I started stitching as a teenager, back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued by the work I saw my Aunt Mercedes doing, and fell in love with all the lovely colors of thread available. I’ve never been able to draw recognizable stick figures, and stitching was finally a way for me to make pretty pictures. I got out of the habit of stitching for a couple of years, then picked it up again back in 1996 as a way to regain some fine motor control in my hands after experiencing some nerve damage. Over the years I moved away from cross-stitch and began doing more counted-thread embroidery.

There is nothing more magical than needlecraft. It has all the properties of a spell: intent, concentration, repetition, and changes in condition or form. Dorothy Morrison in Magical Needlework

Grandmother (Daddy’s mother) quilted extensively, leaving all of us with several lovely heirlooms. I regret that I never learned to quilt. Aunt Mercedes was the only one carrying on that tradition as far as I know (I think she could do almost anything that involves sewing or painting). Mama Sadie (Momma’s mother) crocheted, and I did try to learn how to do that. I never got past doing those simple little chains that don’t require a hook. After attempting to learn to knit years ago when I worked at Roderick’s Arts & Crafts (after-school job while I was in high school), I didn’t think I was fated to do anything with yarn but get it into tangles that amuse the cats. However, I finally learned to knit! I’m TechnoMom at Ravelry. I’ve also done candle wicking, needlepoint, and several other kinds of handwork but never liked anything else as much as counted thread work and knitting. Lately I’ve added blackwork to my list of techniques thanks to Peppermint Purple’s 2020 Stitch-A-Long, A Year of Blackwork

Katie started “helping” me with me stitching when she was tiny. I’d let her pull the thread through the fabric after I placed the needle, and she was soon wanting to do her own projects. She didn’t originally like using patterns but preferred to work her own designs without even charting them first. She did finally start using patterns from time to time. She didn’t develop the same love of needlecrafts that I have, but I hope that she’ll return to it someday. She actually learned to knit long before I did, thanks to our friends Waya and Jaime!

Needlework is one of those paradoxical activities that can be both very solitary (meditative, in fact) and very social. I’m a member of a local knitting guild, but I don’t know any other local counted-thread stitchers anymore.

I used to have a list of atypical designs here, with sub-pages for Celtic patterns and pagan needlework. Happily, I don’t think those are needful anymore. There has been an explosion of lovely designs available through individual sites and on Etsy. I love the diversity!

Book Recommendations

You probably didn’t expect to find recommendations for mystery books on a page about needlework, did you? I just had to mention two authors, though—especially since I learned about their works in RCTN.

The first, Monica Ferris, has many (19 now!) enjoyable books out that are set in a needlework shop, Crewel World, owned by Betsy Devonshire. The first book is also called Crewel World and has a counted cross-stitch pattern related to the plot printed in the back of the book. Framed in Lace has a second cross-stitch pattern in it. There’s a needlepoint pattern included in A Stitch in Time. The design in Unraveled Sleeve is some sort of counted work. You could probably do just about anything with it. A Murderous Yarn includes a small pattern based on an antique car. I don’t recall the design included in Hanging By a Thread anymore, but I’m sure there was one. I met Ms. Ferris a few years ago when a local needlework shop, Sampler Cottage, hosted a book signing. She was every bit as delightful as her detective.

The heroine of Roberta Gellis’ novel A Mortal Bane is in some ways far removed from Betsy Devonshire—she runs what is referred to by one character as “the most expensive brothel in London.” The business is registered on the tax rolls of medieval England as a house of fine needleworkers, and the ladies do, in fact, design, stitch and sell various pieces when they aren’t otherwise occupied. I found the novel fascinating, and it certainly seemed true to the period (although I’m certainly not an expert). The characters were well-drawn and sympathetic, as well. I enjoyed the next book, A Personal Devil, too. Bone of Contention was darker, but still good reading. It seems there are two more books in the series that I missed, so I have Chains of Folly and A Confusion of Sins to look forward to!

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