Embroidery is the art of decorating fabric with yarn or thread. It’s an old craft dating back to the Third Century BC and examples of embroidery work have been found in practically every culture and social class around the world. In times past, skills in embroidery, sewing, and quilting were more prized—and needed for practical reasons—but at regional arts and crafts fairs, like the one we attended this weekend, you can still see clever and artistic embroidery and needlework displayed.
My mother sewed, as did both my grandmothers who also made beautiful quilts, but none of my close family did what my grandmother termed “fancy work.” I can’t remember that anyone taught me to embroider although I learned to do so. I do recall, however, that when mother made her many trips to the fabric store for patterns, thread, and fabrics, I always headed to the sewing crafts section. I loved to study the framed embroidery examples of cross-stitch, crewel, and needlework on the walls. At some point I came home with my first simple cross-stitch kits to try out.
I learned to create those first cross-stitch and crewel embroidery projects by reading and following the instructions in the kits. The patterns stamped on tea-cloths, table-runners, pillows, handkerchiefs, and other items offered an easy way for even a child to learn. Later, I checked out books about the craft in my local library to learn more about embroidery techniques. Most of the items I made in those early years were given away as gifts, but a few years back—while cleaning out my mother’s sewing after she passed away—I found two samples of my childhood work Mother had saved, a toaster cover and a table runner. I laughed to find them. I doubt anyone would be caught dead with items like these in their homes today, but I couldn’t resist tucking them away in a drawer to keep, just as my mother did.
When I married, craft items for the home were much more popular than today. I returned to embroidery then, along with learning other craft skills of the time like tole painting, to make decorative items for my home and to give for gifts. Homemade gift items were lovingly appreciated at that time, cherished and used, and I gave away many embroidered and handcrafted items and framed paintings for holidays.
Before both my children were born, in addition to making crib blankets, baby pillows, toys, and some clothes, I stitched an embroidered sampler for each child’s room—one for Max of the ABC’s and one for Kate with her name on it. I’ve kept these for sentimental reasons like I’ve kept the children’s early drawings in their baby books.
In the continuing busy years of childrearing and working, I only occasionally did embroidery again. The projects I took on were often larger more ambitious ones like the framed rock garden I sewed one winter. I began drawing my own original pictures for embroidery projects in those years, too, making personalized Christmas stockings, pillows, or framed embroidered scenes for family members.
Looking through my old embroidery basket, while working on this blog, I found several items partially begun and unfinished, plus a set of cute kitchen items I worked in crewel, with a lot of French knots, that I always meant to frame. Also in the old basket were colorful embroidery floss and crewel yarn, my old embroidery hoop, linen fabrics, patterns, and a kit for a crewel pillow covered in pretty wildflowers I bought but never began.
I rarely have time to embroider anymore. Now my artistry skills and creativity go into writing and creating books. But I still admire the skill because I know how much time, talent, and patience it takes. I stood watching a quilter add lavish, detailed embroidery work to a lovely crazy quilt this weekend at the Mountain Makins’ Festival in Morristown, Tennessee. The old itch to pick up a needle resurfaced as I watched. I doubt, however, you’ll see me posting new embroidery pieces on my blog or Facebook pages any time soon … but my guess is you will soon encounter a new book character, skillful with a needle, who adds intricate embroidery work to her crazy quilts and crafts. Perhaps she’ll also make some colorful stitched home items like my old kitchen pieces to sell at arts and crafts festivals near her home.