Busy Hands, Quiet Mind

It happened a little late in the pandemic, but I’ve finally got myself a new hobby. I’ve been cross stitching since around January of this year. Cross stitch never appealed to me before. I never cared for the patterns I saw people working on, including the more modern cute/snarky ones. But at some point last year I was poking around Etsy, looking for a new hobby. All my hobbies had something to with words — reading them, writing them. I felt strongly that I needed to do something that was wordless. I read an article in Slate touting latch hooking as the perfect pandemic hobby, and that led me to Etsy to find appealing latch hook kits. While I was there, I ran across embroidery patterns by Avlea Folk Embroidery, and I was intrigued. The designer, Krista West, had both cross stitch and embroidery kits available, and the patterns were unlike anything I’d seen before. Her patterns are directly inspired by traditional Greek folk embroidery and they called to me right away. I placed an order for a couple latch hook kits and an Avlea embroidery kit and waited impatiently for my new hobbies to arrive.

Latch hook ended up being a bust. I found the latch hooking process to be tedious and the resulting rug ugly. I persevered periodically for a couple months but finally ended up abandoning my fuzzy rug halfway through. The embroidery was another matter though. I loved it right away. I had trouble with a lot of the small details of it (at first I didn’t realize I should cut the floss to shorter lengths, even) but despite that, I found the process soothing. I kept working on my kit, and even finished it. I was delighted with how it looked, and more importantly with how the embroidery made me feel. It relaxed me, and the idea of doing something that many generations of women have been doing made me feel… connected. I went to the Avlea website and ordered another embroidery kit and a cross stitch kit. They came, and I started both and then… I quit.

I don’t exactly know why I quit. Maybe just because summer break began and my energies were focused more on my child, then a rising 4th grader, and on my writing practice. Both the new embroidery and the cross stitch languished in a shoebox. Sometimes I’d think about them, but I never picked them back up.

Until I did. Soon after our move to a new house, which I wrote about in the last blog post, I became interested in embroidery again. I poked around the Avlea website and found that Krista had started a forum where people could ask questions and share progress on their stitching. I pulled out my languishing projects and began again. This time, it stuck.

It is the meditative quality of stitching that I love the most. Sometimes I stitch in silence, sometimes with a podcast, sometimes with an audiobook. If my stitching has a soundtrack, I find myself sinking into it in a way that has been hard to find lately while reading books the traditional way. I tucked a small notebook into my project bag so that I could jot down the essay ideas that came to me as I stitched and listened. If my stitching has no soundtrack, then my mind becomes quiet. An hour spent stitching relaxes me and raises my spirits, leaving me feeling simply, good.

The new house has a sunroom. As weather has warmed, I’ve found it is the perfect place to stitch. I sit out there and soak up sunlight and calm my mind. My cats often join me, napping in the chairs near mine. I sink into the wordless activity and I can’t exactly explain why, but it feels like it is feeding my writing practice. I get ideas for new writing projects, or I simply replenish my creative energy. My stitching practice is absolutely much of why I felt able to return to writing this month, why I’ve taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day in April. It feels good, to make something with my hands, something which cannot be read.

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