Sunday, 11 May 2008

The simple joy of stitching

It still amazes me that the vast majority have no idea how to take up a hem, let alone stitch for pleasure. Even though I only started stitching seriously about four or five years ago, I grew up surrounded by embroidery threads and wooden hoops, knitting needles, crochet hooks and balls of wool, bolts of fabric and sewing machines.

When I think of my great-gran – whom I was fortunate to have around until my mid-teens – she always has a ball of wool and a crochet hook in her hands. My gran’s sewing room was in the attic (the hottest room in the farmhouse) and as a child I’d spend hours “tidying” her cupboards, emptying out glass jars of buttons, winding lace on to cards and sewing little bits and pieces on her treadle machine. She was never one to say no and I had the run of the place as well as someone to finish all the projects I started with such enthusiasm.

My mom is probably the most avid stitcher of her lineage. She spends hours a day in her studio creating the most beautiful embroideries, quilts, cushions, bags and more. Her bullions are always perfect and there are no machine-quilted quilts in her house. My wedding dress was simple in style, but had the most exquisite embroidered white-on-white designs on the bodice – and 100% made by Mom. Yes, she’s a pretty good dressmaker, too. It’s no wonder most of my thoughts are about stitching. It’s in my blood.

And yet there are some embroidery stitches that really frustrate me. Bullions, for one. Mine usually come out fat at one end and thin at the other, or I wind the thread too tightly around the needle and can’t pull it through. They are looking better these days, but I still approach them with trepidation.

Palestrina, on the other hand, is the most beautiful stitch to work. It has a flow to it and leaves me feeling as though I’m conducting an orchestra. And it’s one of the stitches that come to me naturally, so I don’t have to concentrate too hard while doing it.

We recently received the boxes we shipped from South Africa when we moved to the UK almost three months ago and, while unpacking my sewing paraphernalia, I found the sampler I’d started to reacquaint myself with the embroidery stitches of my childhood: a simple calico rectangle with brightly coloured rows of stitches that wasn’t quite complete.

A few more 2B lines and my new A-Z of Embroidery Stitches 2 (Country Bumpkin Publications) later and I was lost in the joy of stitching simply for stitching’s sake. Just flicking through a book, picking a colour at random and stitching in a straight line instead of creating an intricate image or attempting to bring the picture in my head to fruition. It brought back the pleasure of the action itself, which I suddenly realised had been waylaid in my determination to achieve an end result of astounding visual impact (to my eyes, that is).

So I’ve decided to make a holdall for my needles out of the sampler that started me on this wonderfully fulfilling journey; to remind me every time I pull out a new needle to take pleasure in the act of stitching and accept the end result for what it is: a work of art, no matter how small or simple, made up of hours spent in a most pleasurable way.

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