I love unicorns. Love them. Looooooove them. And I love cursing almost as much as I love unicorns, so it’s no wonder that both show up in the pep talks I give friends:
In the comments a friend wanted to know what it would cost to turn that into a needle point. And thus the following cross stitch design was born.
The cross stitches and french knots are done in two threads. The back stitches are done in one thread. The design pictured above was stitched on 14 pt white Aida cloth and the final measurement of the design is 9″ x 6″.
If you end up stitching this design let me know in the comments below.
Cross-stitch was one of my first hobbies. I’ve never gotten into crochet and knitting (I could never get my stitches tight enough), and sewing came much later. I enjoyed picking out new skeins of thread (back when one could buy four for a dollar at the local Pamida). They were little brightly colored threads of potential. Winding them on little cardboard bobbins was incredibly soothing. The limited number of stitches and the structure of the Aida cloth were less intimidating to me than freehand embroidery (I could never get my stitches even enough to look right).
At some point I stopped stitching. I got busy with the sewing, and then the publishing, and then the stress of just getting through the day. Sitting down and working on something just for myself seemed indulgent and irresponsible. The boxes of thread, the Aida cloth and cross-stitch books got pushed to the back of shelves to make room for bolts of cloth and serger thread and depression.
In November, as we reorganized the garage into a workshop, I found all of my cross-stitch supplies. They were dusty and wrinkled, but no worse for wear. I sat down one evening with some linen and waste canvas and my Celtic Cross Stitch book by Gail Lawther. I had an idea to create something I could hang over the front door, a pouch I could fill with herbs, stones, medallions, whatever represented to me safety and love and protection. I have an affinity for Hestia, who is often represented by a circle, and Stephan has a strong connection to his Celtic roots. I picked a design that was circular and got to work.
The actual stitching took a week or so, working in the evening. The whole time I had to remind myself that it was okay to take this time for myself. And as the pattern emerged, as I looked from design to fabric and back again, as my hands worked, I stitched pieces of myself back together. Those parts of me that had been torn away because I felt I didn’t have the right to self-care were reattached with careful rows of Xs. Breathe, I told myself. This is okay. You get to do something solely for the joy of it.
And it worked. It was soothing to concentrate on the rhythm of the needle going in and out of the fabric. I had to give all my attention to keeping the thread from tangling, to the number of stitches, to the tautness of the fabric. There was no room for other concerns. I made sure to tell Stephan several times how much I was enjoying this one simple act, to reinforce the good feelings.
After the pouch, I embellished my bag with a design of Hecate’s Wheel. I started having issues with leaving the house last year. Not so much agoraphobia, as anxiety about being around people. I thought that carrying a reminder of Hecate, a goddess that I associate with strength and protection, would help with my feelings. I am taking medication and am in therapy, both have helped with this particular issue (among others), and I think that the cross-stitch has aided in my healing.
Me being me, though, I started playing around with the idea of creating my own cross-stitch patterns. I’m also working on another book with Stephan, and I am looking to incorporate the cross-stitch into that. To those ends, I pulled out some graph paper and started with a topic that seemed easy enough: the Elder Futhark. The runes are all lines, with definite proportions. I wanted to design something that could be repurposed for various projects, and thought of all the alphabet samplers that one finds in various cross-stitch project books. I researched various viking design elements for the borders. The actual drafting took several weeks of graph work and then stitching out the designs to see how they looked. In the end I drafted two samplers, both on the small side so that they can be completed in a single sitting.
The first design you can see above, the runes are four stitches high by one or two stitches wide (depending on the rune). The finished design is approximately 2 1/4″ tall by 3 1/4″ wide on 14 count Aida cloth. It has been worked with two threads: the runes in red and the border in red and black.
The second design (below) is even smaller, the runes two stitches high and one or two stitches wide (again depending on the rune). The finished design is approximately 1 1/8″ tall by 2 1/8″ wide on 14 count Aida cloth. It has also been worked with two threads in the black and red colors.
Both designs are done in back-stitch (making them less cross-stitch patterns, but that’s the term I’m going with). The stitches include half and quarter stitches, so you have to work between the weave at some points.
I used the program KG-Chart LE to make the charts. I will definitely be buying the program as it very easy to use and does exactly what I need it to do. I highly recommend checking it out if you want to make your own patterns. You can view the designs by clicking on the links below:
I’m a word nerd and a science fiction geek. I also love to swear. Like, really fucking love to curse. My swearing is sometimes a problem (like when my children started dropping f-bombs as toddlers). But mostly swearing offers me a release for frustration. (Also, swearing has its benefits.)
