December 22, 2018

Discovering Cross Stitch

Where does the journey of an artist begin? There was once a paper doll from the five-and-dime and I have recollections of dressing her until the clothing was tattered and the little tabs that held the fragile paper had turned to shreds. Then there was a new wardrobe for my little cardboard cut-out, as I traced around her stiff body, onto a large roll of paper that came from the factory where my father worked so long ago. Supposing that I was pretty clever, I imagined I could make her any outfit in the universe. She could dress like Doris Day or wear an evening gown like Rosemary Clooney. I shudder to recall what my drawings really looked like, but to a five year old that waxy paper and a few broken crayons held endless possibilities. 

We had moved south to Santa Monica and there was precious little time with my grandmother and her scraps of sewing. Now my dress designing took on a whole new dimension, as well as my need to create, with the help of a Barbie doll. I even liked those tiny shelves over her eyes that served as eyelashes. The only thread I had was white so a black evening gown had to be eyed with artful appreciation.  My sewing skill steadily evolved over the years. At about eleven a kindly neighbor shared a set of large knitting needles with me and I pestered all the women in my life to teach me. My grandmother did her best, knitting not being one of her strong suits, but neither of us had any idea how to stop, or bind off, and I just knit until the piece I made got too long. Unraveling the yarn never bothered me and I re-knit that same ball of wool until it began to mat into a stringy ball. By the time I graduated high school I could knit and crochet well enough to attempt garments, but nothing quite worthy of sharing publicly. However, I kept at it  and eventually I was skilled enough to create baby clothes and a few things for my household. It wasn't until I met my husband in 1979 that my art truly exploded. For myself, as an artist, there was always a part of me that felt my handcrafts weren't good enough to be taken seriously. It likely started early on when my creations were amateurish, but it carried over even when I made lovely things and they were appreciated by others. 

My husband is a performer, a singer-songwriter that was already very accomplished when first we met. He has a tendency to be overly humble, even to this day, but he also has a compelling need to keep playing music and he constantly strives to improve . There is something in him that must make music. I admire that artistic need and learned plenty from him about respecting my own creativity. It was once we met that my creative energy really blossomed.

In the 1980s the five and dime stores were still a wealth of affordable supplies. Thread slipped onto knitting needles and crochet hooks became lace. Inexpensive fabrics evolved into curtains at the sewing machine and store-bought window coverings completely vanished from my home. By the time we had moved into our current place I was good and ready for my own sewing room. My husband, bless his heart, never blinked an eye when I claimed the first floor bedroom for my studio. Over the years it has been packed with bins and baskets until it overflowed and needed to be rethought and reined in. I have woven and spun and painted and sewn  and there has been bobbin lace and needlepoint and hours of pure bliss in this room. The sign on the door says,"This is My Happy Place", and it surely is.

A year or two ago I was again looking for another way to create. Knitting had become less challenging and I wanted something that I couldn't blow through in a weekend, a project that is as beautiful while being created as it is completed. A basket of wool begging to be woven or a quilt stand draped with a whole cloth project always inspires me. If it speaks to me as I pass I'll love it all the more. While roaming online I ran across videos online of people doing the most incredible cross stitch. I had done a few kits and samplers, but this was something else entirely. These were full coverage pieces, all amazing tapestries of color. 

I was spellbound and I began to cruise the site marveling over their magnificent patterns. It wasn't easy to choose any single piece until I saw one entitled Chair Decor by Susan Rios. 

Real love for these pieces is a prerequisite for choosing any pattern, since these projects can take years to complete. All the better in my mind. And so began the slippery slope that often comes with a new form of art, especially one as long running as this. Just the fabric is huge, measuring about three feet wide and several feet long. The canvas is stiff and heavy and I knew wrestling with tiny embroidery hoops was only going to frustrate me. Before taking the plunge into something truly immense I made a few smaller projects and invested in a little embroidery stand and a frame. But I found that I still wanted to take on the Susan Rios piece so it was time for a larger frame. It wasn't until it arrived that I realized things were getting very serious. My handy little stand was indeed lovely, but no match for this huge project. As you can see the stand was fine for a smaller project, but beginning the Heaven and Earth design meant I needed an upgrade. 

Here are pictures of the smaller stand:

My next postings will feature my new, larger stand and all of the setup I'm current using on my Heaven and Earth piece.

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