When I was ten years old my grandmother, Bita, taught me how to do cross stitch. She gave me a pattern of a silhouette of a lady in a ball gown carrying a fan and standing beside a tall plant. The pattern required only one shade of embroidery floss, and it was fairly easy to do. All I needed to remember were: stitch only in one uniform direction, keep the thread tension even, and never to let the floss become twisted upon itself.
I have been doing cross stitch ever since, and over the years, I have learned and maintained a steady hand, and have nurtured an obsession about flosses laying flat against the fabric. I have learned to hold the work up to a light source at an angle, to check if the light reflects off the floss uniformly. Any stitch that reflects light differently will have to be redone. And for as long as I kept true to these rules, my work would be okay.
So far I have pretty much lived up to Bita’s standards. About a decade and a half ago I have graduated from stitching on basket weave and aida cloth, and have turned to stitching on linen, which other stitchers found more difficult. I didn’t; I just found it different. I chose linen because the designs tend to stand out more dramatically, and I chose patterns of elegant ladies and fairies draped in the most sumptuous fabrics and prints in the most gorgeous colors, with a profusion of wavy hair, and with beads and metallic threads and other wonderful embellishments.
Indeed, this was no longer the cross stitch of my childhood. This was spectacular, grown-up cross stitch that showed women brooding over the men they love, angels in a rich swathe of clouds and cloth bringing serenity to a troubled lover, half-naked fairies with voluptuous curves laughing under the moonlight. This was something we do not simply turn into pillowcases and tablecloths. This was art to be framed and displayed as they are.
But complicated though the designs were, the technique to be used in stitching them was just the same, and there are still those three same things to remember: stitch only in one uniform direction, keep the thread tension even, and never to let the floss become twisted upon itself.
Over the years I have kept up this hobby, but in a less persistent fashion. Sometimes I let a project go untouched for months on end. Sometimes I spend entire 48-hour stretches doing nothing but that project, stopping only to eat and nap. But more or less cross stitching has stayed in my life, and the compulsive orderliness of process and placement that went with it.
Bita herself no longer does cross stitch. Her eyes have become too weak, her hands are not so steady anymore, and her back can no longer endure her sitting up straight for more than fifteen minutes. But sometimes I wonder if she really has stopped doing cross stitch. Because for as long as I have known her, even up to know, she has maintained that compulsive orderliness on laying out her bed linens and her clothes each time, in how she places her slippers at the side of her bed, even in how she hangs the towels. Things have to be placed just so, to reflect a particular meticulous disposition, as if she was making sure her strands always lie flat and the stitches are always in one uniform direction. This is what she has taught me: it’s a good thing to have order.
Image credits: 1, 2, 3