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:
This post originally appeared on January 23, 2015.