Coloring inside the lines

Ask any first-grader to color inside the lines, and you know you’re going to get a mess.

This was the case when my mom handed me my first little piece of fabric, a needle, and thread.

For years I had watched as my aunties came over to my house to sit and cross-stitch with my mom. They sat next to each other on little stools in front of a big window, where there was the most natural light, and hunched over their work for hours on end while they gossiped.

My sister, who is two years older than me, had already been cross-stitching for a couple of years. So when the time finally came for me to learn how to cross-stitch I was super excited. I remember my mom handing me a little piece of white cross-stitch fabric and a tapestry needle with bright pink thread on it. I watched as she tied a little knot with one hand at the end of the thread. I thought that was amazing. How was she able to do that? She told me to watch her carefully as she demonstrated to me how to cross-stitch.

My mom cross-stitched on the back of all her pieces. She referred to the back as the front and the front as the back, which was so confusing! This would confuse me for years to come. Anyway, I watched intently, just like she told me to as she poked her needle through one hole and out another. She flipped the fabric over and showed me what her stitch looked like on the back (which was actually the front, like I said, so confusing). It was a small, pink diagonal line. Then she flipped the fabric back and her needle went in and out again. Again, she showed me what her stitch had made, it was now a little ‘X’. She did this a couple more times as I continued to watch, then she handed it to me and told me to try.

Watching is much easier than doing!

I remember being confused the second she handed the fabric over to me. I had just watched her, paying close attention to every stitch, yet I had no idea where to put the needle in, and once I finally figured that out, I didn’t know which hole the needle needed to come out of. There were so many holes!

Not only were there so many holes, I had major problems with the thread. It kept getting tangled or getting tied up in knots. Every time this happened (which was about every other stitch) my mom or big sister would have to rescue me and untangle everything. I didn’t understand how my mom and aunties could cross-stitch for hours yet their thread never got tangled. Their hands were so quick too. The thread going through their fabric would make a soft “whoosh” sound. Even when I wasn’t watching my mom, big sister, and aunties, I could hear how much better they were than me. For my one stitch, I could hear at least five to six “whooshing” stitches from them.

My mom was constantly on me about my stitchwork.

First, I was using too much tension. She pointed out how my fabric was getting pulled and taught in areas where there was too much tension. Then, being the overachiever that I was (and still am) I decided I’m going to be serious now and really show my mom what I’m made of. I vividly remember her flipping my work over at one point to check my progress. She was so disappointed, now there wasn’t enough tension. She ran her needle back and forth over my Xs, showing me how the thread would move to illustrate how loose the tension was.

After days of toiling over my little 6” x 6” cross-stitch practice piece, I decided that I knew enough and was thrilled that I could finally move on to all the intricate pieces my mom worked on.

Boy was I wrong.

It would be weeks of straight lines and coloring inside the lines before I would graduate to bigger things, like turning. Oh man, I remember feeling paralyzed every time I had to turn (only one other thing has made me feel like this, parallel parking) and it would be months before I moved on to basic designs, then years before I was skilled enough to make anything worth keeping.


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