Monday, September 2, 2013

Cross Stitching, My Unlikely Hobby

Of my many hobbies, one of the few that actually places me in more common circles is cross-stitching. I picked it up on a whim around 2005 or so when my husband and I took to listening to Coast to Coast AM in the evenings (we're Streamlink members).  I bought the Eeyore pattern you see below and took off rather quickly on it.  Then I set it down for 7 years.  I mean, I was so close to finished, and I just set it down.  It became one of those monkey-on-your-back projects that seems to grow heavier with every day you ignore it. So, 7 years later, which would bring us to the fall of 2012, I pulled old Eeyore out and tried to send him home with a friend to finish, telling her she could do whatever with it afterward, but just knowing it was completed would give me peace of mind.

After she'd left and I realized she'd forgotten to take Eeyore with her, I suddenly found it within myself to continue working on it, very much like the whim that had caused me to purchase it 7 years earlier. I was pleasantly surprised to find that locating the row where I’d left off on the now yellowing chart wasn’t impossible after 7 years.  As I stitched, my feelings moved from obligation to actual enjoyment.  It was the moment I sewed the X-es for his eyes and thought “now he can see!” that I knew I was hooked.  After roughly two weeks of wrestling the demon of backstitching, during which I had to undo and redo the same section multiple times to achieve the 3D effect (I’ve attached Eeyore pre-backstitch so you can see the difference) I had him made into a pillow for my mom’s Christmas present.

Following Eeyore, I worked the seahorse cross stitch for my friend’s mom. The pattern I chose was shipped from New Zealand and was my first lesson in the varying styles of needlework directions over the world: the chart told me which symbols correlated to which colors, but the problem was that that colors were all so similar. I had such a rough time distinguishing “purple” from “medium purple and “purplish blue” that I concluded that company should have had the threads pre-labeled. I finally sorted it out and found it a fairly simple project – until the end where I abandoned my newly-learned “nun stitch,” which was causing the material to prematurely fray,  for a simple backstitch.  And just as I was proudly putting the finishing touches on the seahorse, my friend – whose mom was to be the recipient – asked hopefully, “Are you going to put her name on it?”

They say all you have to do is chart the name in the squares, but I can tell you after stitching words (not pre-printed) on two projects now it is not that simple.  I had to restart her name several times to adjust for even spacing, etc.

After she learned I was stitching a bookmark for a friend’s mom, my own mom suggested I do my next one for her. I thought long and hard before settling on the Scottish Piper pattern that hails to a joke we’ve long had since our trip to Scotland. The pattern was, in fact, shipped from Scotland, and ironically, I found myself back in Scotland while finishing it. I was in a pub, in fact, and never more glad to say goodbye to a project in my life. The New Zealand company’s instructional deficiency had nothing over that of the Scottish. While the chart told me where to put the backstitching and outlining, only the picture (small as the life-sized bookmark) told me what colors to use. If you will observe the detail in my Scottish Piper, you might get an inkling of the tedium this involved.  It was exhausting, especially as I had to move back and forth between studying the chart and studying the picture. Furthermore, the chart and the picture had some differences in spacing that forced me to improvise. On more than one occasion, I thought I was almost finished only to find I had missed or erred on a section.

I finished it in an Edinburgh pub, trying to beat the setting sun in the window behind. A couple sat next to me, watching with interest. I explained with embarrassment that I hadn’t originally intended to cross-stich a Scottish Piper in Scotland, as if I were an obsessive tourist. (I was relieved to learn they were Irish.)

The finished product, as you see, is framed for my mom. (It’s going to be a surprise, but I’m posting it now because I don’t think she ever visits my blog.) The puckering you might notice along the border is how I learned the hard way not to stitch so tight, but I wasn’t about to redo it all again.  Plus, what mom is going to care about that?

I’m currently working on the dragon that is going to be all for me, framed to hang in my study.

So, with apologies to my students for stealing their conclusion style, that is the story of how I began cross-stitching - if you don't count the large-print kitten I stitched as a child and the goose I never finished when I was 14.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review of Elizabeth and Mary by Jane Dunn

This book was excellent. I read one review where a reader complained that Dunn repeats herself too often, reiterating points as if you aren't going retain them otherwise. That's one reason I loved this book!  The reinforcement kept the important stuff fresh in my memory and left me feeling, by the end, I could probably given an impromptu lecture on characters of Mary and Elizabeth.

As for the impressions I personally came away with: Mary was an unfortunate product of the French court that taught her that rule was hers by right. She honed the art of charm but never wisdom. Between her chronic self-indulgence and her (likely) manic depressive cycles, she made a life-long series of decisions that sealed her fate. I have a difficult time with the enduring myth of her Catholic martyrdom; her behavior throughout her life was characterized far more by self-indulgence than faith. I felt as though her role as martyr was a last-ditch effort to improve her legacy. (Dunn seems to present it this way.)

Elizabeth, by contrast, became queen by a chain of uncanny events and never took rule for granted. She was discerning and so careful in her decision-making that indecision (contrasted with Mary's trademark rashness) was a weakness. Her eventual decision to behead Mary can hardly be called a decision at all,  as you will see if you read, and even though Mary was skilled at flattery and deference to Elizabeth in their early acquaintance, I got the impression that Elizabeth had more genuine feelings for and loyalty to Mary -- something she couldn't afford to entertain. 

I don't want to take the time to chronicle the numerous and critical mistakes that marked Mary's reign, but I will list three decisions I believe hurt Elizabeth's chances of solidifying a trustworthy relationship with Mary: her refusal to ever meet Mary face-to-face, her stall tactics over selecting a possible husband for Mary, and her refusal to grant Mary the asylum she sought when she fled Scotland. Her decision on these matters were complicated by the volatile political and religious situation at the time, and my opinion is an amateur one, but there it is. 

Overall, these historical females were brought to life for me in a very personal way, and I am anxious to read more historical books, especially written by Jane Dunn.