Needlecraft and Thoughts

It has been at least two decades since I last picked up a needle with craft in mind.  Recently asked to produce a scaled representation of a rug (designed by myself), I thought some form of needlework would be ideal.  As a girl I’d loved cross-stitch and latch hook projects.  Neither seemed appropriate for a 18x12cm piece and so I chose the most basic of stitches, longstitch.

I dove right in, supremely confident as to the stitch I would use and the work that would result.  But it wasn’t long before I ran into snags.  Literally.  Stranded cotton looks lovely and working with it can be a joy.  It can also be one of the most frustrating materials on earth; it catches easily, seems to quickly wear through (because of the mesh) and delights in spontaneous knot entanglement.

There was also the matter of the stitching.  I soon realised that my method – probably a combination of sewing and embroidery stitching – was simply not producing what I wanted.  And so, despite most of the motif outline being stitched, I revised my method and went over my earlier stitches.

At various times, I miscounted stitch length. Began or ended stitches where they shouldn’t have done.  Pulled random threads from the back of the tableau into the front.  All unwittingly, or resulting from tiredness.  Most of the time I was able to work these hiccups into the piece, or disguise them.  Occasionally, either proved impossible and the mistake remained apparent.  At one point, I thought I’d run out of black cotton and as the haberdashery was also out of stock, began thinking how I could substitute fabric into the piece instead.  But while rummaging around my box of thread for another colour, I unexpectedly came across a welcome bundle of black cotton.

Again and again, I threaded the needle and cotton through the mesh and soon settled into a contented rhythm.  One part of my mind remained alert to what my fingers were doing, to modify the tension of the thread, the placement of the needle, or unpick another spontaneous knot. But the rest of my mind turned to other things; to how needlework reminded me of my grandmother, who hand stitched quilted blankets for six of her grandchildren before her blurring eyesight meant she couldn’t continue; to my mother’s sewing basket filled with odds and ends such as my and my brother’s school uniform tags; to how needlework links women through the ages, across continents, across socio-economic divides.  Women have sewn and still sew to make a living.  To make or mend things for loved ones.  Because it was something well-bred ladies should be able to do.  For necessity.  For amusement.  For pleasure.

And as I neared to finishing, I thought also (clumsily perhaps, clichédly definitely) that this needlework process could be a life in miniature.  Each of us begins with an empty mesh ie. tabula rasa and with an idea – vague or not – as to the resulting work.  We make a start with our skills and materials.  But often, things don’t happen as predicted. Through carelessness or miscalculation, mistakes are made.  Some of these we fix, or tidy up as best we can while other mistakes will remain blemishes.  And there will be at least one, if not more spontaneous knots which will need unpicking before it is possible to move forward. But there will also be unexpectedly welcome bundles of black cotton. And in between putting in the necessary elbow grease, getting to grips with the needle, the thread, the mesh and the variables of each, imperceptibly, the motions, the thought processes become second nature.

My finished rug represented sported quite a few imperfections – irregular stitches, a knot which proved impossible to unpick or disguise and many, many non-uniform stitches.  But I’m certain that most of these would not be noticeable to anyone but myself. It dawned on me that the difficulties, the hiccups, the bothersome, tiresome details, may have affected the nature of the envisaged outcome – the rug was not as pristine as I would have liked – but not adversely. After all, the more obvious blemishes add to its charm, non? Overall, the rug turned out pretty much as I had wanted it to. And what more could anyone ask for?


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