subversive cross-stitch

Cross-stitch was, I think, the first craft I ever learned to do. When I was little, my mum always seemed to be working on cross-stitches, and I remember her giving me these plastic canvases with blunt needles to teach me the basics. She showed me how to work out the middle of a pattern and the canvas, how to stretch it across an embroidery hoop to keep it taut, how to thread a needle, how to pass the needle through the stitches on the back of the canvas when you were finished with an area or colour. I remember watching in fascination as her stitches came together to create a beautiful picture. I knew how it was done, but I still couldn’t quite get my head around how using a shade just one number higher or lower than the one before it suddenly created gradients out of hundreds of minuscule xs.

As my arm-knitting was a short project and I have enough scarves to last me several lifetimes, I decided to move away from knitting for my next craft project. Inspiration struck when I saw the Christmas present someone I follow on instagram had made for her housemate – a cross-stitch sampler featuring Beyonce’s inspirational lyrics “i woke up like dis ***flawless”. Feminism and cross-stitch? Sign me up.

As always, I knew Pinterest would deliver and could link me to the pattern and as ever, it did not disappoint. After searching for “Beyonce cross-stitch”, I was quickly led to a page featuring “15 Feminist Cross-Stitchings You Didn’t Know You Needed”. It in turn took me to the Etsy page of the cross-stitch designer where, for less than £4, I downloaded the .pdf of the pattern. For anyone who is inspired by this and also requires a daily reminder of how flawless you are, the pattern can be found here.

The next day I headed to John Lewis to buy the supplies needed. Aside from having to do a quick DMC to Anchor conversion while getting in the way of all the other keen would-be cross-stitchers, getting everything up together and getting started was an absolute breeze. All in all, this project cost about £14 for the pattern, the embroidery hoop, the aida cloth, and the 6 threads. But there’s still mountains of thread and cloth, so I’d estimate I could make another two of these, at least – which would lower the cost per project to about £4 plus whatever it is displayed in costs.

I did have a false start when I started bang in the middle of the cloth (like my mummy told me to) before realising how small the finished product was. It seems that that plan of action is best when you’re using a sewing kit or doing a big project, but if your project is smaller, you can afford to pick a corner, make sure you’ve got enough space for your pattern and then some, choose a point and call it centre, and just go for it.

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I’ve done cross-stitches before but they’ve been much bigger and I’ve always run out of steam before I finish – a theme of any of my crafty endeavours, it would seem! This project was pleasingly fast to complete, and because it was so small I was able to see it come together really quickly. I started it on Saturday night and worked for a few hours to get the flowers done. The greenery was actually the most labour-intensive part as it involved a lot of stitch-counting and tying off thread to move to the next section, but still took less than a couple of hours. The flowers were very fast to do, and it really was a joy to have that all finished in under 3 hours.

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I was strangely quite nervous about the lettering, as I’d never done that before, but it really was simple. Ironically, this piece is not entirely flawless as one of the stars is just one stitch too wide, meaning that the bottom line extends by one stitch. This is an error only I – and now everyone who reads this post (oops) – can notice, though, and it’s really not worth redoing the whole line for the sake of one little stitch. The other little mistake is the first ‘L’ in “flawless”- it should appear like the second “L”, but as I did this line at about midnight, I’m sure you can excuse the little mistake.

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I did have a moment when I’d finished the line “*** flawless” when I considered just leaving it there, but thought I’d go ahead and do the rest of the lettering the next morning, and I’m pleased I did! I’m quite tempted to go out and buy a slightly smaller hoop to keep this in for display and use this hoop for future projects.

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I had a great reaction to this when I posted it on facebook and instagram, and I’m itching to do another subversive cross-stitch again soon! My Etsy cart is currently full of patterns that I’m desperate to make for friends and family – and myself, of course. Perhaps I’ve finally found my crafting niche? …Probably not, to be honest.

Anyone else a fan of cross-stitch? What advice would you give to any first-time cross-stitchers?

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adventures in arm-knitting

I think my biggest problem, and the reason why I’m incapable of committing to a project, is that I want to be seeing results as soon as I’ve started. That’s why quilting is frustrating for me – there’s so much preparation to be done before you can actually see the quilt come together. And that’s why I like knitting – you’re officially started once the first stitch is on the needle.

Generally, letting me loose on Pinterest is like letting a small child loose in a toy shop – there will be lots of shrieking, a lot of mess, and it’ll all end in tears. But as I had finally finished knitting a snood that I’d found on Pinterest (estimated time from cast-on to cast-off by pattern creator: 2 weeks; actual time: nearly 2 years), I was looking for a quick project to work on to help me unwind after work, which has been extremely stressful of late. I found this pattern (such as it is):  http://www.simplymaggie.com/how-to-arm-knit-a-blanket-in-one-hour and was instantly drawn to the promise of having a blanket to cuddle up under within an hour. I couldn’t find the wool that she used on Amazon without having to wait weeks for it to arrive from the States, but I found Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick in Oatmeal, which was the same gauge. I’d never thought of ordering wool from Amazon before but I’d definitely do so again, particularly for wools that I know I wouldn’t be able to get in my local Hobbycraft.

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The one thing I did do, as ever, was not read the instructions properly. I’d seen that you knitted with three skeins of yarn, so I bought three balls of wool. What I’d glossed over was that you need two lots of three. Oh.

Anyway, I soldiered on, reasoning that if it did only take an hour, I could always buy more, take it down, and remake it later. I did find that I had to pause and rewind the video a lot to get my head around some of the techniques, which  frustrated me – I prefer pictures and words to video tutorials, and the fact that almost every single site I went onto, rather than explaining how to cast on that way just sent me back to Maggie’s videos was the cause of my just throwing everything on the floor in a strop.

But once I’d had a bit of a breather, and tackled it again a few days’ later, I found that I was racing through it. And, as promised, it took an hour from casting on to casting off.

It’s a bit messy and I’d like it to be bigger so I can actually get properly wrapped up in it. It also does look a bit net-like when it’s spread out, which is why I want to remake it a bit larger, cause it is more like a blanket when it’s scrunched together. My theory was greater area = more blanket to snuggle under. I am tempted to buy more of the same wool, take it apart, and re-do it to make it larger and neater at some point.

I can’t decide whether I think the speed of arm-knitting is a good or a bad thing. Having a project that can be started and finished before Gogglebox is over means that I’m a lot more likely to be able to commit to them once I’ve decided to make the project. But, on the other hand, I do find knitting to be therapeutic when I’ve had a tough day at work, and it’s nice to have a little bit of something to work on each night. Wool is not cheap (the three balls of wool I used cost over £25 in total) and to get through that much in just an hour would make this a very expensive habit if I wanted to have something to work on over multiple evenings.

What do you think about arm-knitting? Have you ever tried it, and if so how did you get on?