Blog

Stories from a life in progress.

Improvisation

I've been getting a little tired of my go-to projects for keeping my hands busy, knitting and spinning.  Fortunately a new art crossed my path last weekend, kumihimo braiding.  The basics are very simple and I could scrounge together what I needed to try it from materials I already have -- bonus.

While scrounging up the kumihimo necessities, I ventured into my box of cross stitch and embroidery materials.  It's been a long time since I did any cross stitching, though once upon a time I did quite a bit of it.  While I had that bin out anyway I looked through everything, projects I've completed and ones I didn't, my craft boxes full of colored thread on bobbins, and the odds and ends of fabric waiting to start something new.  Just looking at the bright colors of my embroidery floss makes me happy; color always does.  For the first time in a few years I did some stitching, and it felt really nice.

This week I've been rearranging my craft bins to put the embroidery stuff closer to hand, in case I want to continue it (and I think I do).  This morning I dug through another bin, one which I thought contained some really old embroidery floss and materials given to me by one of my grandmothers.  I found that bag of floss, and also more than I was expecting.

Tucked in with it was a stack of fabric squares with doodles in stitching.  I embroidered all of them when I was a kid, late elementary to early high school years, before I started buying larger cross stitch kits with their own charts and included floss.  I remembered I would buy standard Aida fabric, which is woven with convenient holes for cross stitching or other counted-thread embroidery, and cut it into squares -- I'd follow the fold lines lines on the fabric from its packaging, and usually end up with six squares, six inches on a side.  I'd take one of these little patches and make something up.  A christmas tree, a proto-Celtic square, a picture of hills at night, interlocking geometric shapes.  Some of them are attempts at different embroidery stitches.  Some of them are too unfinished to tell what I was doing.

It's funny how I had forgotten these completely, but when I see them they are completely familiar.  I love the improvisational creativity in them, a creativity I lost along the way in stitching.  When I started working with big charted pictures, I forgot about playing with thread.  I started being more worried about "doing it right" than about exploring.  And in the process, I lost some of my love of cross stitch.  I got tired of squinting at fussy charts and constantly counting and second-guessing myself (numbers and I are not good friends).  I remember that I would pull out my stitching projects now and then, but after a couple of days I'd be tired of them.  I didn't realize the problem: sometimes I don't want to fuss with charts.  Sometimes I just want to play and see what happens.

Knitting and crocheting have taught me a lot about what I gravitate toward in craft work: simple patterns in good yarns and beautiful colors, projects which don't need close attention to a written pattern.  I like to be able to look at what's in my hands in order to see what comes next, not have to refer to something on paper.  This is what kept me away from picking up stitching again, remembering the constant checking and rechecking my charts.  It simply never occured to me that maybe I didn't need charts.  That maybe I could just get out some fabric and thread and doodle.

Sometimes "doing it right" is really important.  Sometimes there isn't a "right way" to chase.  There's just playing and exploring and seeing what happens.

I'm so tickled to see how creative my younger self was, and I wish she had kept a little more of that through the intervening years.  But at least I've got the reminder now.  Well done, very well done, young me.  I want to be more like you when I grow up.