Fresh out of the psych ward when I was 14, my mum thought that learning a craft would be good for Teenage Lori. I hated knitting and crocheting wasn’t interesting, but cross-stitch was cool. I got good at it. I stitched projects because they were challenging, but there was no gawtdamm way I was hanging angels with LIVE LOVE LAUGH anywhere near the house of someone I knew, let alone my own place.
I was trying to stay busy and not think about things. I was going to get it right for the first time. I wasn’t going to fuck up and finally keep my promises, for the first time. I needed something to do.
It started with an unfinished piece that my mum had started and lost interest in. It was what I would consider a medium piece now that I know about these things. It was about 80% finished, a scene of a cartoony “mama bear” hanging sheets and blankets on the line. In a scroll at the bottom, it said “Laundry Day” and I could not fathom what anyone would do with such a finished cross-stitch piece. But I finished it and gave it to my mum. I have no idea what happened to it.
I bought a couple of these kits with large weave cross stitching cloth called aida, three-inch hoops, floss, a needle, and the printed instructions and “map” to complete a very basic design. I had a happy face and a peace sign. When they were completed I hung them on my wall with a pushpin. I graduated to more complex designs.
I would browse the aisle at White Rose, a long-defunct gardening and craft store, selecting the pattern, cloth, and floss for my next project. I would select these things based on how difficult it was, not that I was interested in the pattern. The most difficult ones were large angels and religious scenes. I wasn’t much of a believer at the time, but I loved doing these things because they were just so very difficult.
After being talked out of a particularly difficult cross-stitch of The Lord’s Supper, I stopped stitching in my mid-20s.
I gave up because the hobby was expensive and I was completing this gargantuan thing and then putting them in the bags of stuff I would send to the Salvation Army. I didn’t want them, I wanted to complete them, and I could no longer afford to just stitch these things and throw them away.
That day at the bookstore, I have no idea why I was in the DIY & Crafts section. It appeared to be glowing on the shelf, calling me as if by divine choirs of angels. I reached for it as I would it were sacred scriptures. The title was all I needed to know. I had my passion, my raison d’etre, my new hobby there in my hand.
“Subversive Cross Stitch: 33 Designs for your surly side” by Julie Jackson. (It’s now called Subversive Cross Stitch: 50 F*cking Clever Designs for Your Sassy Side ) It was full of traditional sampler borders and patterns coupled with swear words and vulgar statements. I was in love. I could do this! I could make cross-stitch fun again, without Jesus, angels, platitudes or cartoony bears doing laundry.
It’s been eleven years since I bought that book. I’ve made close to 100 pieces in that time, far less than I had wished to. I want to do the big complicated pieces and then hide subversion in them. I want to make fridge magnets and greeting cards with blatant profanity and humour. But my hands tire easily, and the nerves in my wrists give out after a while. Having to make a special trip clear across town for supplies is also a deterrent.
Julie Jackson has a new book out. Perhaps I will find renewed inspiration in those pages.