When and How Did You Learn to Stitch?

Okay, so that title is a loaded question and one that could take hours to answer.

But I am bringing up the topic simply because it is related to my previous post about the Winterthur Needlework Conference.

(A side note: in that post, I mentioned that the furniture conference, also planned to be held in October, was canceled. It certainly looked that way when I looked at the Winterthur website the day I was writing that post. However, I just got an email and have rechecked the website, which has been updated – they are indeed hosting a virtual furniture conference as well. In case you are interested, here is the page of all the details.)

When I attended my first Winterthur needlework conference, I remember clearly a little moment. It was the first speaker after lunch, although I have no memory of who this person was or the topic she was speaking on. She began by saying something like:

“I was having this fascinating conversation over lunch and I would like to just mention it here. First of all, just indulge me. Raise your hands if you yourself stitch, needlework of any kind. Now, keep your hands up if you were taught by a female relative – mom, grandma, etc.”

It was so interesting to look around the lecture hall. About 200 attendees and I would say about 80% of the hands were up for the first question. That alone was a fascinating fact – that not everyone who attends a needlework conference is a stitcher. As I had some conversations with attendees over those two days, I came to learn that there were many academics and scholars there. In some cases, while their intellectual work might be associated with needlework and embroidery – an archivist or a historian, for example – it did not mean that they took that interest into practicing form, into actually stitching and doing needlework of their own.

And then, the second question. I would say about 90% of the hands that were up for the first question remained up for the second. That, apparently, was the focus of the lunchtime conversation – that the practice and love of needlework is most often passed down through the female relatives. It certainly makes sense. The speaker spent a few minutes ruminating on this before beginning her actual talk.

I can say, however, that I was one of the small percentage that put my hand down after the first question. While my mom did some crocheting as I was growing up, I wouldn’t exactly call it a passion in her life. It was a hobby which she every so often gave some time towards. And, frankly, it was never anything I was interested in.

When I was in high school, I discovered cross stitch. (I’ve just checked and I see that I have not written out that story in a blog – need to do that at some point!) After cross stitching being my focus for many years through college and a little beyond, I discovered that there was a whole world of stitching beyond just making X’s. Don’t get me wrong, I like making X’s a lot – but I also love canvas work and blackwork and Hardanger and everything else I have explored.

So, here I am, a case of a stitcher who did not inherit the skills or the interest from anyone really. No grandmas or aunts ever really in the picture. It does make me think, though, about those who have been taught or inspired by a female relative. How lucky they are to have the relationship and connection.

A very interesting topic to explore – how did you become a stitcher?

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3 thoughts on “When and How Did You Learn to Stitch?

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  1. I am in the same boat as you – I had an aunt that I would see a couple of times a year who crocheted and she tried to teach me on rainy afternoons when I was little (6 or 7). I can remember my mother buying me stamped embroidery / crewel kits to keep me busy, but she never stitched.
    Some around 12 or 13, I received some Aida, a Raggedy Ann pattern, some DMC floss and a hoop as a Christmas gift to try Counted Cross Stitch. I had finally found my passion.
    Eventually, I taught my mom to do do cross stitch and she stitched for about 25 years until her eye sight was too bad (she never took advantage of the super lighting and magnification that many of us use today).

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story! Although I didn’t mention it here, I too have memories of some stamped kits when I was little, “just to keep me busy” but it never really connected with me. I love that you then taught your mom – a great reversal of the traditional pass-it-down-to-the-next-generation story.

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      1. When I was 11 or 12, I asked my grandma to teach me her ‘fancy work’ (surface embroidery). My mom was never interested. I remember picking out floss and a couple of small stamped handkerchiefs. I enjoyed it, but I’d seen cross-stitch and really wanted to learn that instead. She didn’t do counted work, so I just bought a Christmas ornament kit at our local discount department store and taught myself! I also bought a small crewel kit but didn’t take to it like cross-stitch.

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