As every cross stitcher knows, that question is all too common amongst your friends, family, and colleagues, and I’ve never been able to answer in a simple, succinct way. I usually palm it off as a bit of a granny hobby (which is usually followed by a really weird look). I then try and palm out a rough idea of what it is, whilst also trying to show how I do it differently from everyone else, and it just leaves people confused and grabbing for the conversational parachute. I finally relent and show them a picture; which always sparks the obligatory request for a piece just for them (if only they knew how long it took).
But truly, what is cross stitch?
I plan to answer that question in a way that a cross stitcher would find interesting, a friend might understand, and a way that doesn’t confuse the person being told.
Dictionary.com kinda calls it like it is:
“a stitch in which pairs of diagonal stitches of the same length cross each other in the middle to form an X”
Well, yeh, that’s it, right on the head. But you tell someone that, and all they can think of is diagonals, and they have to mentally (or possibly physically) draw out what you mean. Try doing that in an interview and then going back to quadratic quantitative analysis in a hurry…
So maybe the beloved wikipedia has the answer?
“Cross-stitch is a popular form of counted thread embroidery in which X-shaped stitches in a tiled, raster-like pattern are used to form a picture.”
Great, so now you have to tell someone what a raster image is first.
And don’t get me started on the history. Unless you have 30 minutes to talk through nearly 2000 years of embroidery?
The Real World Definition
The true definitions clearly aren’t able to clear anything up for the layperson, and so you struggle to explain yourself. Maybe you make images in the air, explain in detail how you spend countless hours sat in front of a bit of cloth and then file it away in a drawer somewhere when you’re done. Maybe you get a little annoyed that they belittle that slightly… regardless, they just don’t get it.
Using references, quoting it like a grandma hobby, giving them an impromptu and a little too detailed history lesson, being too brief, or maybe just avoiding the question altogether. I’ve heard all of these being attempted, and honestly, sometimes people get it; but most of the time they nod along and then google it when there’s a quiet moment (normally falling upon one of the aforementioned definitions).
Cut it however you want, you still aren’t making yourself clear. But you want to. You need to. After all, you spend all this time, effort, and a little too much geekiness; you want the world to know. And let’s face it; it’s more addictive than crack cocaine.
“I create art using thread and needle.” Simple. They don’t NEED to know how its little squares, or how you make little Xs, and they definitely don’t need to know that the material you stitch it on has a whole sub wiki.
If you have more time, or they genuinely want to know more, add to it “It usually takes 10-100 hours to finish a piece, and you can make it 3D, flat, basically anything form of art, but it’s tactile”. They think ‘wow, they’re devoted’, or detail-oriented, or have a creative edge. With this as a basis, you can add and embellish as you want. Once they’ve got the IDEA you can tell them anything and they’ll be able to make sense of it.
I mentioned earlier that cross stitch has come up in an interview before, in reality, I bring it up in every interview. It engages, it brings a bit of difference, and you can use it to your advantage to back up almost any skill. But you need to be able to tell them what it is first.
Or, if you’re in a hurry; just show them exactly what you make. But expect them to want one… But you can’t blame them…