Which is why I love science fictional swearing. You get to express your anger in a way that won’t lead to judgmental looks from those around you.
This cross stitch sampler is my love letter to the swears used throughout fandom. The pictured sampler was stitched on white 14 count Aida cloth using two strands of floss. Download the free chart by clicking on the download button below, or clicking here.
If you get your stitch and bitch on, please post a picture in the comments. I’d love to see how it turns out for you.
In my book, Sew Witchy, I write about the magickal correspondences of fabric. My focus there is on natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool and silk). Not all crafters and sewists limit themselves to natural materials, though. In fact I’d hazard to guess that very few do. One could, I suppose, use only silk or cotton thread, eschew plastic buttons for only metal, wood, bone or horn, leave out zippers or plastic snaps, as well as iron on interfacing, etc.
There is an emphasis on only using natural materials in ritual and magick crafts. While I can understand the reasoning behind it, I find the insistence to border on classism and elitism. Not everyone can afford or has access only natural materials. And, when we get down to it, everything comes from the earth in one form or another. Everything is ultimately natural when it’s roots are traced back to its beginnings. Even plastic.
Magick in the Plastic
Our witch ancestors didn’t use colored candles, or have access to the array of crystals and herbs available online. And some might have turned their noses up at colored ribbons, grocery store herbs and store bought besoms as not “traditional” tools. I think it behooves modern witches to see how the practice of witchcraft and magick have changed over the centuries, adapting as new technologies and products have come available, and be open to using materials that might strike us at first as non-magickal.
I’d go even farther to argue that plastic is decidedly magical. It is alchemy at its most refined. Taking the remains of dinosaurs and creating a material which is named after its defining characteristic: its shapeshifting ability.
Yes, plastic does have its drawbacks, its production and longevity make it a serious hazard for the environment. This doesn’t exclude it from being considered a natural material, though. The elements have their destructive aspects. Sheep rearing, silk making, cotton farming and linen production all have their affects on the environment as well.
Let’s start with a few correspondences. These are associations I have made on my own through study and meditation. They are not meant to be set in stone, and if they don’t ring true to you, feel free to form your own correspondences.
Deities: Cerridwen, Janus, Kali, Oya (deities of change and transformation)
While browsing Pinterest late at night (as one does) I stumbled upon a pair of scissors in the shape of a witch. They checked all the boxes of my relevant interests: a sewing tool that incorporated magick. The fact that the scissors were made to commemorate the Salem Witch trials just underscored the appeal.
I have a lot of scissors: Several pairs for fabric, pairs for paper, one pair solely for duct tape, not to mention the rotary cutters, pinking shears and embroidery snips. They are all practical, mass produced pieces that have served me for years. The fanciest (i.e. most expensive) pairs I have are the Ginghers with their colorful handles. They’re pretty, but they’re no stork handled clippers.
The witch scissors kicked off a Pinterest spiral. I spent more time than I care to admit looking at scissors in a variety of shapes. I kept thinking about the ways they could be used to imbue sewing with magick. There is a running joke / rule among crafters that there are “special” scissors non-crafters are banned from using. It doesn’t take a great leap to come to the conclusion that the witchy sewist could use a pair just for magick.
And as is usual with Pinterest sprees, I got caught up in topic drift, finding other unusual sewing tools. There were pin cushions and thimbles, sewing caddies and tape measures. Several of these items aren’t really used any more. Button hole cutting knives are specialized tools that look really handy, but with the decline of hand sewing, they’ve become a specialty tool. I had never heard of them before now, and when I went searching to see if they were still sold today, what I found was something that is a chisel set. It’s utilitarian, to be sure, but it just doesn’t have the same romance as the original cutters.
On the more whimsical side of things sit the thimble holders. Cats stand at attention offering a thimble for when you need it. Acorns hang from chatelaines. Birds perch next to eggs that open to reveal not a hatchling but a thimble. At a time when everyone sewed by hand, it makes sense that every sewist would want to keep their thimbles safe and at hand.
These tools weren’t all about providing some charm to what could otherwise be a monotonous task. The sewing bird was a useful tool that acted like a “third hand” for sewing. It is a tool that has gone “extinct” thanks to the advent of sewing machines. I have to wonder what other sewing implements were necessities in years gone by that would be mysterious curios to today’s sewists.
