time when you could buy needle art supplies at stores like Kmart and even Woolworth’s – remember that store?

  2. Annie

    That’s a great story! You just jumped in with both feet!

    I’ve done all kinds of needlework since I was small. In the 1970’s, needlepoint was all the rage. In that time of very high inflation, it became super expensive to continue that hobby. That’s why I think x-stitch caught on and replaced it in popularity. You could get the supplies and designs much cheaper. I saw the ladies at my needlepoint store working on x-stitch so I tried it and fell in love.

    Interestingly, I think I still have that magazine with your first attempt. Those early CS&N mags were the best!

    • Holly Post author

      Hi Annie! Sounds like you’re a self-starter too! I had no idea that needlepoint became cost-prohibitive…very interesting! I remember when crewel was popular as well – not sure what happened to that.

      • Annie

        At least in my area, the needlepoint craze followed the crewel craze. I think needlepoint as a basic tent stitch was easier to learn for a lot of people than the free-form crewel embroidery. I was sorry to see crewel embroidery die out. I used to buy kits for that all the time.

        • Holly Post author

          I bought a finished crewel embroidered piece from an antiques store because I thought it was so beautiful and wanted it to have a loving home. I looked it up when I got home and found out that it was a quote from Jonathan Livingston Seagull – “there’s a reason to life”. I love the flowers all along the bottom, the green fabric and of course the beautiful quote. I think it was a kit from the 1970s? There’s also a four seasons crewel piece at another antiques store that I have my eye on! 😉

  3. Robin in Virginia

    One of the gals in my dorm taught me to stitch. She was working on a tablecloth and if you entered her dorm room, you got a quick lesson and had to put in a few stitches on the tablecloth. I loved making the little xs and found myself returning to her room so I could stitch. When I was able to get home (I didn’t have a car), I went to the needlework shop (it was mainly needlepoint and yarn) and bought a leaflet, some DMC, and a piece of aida. That was over 35 years ago. I think I still have the book.

  4. Maureen

    I agree with Vonna, You did a great job for your first time. That is very ambitous for your first time to pick a project like that. My first project was the summer before my senior year in high school. My mother taught me b/c she didn’t want me sitting around. I made an aerobic bear and I have it framed and on my wall in my stitching room today. I will share mine soon too. It has stayed with me all these years.
    Take care

    • Holly Post author

      I’m not sure it was as ambitious as it was more not-too-smart! 🙂 An aerobic bear? I love it! I would enjoy seeing a picture of it on your blog.

  5. Lori

    i taught myself to cross stitch when I was 19. I had an office job with a lot of down time and my mother cross stitched so I found a little Christmas ornament kit for $1 and started. I was hooked and that Christmas everyone on my list received an ornament I had made at work. I have been stitching 29 years now…it’s always been my favorite hobby and there are so many great designers now it’s a joy to discover new talent.

    • Holly Post author

      Hi Lori! How fortunate those family members were to receive an ornament from you….I hope they cherish them and hang them on their Christmas tree every year. Like you, I am amazed at all the designing talent out there. I love keeping up with all the new releases and just wish I had more time to stitch! Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Paula Wiggins

    I started embroidering tea towels/pillowcases with my grandmother over 50 years ago. I would love to have one of those that we stitched today. Anything I would have had from that time was destroyed in a house fire. Everything except the memories. I was the same as you…..a coworker was doing cross stitch and offered to show me how to make that little ‘x’. I was hooked. That was in 1980.

    I’m sure I have that copy of CS&CC. I remember there was always a little stitching cartoon on the first or second page. There used to be so many good cross stitch magazines published. I rarely buy a magazine now.

    Your St.Cecilia was pretty ambitious. I’m not sure I could have gotten as far as you did on it before chunking it. I’m thinking that driveway was pretty ambitious also. For me anyway.

    I had to look up the definition of neumes. No musical talent here.

    It was interesting to read all of the replies. For the most part we all have had someone in our lives that started our love for stitching. I hope my greatnieces remember me in that way one day.


    • Holly Post author

      What a great comment, Paula, thank you! I wish you still had those embroidered pieces as well but the time you spent learning with your grandmother was precious and can never be taken away. I love the look of embroidery. My sister does embroidery…she was doing cross stitch but got bored with just making Xs.

      You are right, that even if we are self-taught, we had to know someone who influenced us to start our beloved cross stitch. Did you teach your nieces to stitch? If so, what a gift you gave them!

  7. Paula

    Holly, I did teach two of my great nieces to cross stitch. They are still very young (5 and 12). Their interest/involvement in it comes and goes. I do not have any grandchildren so they will inherit my stash one day. I also quilt. The 12 year old actually shows more interest in quilting at this time.

    We get the girls every Sunday for 6 hours. We always try to do some type of needlework whether it be sewing a small pillow, making a quilt for their Barbie doll or putting a few cross stitches in a pattern of their choice. I’m just trying to plant the seed.

    I curious……now that you know how to cross stitch will you ever stitch St. Cecilia?

    Take care,


    • Holly Post author

      It’s wonderful that you are teaching the next generation to love needlework, no matter what kind it is. Even as an adult, my involvement in cross stitch has not always been consistent and I think that is even more the case with children. The fact that you are “planting the seeds” as you say is definitely a good thing and I thank you for that! Anyone who truly loves needlework should thank you for what you’re doing.

      Hmmmm….will I ever stitch St. Cecilia? Sadly, probably not. It’s hard for me to find time at all anymore to stitch any designs except my own because of the time factor (I have to stitch all my own models). Also, like many stitchers, I have quite the stash collection so probably now, since my tastes have changed somewhat, I would probably choose something else to stitch from my stash.

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