26 June 2014

Origin Story

When I teach at shows, I am usually asked to provide a biography. In that biography, I usually mention that I learned to cross stitch at age four. My mother sat me down and taught me. I'm not sure why she decided -- maybe I showed an interest? My dad said I was too young. I didn't even yet write my own name. Well, here is the proof.
During my childhood, I tried many, many different types of needle arts including cross stitch, embroidery, crewel, bargello, hardanger, needlepoint, and canvas work. My mother, sister, and I were all in the local chapter of Embroiderers' Guild of America. Of course, now that I'm in two knitting guilds, I see how strange it is to have a minor in the guild! But as a teenager, it didn't seem strange to me at all. I was just one more female in a big group of other females who all liked stitching. My mother was always very encouraging as I tried different stitching techniques. It was a hobby that connected all the women in my family. Even when I developed separate interests from my mother, we could always discuss our latest project or a new technique we'd just learned, take a road trip to visit a shop, or just admire and encourage each other. That fearlessness about trying new techniques made it possible for me to learn knitting as an adult and to leap into designing my own projects when I barely knew what I was doing. Even when I haven't had confidence about other things in my life, I have always had confidence that given needles and thread or yarn, I retain the power to create something beautiful from raw materials.

We're in the heart of summer now, and it brings back memories of my summers visiting my maternal grandmother. I would sit and stitch during the days. I made lots of embroidered Christmas ornaments over those many summers. In the evenings, Grandma and I would play card games. Sometimes we would take a walk or go for ice cream. Most days we would go look at her vegetable garden, and maybe pick tomatoes or green peppers. We would admire the African violets on the windowsill above her kitchen sink. These are simple, inexpensive pleasures that still give me contented feelings about my grandmother. Something about the hot smell of summer nights takes me back almost four decades. When I lie in bed at night, I can remember the creaky guest bedroom at her house. And I can remember being very young and being aware I did not yet know what life would have for me.

Here I am in middle age, in the heat of another summer. There is a tomato plant in my front yard, and I eagerly monitor to see if the flowers will become fruit. There are African violets on the windowsill in my living room, that may or may not survive depending on the will of the felines. Board games continue to be an important social activity. And needle arts are the central activity in my life. My maternal grandmother was born in 1901 and lived to be more than 90, but even with that longevity, she has now been gone more than 20 years.

I also spent time with my paternal grandmother. She is still alive and over 90, but in failing health. She was less interested in embroidery, but she was an amazing seamstress. She made many (most?) of her clothes over her lifetime. I still have some of the clothes she made for me. In fact, last night I was replacing the elastic in a pink summer sundress she made for me more than 20 years ago. I still wear it, especially at Dragon*Con where I pair it with a tapestry bodice.

Last summer my paternal grandmother gave me her sewing furniture. These are cabinets and a stool my dad built for her in the early 1970s. They definitely show signs of use, of the hours and hours my grandmother took pleasure in crafting clothes for herself and those she loved. I've put a piece of Plexiglass across the cabinet with the sewing machine. My computer sits on it, but I can see my grandmother's sewing machine resting just beneath the plastic. I sit on the stool where she sat. My class handouts are in the drawers where she stored her sewing patterns. When I weave cloth or see a couture garment, I immediately think of her.

My home has touches of needle arts in almost every room. A quilt here. A counted cross-stitch picture there. A handwoven dish towel in the kitchen. My first cross-stitch project in the guest bedroom. In spite of the distance of miles and years, I am quietly surrounded by the familial love in the cabinets my dad built for his mom, and in all those stitches by the women whose genes I share.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story to start my morning with - Pam