A stitch in time.

Dear friends,


For as long as I can remember, I’ve known how to work a needle. I don’t recall who taught me . . . my Gram probably. I remember as a very small child stitching crooked lines on scraps of fabric my Gram saved. By the time I was in Junior High, which is where I learned to machine sew in Home Economics class, I had already created intricate and colorful embroidered designs on most of my bell-bottomed jeans. I don’t have a single photo of those groovy butterflies and peace signs and flowers, but I wish I did.

(As an aside, the fact that all girls in my generation learned to sew in public school while none in my daughter’s generation did seems to me a clear sign of what’s wrong with education today. There. I said it.)

In high school I abandoned needlework in favor of sewing clothing. I never got terribly accomplished at it — not like my friend Alisa who made her own wedding dress — but I did well enough on simple skirts and dresses that I wasn’t embarrassed to wear what I made. My piece de resistance was a bright yellow bikini I made the summer before my junior year.

In college, I ditched my sewing machine and picked up my embroidery needle and hoop again. I went through a protracted preppy phase and I spent hours stitching monograms surrounded by tiny flowers while watching Cagney and Lacey, and Simon and Simon. I discovered cross stitch, too, thanks to my college roommate who was a master. (For the record, college was an extremely artistic period in my life. I learned to construct Shaker boxes by hand,  I painted Colonial style floor cloths, and I perfected my calligraphy skills. I didn’t study much but, hey, I was mastering the art of the craft. I dreamed of going to film school, where all my artistic sensibilities would flourish, but apparently my destiny as the female Spielberg was not meant to be.)

Young motherhood was another prolific period in my life. I sewed curtains and pillows and nursery linens and baby clothes.  I aspired to learn tatting and smocking but never quite found the time.

By the time my kids were in school, I put away my needles in favor of paper crafts. Not long after, my sewing machine broke and, somehow, more than a decade passed when I didn’t so much as repair a hem.

I missed it terribly, though, so a couple of weeks ago, I bought a sewing machine on the spur of the moment while shopping for glue in Wal-Mart. Next thing I knew, I was down in the basement sorting through unorganized craft supplies in search of my basket of embroidery floss and needles. I stumbled across a crewel kit, a birthday gift from a friend back home, and — again with the spur of the moment — I started stitching for the first time in years.

You can see from the photo above my stitches are awfully rusty. I don’t mind. I have a feeling they’ll come back soon since I’ve got my next three projects planned.

With gratitude {for timeless skills, learned young and practiced old},

Joan, who would love to hear anything you know about needlework


  1. texasdeb says:

    Needlepoint and beading were my grooves. I did a little embroidery back in the day – I specifically recall making peace sign doorstops out of embroidered burlap-covered, newspaper-wrapped bricks. (Soooo peace was a weight that kept doors open? Whatever – artistic license…). I never clicked at the machine – my Mom was so good I eschewed everything that wasn’t handwork as some form of dumb rebellion. Totally my loss, and something I keep thinking I will correct, “someday”…

  2. Needlepoint kits were my preferred creative outlet. I remember a coordinating hamburger and hotdog and country landscapes with yarn tufts for trees. I’m always on the look out for needlepoint, crewel and embroidery in flea markets. A lot of it is stuffed in boxes in booth corners and marked a dollar or a quarter for something that probably took 30 hours of labor. I rescue those lost works of art and heart, and my sister re-purposes them into quilts, table runners and other creations she sells at fabricfoundry.com.

  3. Mdel — I have rescued my share of embroidered pillowcases, quilts, tablecloths, napkins, dishtowels and the like. Any linen that is hand-stitched always catches my eye at flea markets. Unfortunately, all they’re doing is cluttering my closets (except for the small number of pillowcases I rotate on my bed). I LOVE that your sister is saving and repurposing these little works of art.

  4. Joan-Marie, If you ever need to relinquish some of your “rescues,” my sister will give them a good home. She can also transform them into something lovely for you — custom orders welcome!

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