This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 19: Yay, and has been adapted.
If you’ve read any of my Libidan lectures before, you can probably tell a few simple things about me; I love cross stitch, I love tea, and I love Japan. Therefore, when a colleague gave me a reading suggestion recently, it was no surprise that it was about the Japanese tea ceremony (I’m yet to find a book that covers all three, but I’m sure there is one out there!).
It’s a nice book, if a little niche, however, one moment in particular stood out to me. The author, a now-famous tea practitioner, told a story of how she learned to “listen to the rain”. A more English phrase would be “stop and smell the roses”.
It was a moment when she learned to savor the little things, the small pieces that made up the tea ceremony that she simply hadn’t noticed before. It is an act of appreciation to recognize the daily moments that bring us joy.
So, what does that have to do with cross stitch? Well, I have a confession to make.
Over the repeated UK lock-downs I started getting into video games more heavily. With new consoles out, I was hooked on some next-gen goodness. But this came at a cost. I normally have a few projects on the go at once, be they cross stitch, sashiko, or general craft things, but with more video games, they all fell away.
For six whole months, I didn’t do one cross stitch. In fact, no needle touched thread or fabric. Sure, I did make patterns, in fact, more than the last 3 years combined, but for the first time in 19 years, I had gone longer than 2 weeks without stitching.
I missed it, and when I finally got back to it, it was like a sweet strawberry at the start of summer. And that made me realise that as I was enjoying my passion, I started listening to the rain.
It was one of those small parts of cross stitch that as regulars we often overlook, take for granted, and speed past. Those little wins that can make you say “yay” the first time; like climbing a mountain, or running a marathon. But after a while they become ordinary and even forgettable.
When I tried my first Big Mac at the age of 32 (I know, I know!), I tasted the flavours, identified them and analysed them and thought about the collective flavour profile. Yes, I was listening to the rain of a Big Mac.
But cross stitch and a Big Mac aren’t like for like. Yes, when I have my next Big Mac I won’t give it anywhere near as much thought, but with cross stitch there are first hurdles to get over.
Think back to when you first learnt cross stitch. It was confusing, it was hard, you had to get to grip with unfamiliar tools, terminology and techniques. But once you learnt it once, that was it. All over and done with. But in reality those little wins happen every time you stitch. And I think we should relish these as “win” moments much more often – giving us a chance to say “yay” every time we stitch.
My first step after not stitching for such a long time was finding a pattern. Like many stitchers, I slowly accrue patterns in my “to stitch” pile over time. As a designer I also make my own patterns to add to the them. But when that time always comes, there just never seems to be a pattern you want to stitch. And so follows the inevitable search. Magazines, Etsy, books, Instagram, Pinterest, cross stitch forums, and a hundred other places doom scrolled into oblivion until I just gave up and started making a new pattern, lost interest with it and started all over again.
But then it happened. I had an epiphany. And that epiphany? That was the first yay moment.
As I lay down the outline I’m reminded of the tools I use, the ease of stitching on black aida thanks to an uplight, a good frame and a trusty petite needle. Those were also yay moments. Each a little win in picking tools I knew and trusted. Needles that won hard fought battles over years of stitching. Threads that come with over a decade of stitching experience.
But it didn’t stop.
The outline was done, and I saw my pattern developing in front of me. I saw the shapes, the design the colours were almost visible. It felt almost complete. Even if it wasn’t.
I pick a color direct from the chart, by eye on what I think might look good. I add it and then another. They sit together well, they blend even better, and they look right. “Yay”!
Those moments are moments we could easily brush past in a few hours when starting a new project, but in reality they are full of those mini-wins. These are the things that made us love cross stitch to begin with. These are the moments that make us remember just how far we’ve come.
I say we should all take a moment to say “yay” once in a while; you deserve it. Even if you haven’t cross stitched in six months or more!
You’ve climbed the mountain of learning needed, you’ve picked tools after rigorous tests, you’ve gained experience and come out the other side wiser and ready to tackle something bigger or better.
These are your wins. These are your “yay” moments.
Frogging is still a chore though. I knew I should have gridded…