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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