In a world where it seems like everyone is constantly checking those little black rectangles that they can’t live without, this old-fashioned girl would much rather be making progress on her needlework.
My first needlework project was embroidering a map of Nantucket when I was five. I did the outline of the island; my grandmother took care of the harder-to-execute parts of the pattern. A few years later, my mother got me hooked on counted cross stitch and needlepoint, which are still my favorites. I’ve also tried my hand at hooking rugs, smocking and crewel embroidery. Most recently, my close Sweet Briar friend, CC, taught me to knit, which has helped me turn out an abundance of socks, a “Fiestaware” tea set for my goddaughter, and even a basketful of amigurumi-styled vegetables.
Project ideas come from reading posts on the Needleprint blog and the latest issues of Sampler & Antique Needlework Quarterly and PieceWork, a terrific magazine about historic needlework. In fact, I wrote an article for PieceWork about needlework projects made by a 19th- and early-20th-century diarist in a manuscript collection I worked on. From the editor to the designer who came up with the project to accompany my story, the PieceWork staff were just as delightful as their product.
When I travel, I usually look for needlework-related souvenirs to bring home, such as graphs of historic samplers from a museum collection or a skein of hand-spun and dyed yarn. Better yet, I like to see examples of historic needlework when I’m on the road. Reading an article about knitting socks for Civil War soldiers in the March/April 2009 issue of PieceWork, I learned that Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee (wife of Robert E. Lee) knit over 850 pairs of socks for soldiers in less than six months. What’s more, the sock she was knitting when she heard that her husband had surrendered – still on the needles – is on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. So, just before one of my trips to Virginia, I contacted one of the curators at the museum and asked whether it would be possible to see the sock up close. When I arrived for my appointment, she took me behind the ropes of an upstairs room in the White House of the Confederacy, and there it was, sitting on the table. I don’t know what was more impressive: Mrs. Lee’s skillful knitting, or the tiny needles that she used!
If I didn’t have my needlework, I don’t know what I would do. When I came down with a heavy case of the chicken pox at age 24, I kept from itching during my six long weeks of confinement by working on four needlepoint chair seats and starting the first square of my needlepoint carpet. When my aunt broke her wrist last week, the first thing I thought was, “Oh, no, she won’t be able to work on her cross stitch!”
Needlework has also helped me make friends at work. A few weeks after starting my job, a friendly young woman whom I met in the elevator asked me to teach her how to knit. Often joined by others in her department who like to watch what we’re doing, we get together for lunch, conversing while we work on our projects – without an android in sight!