Have Your Say

8th December 2023

Whys and Hows | Part 1

With only two more weeks of All Stitched Up! left for the year we thought what better way to send us into the new year than with some stitching stories from you, our fabulous needlework community!

In ASU #405, we mused over ‘Andrea’s Impressions’ from the September-October issue of Needlepoint Now Magazine. We asked the question, why it is you stitch and how your journey with needle and thread began – and the responses we received were amazing.

So, without further ado, here is part one of your stitching origin stories…

Firstly, we heard from Subhra, from New Delhi, India. She enjoys learning about fellow stitchers from across the globe and is delighted by how similar and yet unique all our experiences with needle and thread are. 

‘I was introduced to needlework at the age of seven, as part of the instructional curriculum at the St. Joseph’s Convent, Patna. Along with half a dozen other Indian girls from elite families we were sent to acquire an education that kitted us for becoming the wives of military and civil servants in our adult years.’

‘My teacher was a Swiss nun and a very particular one at that. She was meticulous about things and always examined the back of our work, to check if we had ended it tidily. When I had a home of my own, I realised that her training stood me in good stead. I could make my own luncheon and tray cloth sets, and I did not have to wait to go to the metropolitan cities like Kolkata, to shop for these items. 

Incidentally, these items were not stocked by most shops and even today, handmade linen is available in only select places in the country, often in outlets run by missionaries in India. 

I try to make it a regular habit to 'indulge' myself with needle and thread every day, but now these items are coveted gifts that I pass on to my children and my grandchildren.’

Lindsey was five when her stitching journey began. ‘I went to a convent school in Sussex, where we were taught needle craft. We had to bring a shoe box and four cotton reels (old fashioned wooden ones) to make a bed for a doll. We had to make sheets and blankets for our doll and we learned to hem… neatly, running stitch, blanket stitch and various stitches for decoration of the bed linen.’

‘My mum then would give me pieces of an old sheet… the good bits… iron on a transfer and I’d make tray cloths and small tablecloths for gifts. It kept me busy on cold long winter days. Once we came to Australia in 1965, I graduated to dolls clothes and then clothes for myself.

I’ve recently picked up embroidery again and it’s my life saver. I call it sanity stitching as the very action soothes, relaxes and calms. I started with pieces of Polish embroidery using six strands, chunky and bold. I have also tried some needlepainting using one strand with guidance from Trish Burr and her wonderful books.

Ah, but then last month I came across Margaret Lee and Chinese embroidery…and silk!! So much to learn and try.

It’s actually a bit weird because my mum was a silk ribbon weaver just before the war and having handled some of Margaret’s silk, I have some inkling of the skill required for her to thread looms with silk thread. I remember her telling me she could join a new silk thread without a knot!’

Having enjoyed playing with embroidery techniques since she was a young girl, Sandie took up counted stitching for a while. However, she found it took her years to finish a project and required too much undivided attention.

‘In 2018, I discovered threadpainting. It didn’t require intense focus, but I found it very relaxing. It became a means of pain control for me, as I’d been on narcotics for years, and I found that while it didn’t take away pain, it helped me focus on something more pleasant. 

Then in 2022, I got cancer, so my stitching gave me peace, hope and something to focus on besides the misery of treatment. I’m now in remission and recovery stage and have several beautiful pieces to remind me of my ability to stitch though my trials as well as my joys.’

Finally, we received Cíça’s story. Cíça is a 63-year-old Brazilian, born in São Paulo. ‘It is with great joy and gratitude that I come to tell you how I started with needle and thread.

When I was three years old, I lived in the countryside of a state in Brazil called Paraná, because my father worked with coffee there. The place was inspiring. My house had a huge balcony that faced the street. That’s where my mother sat every day in the late afternoon to wait for my father to come home from work. She did everything: knitting, crocheting, embroidery… I was delighted to see her work. 

So, for a long time I watched her from behind the chair. I would stand and watch, and she would work. Mesmerised and delighted. I wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t allow it, because she was afraid that I would hurt myself with the needles and scissors.’

‘When I turned four, every day when she was inside the house, worrying about lunch, I would sit on the porch and continue the work she was doing. Obviously, she must have noticed my crochet, embroidery, and knitting stitches, but she never said anything.

Then, one fine afternoon, standing behind her chair, watching her embroider, she stopped her work, turned around, looked into my eyes and said to me very seriously: ‘Little girl, mommy doesn’t want you to stand there behind me anymore watching what I do’. At that moment my world ended. But she went on, ‘Little daughter, from today on I want you to sit down and work together with me’.

She presented me with a beautiful little box, which would be mine for many years.

It contained embroidery cloths, a small hoop, threads, needles and a pair of scissors with a heart made of red paper, tied on the handle, with my name written on it. It was the happiest afternoon of my life.

Since then, embroidery has become a part of me, an extension of my life. Today, I no longer have the precious little box, it disintegrated after so much use. But I preserve the memory of all those happy days, of the beginning of my life.

I recently became very ill, and because of very strong chemotherapy, I lost the fine movement of my hands. But embroidery, which once used to be for leisure and pleasure, is now part of my therapy. I have been recovering, gradually because embroidery heals! Hooray!’

What a wonderful account of your introduction to needlework Cíça. We were glued to our screens when we received your email, the scene you described is truly beautiful. Thank you to everyone who shared with us their personal stories, we feel privileged to share your history with everyone in our community. We will see you next week for Part 2 and the last issue of ASU for the year!

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