All these little items, useful and necessary and common, were made with not only their function in mind, but with an eye towards making work a little less dreary. It’s a hard concept to wrap one’s head around when sewing now is a hobby to most people. I think, though, that there’s a place for just this kind of fantasy even today. I look at the thimble holders and I want one, even though I don’t have a thimble. I’ve already forged a working relationship with my Fiskars and I have no need for a sewing bird, and yet I like the idea of having one perched on my sewing table. I long for a tape measure shaped like a turtle.
Should you also have a desire to indulge your inner Clotho, Lachesis or Atropos, head on over to my Pinterest Board to check out the plethora of items I’ve pinned there.
I’ve been quieter than usual on this blog because I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo this month. Of course because I am me and I can’t do anything the way it is supposed to be done, I’m working on a non-fiction book rather than a novel. It’s a sewing book, which means I’ve been working on designs and prototypes, as well as writing. I have no expectations of actually finishing the book in November. The plan is to have a rough draft by the end of December.
Writing, sewing, remaking a design two, three, four times, has been strangely reassuring. Each iteration gets me closer to the finished version in my mind. Working with my hands keeps me anchored to the world. And the work gives me a sense of forward momentum. I need that most days. The medication I’m taking has helped tremendously with the depression, but I’m still struggling with it, especially with the seasonal change.
So here is my little Venus, round and soft and cute, standing next to the text of one of my all time favorite buttons. I wanted to keep the design focused on the message, thus the simple border. The pink was just the first color I grabbed, and can be substituted for any other color one desires. The design was stitched on white 14 ct. Aida cloth, with one strand of floss for the back stitch and two strands for the cross stitch. Click here to get a copy of the design for yourself.
Which brings me back to Willendorf. Part of my focus this month and next is on myself. Making things for me, to wear and to decorate my space. When I made the Venus of Willendorf design I tried a variety of sizes and designs. One was a little back stitched goddess with french knot hair. I love how tiny and cute she is, but I didn’t have a project for her. She’s sat in the pile of my doodles, waiting patiently for me to come back to her. Now, with these two months of relative downtime, I was ready to do something with her.
If you decide to make one for yourself, please share a picture in the comments. I’d love to see it
This article was first posted on November 29, 2015.
On the bullentin board behind me is a pin I bought years ago at a Worldcon. It reads: “I have the body of a goddess—the Venus of Willendorf.” A guy friend who was with me at the time said, “roach, you aren’t fat.” While I appreciated his attempts to soothe what he saw as my mocking my body, he missed the point of why I wanted that pin. I wanted it because I thought the wording was clever and I love the Venus of Willendorf.
I have several reproductions in stone and clay throughout the house. I like how they feel in my hand when I hold them. Of all the goddess images I’ve encountered, hers is the most pleasingly tactile to me. When I started playing around with creating my own cross stitch designs, I knew I wanted to eventually make my own Venus to hang on the wall.
I will admit to being a little intimidated when I started out. I don’t view myself as an artistic person. I tell myself that I can’t draw, that my color sense is limited to a base functionality. The rune designs I’ve done so far were easy-peasy in that they were just straight lines. Here I was faced with curves and perspective and shading. It felt like jumping from stick figures to Rembrandt.
The technical details weren’t the hardest part to overcome, though. As I was creating the first design, I found myself constantly fighting the automatic inclination to slim her down. I kept shaving down her curves, dechubbinating her thighs, giving her breast reduction surgery, one stitch at a time. I found myself trying to figure out how to make her breasts even, how to round her face more. A lifetime of living in a society that reduces women to cardboard cutouts was fighting to whittle this goddess image into a Bratz doll.
The process was difficult and halting. Every time I caught myself making her less than she is, I had to go back and see if I had missed other instances. She and I had talks about her rejecting the tyranny of symmetrical breasts. I took to calling her “Boobs McGee” and referring to her “bodacious tatas” while I worked. It was as much about ripping out all the ugly stitches of body shaming, as it was about creating a piece of embroidery to hang on my wall.
Venus hangs on the wall near the front door, now. She is a constant reminder that bodies are meant to take up space, big and small. She tells me to lead with my tits when I walk out of my house. She informs me that I am an artist, just working on a different canvas. And she passes on a message from Sheela na Gig, “Time to finish up my design.”