Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Last night while reading Debbie Stoller's book Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook, she made a comment about how when women got the right to vote, they quit knitting because it was what a woman was supposed to do and the feminist icons of the 70's like Betty Friedan looked at knitting as "woman's societal obligation to serve everyone around them" yet she goes on to write that "they forgot that knitting served the knitter as well".

Couldn't we say this about any creative outlet we love? I grew up in a house with a mother who didn't sew, didn't knit, didn't crochet, didn't embrodier, you get the picture. So I've often wondered where my love, my obsession for creating things came into being. My grandmother made quilts, not quilts in the old fashioned sense but squares of polyester, rayon, double knit that was scavenged from my aunt's sewing scraps and they were all tied with acrylic yarn or embrodiery thread. Ahhh, I have an aunt that sewed, maybe that's where the seeds of creativity were planted. Uh, no, she's an aunt by marriage and taught home ec and clothing and textile services. I didn't want to sew. I was a Cosmo girl. The few times I tried to make clothes it was a nightmare. Maybe it was my teen angst about my body. When you go and buy clothes you try them on until you find something that fits your body type, when sewing your own clothes the flaws with your body are right there in your face. At least that's the way I always saw it. I never saw making my own clothes from the point of view that I had the freedom to design clothes that covered all my flaws. Oh to have that flaw filled 16 yr old body back. But I digress.

My grandmother baby sat me when I was very young and she worked in a junk store, when she'd get busy she'd hand me a little silver hoop(which I still have) with a piece of fabric in it and a needle and thread and say, "Make something pretty". So I'd sit there running the needle through the fabric and making letters. I guess it's the only thing my little 5 yr old mind could come up with. Recently when I made a trip back home my grandmother pulled a few of those little pieces of fabric from her Bible and I was surprised to see that I had satin stitched those letters. Ok, it wasn't a great satin stitch but that's what it was. One day she taught me to latch hook and kept me supplied with all kinds of latch hook rug kits. My aunt(the home ec teacher) and uncle have the prettiest latchhook I ever made. It was a bouquet of roses and turned out so nice. I gave it to them for Christmas one year and my aunt has it on the floor in her sewing room. This particular aunt's mother crocheted and whenever I would see her she would always have extra yarn and a spare hook(both of her daughters sewed but neither cared for crocheting) and she would spend time teaching me how to crochet. I still have a vest she and I made together(it's as ghastly as you'd imagine-think mid-70s) a poncho, and a couple of hats.

I also had a cousin that lived down the road that knitted and crocheted and read Harlequin romances. When I was going through my Little House on the Prairie phase running around in a sunbonnet and long skirts all the time she tried to teach me and my friend Linette to knit and crochet. We'd sit on the steps of Linette's apartment building and knit mile long rectangles. No one ever told us how to finish the piece off and we were too embarassed to ask. Sadly when we grew out of our Little House phase, we also out grew knitting.

Then cross stitch came into my life in all it's glory and I do know why I fell in love with cross stitch. I was a frustrated artist. My dad could pass the hours drawing on a sketch pad, I couldn't draw a stick person. The first cross stitch picture I saw took my breath away. Here was a way I could be an artist. Not a painter, not a sketch artist, but I could create beautiful pictures from fabric and thread. One of my neighbor's stitched models for a LNS and she took a little bit of time and taught me to cross stitch. She mostly cross stitched Paula Vaughn's and samplers, it wasn't until high school when my best friend's mom started cross stitching that I was introduced to a whole new world of cross stitch and all the places it could take you. I saw my first LNS, so many different designers all in one place. It was heaven.

I tried teaching my girlfriends to cross stitch. They all gave in, and I think eventually each of them might have made one Christmas ornament. None of them ever pick up a needle today.

So what is it that sets me apart from them? I hear this story over and over, knitters, crocheters, cross stitchers--none of their close friends ever seem to share their love of a fiber related hobby. What is it in us that nags at us to create something? What is it that makes us automatically reach for something to stitch when watching tv? Why do we find such joy and peace in these hobbies? Are we just born this way? I honestly can't imagine it being environment. Plenty of crafters grew up in homes like mine where the mother or father didn't have a hobby or a creative outlet yet these people aren't satisfied unless they have some time during the week to work on a project.

My mother is retired and I call her during the day and she's not doing anything. She doesn't read, not that I consider reading a hobby, it's a necessity like breathing, but she never picks up a book. She says she can't afford books. "Uh, mom, go to the library. Books are free there." She doesn't cross stitch, crochet or knit, or sew. She can't afford to do any of those things, so she says. Then she proceeds to lecture me on how wasteful and selfish I am for spending any money on any of my hobbies. A waste to buy cross stitch charts? A waste to buy yarn? A waste to spend money on fabric for quilts? A waste to spend money on something that passes the time, brings you joy and many times adds to the beauty and comfort of your home or a friend's home? I've offered to teach her to crochet or cross stitch and she won't let me. She'd rather sit around an empty house and worry about things and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. I'm not the only one that has tried to encourage my mom to pick up a hobby. The neighbor that taught me to cross stitch now lives alone and she's retired and she sees my mom several times a week and has tried over and over to talk momma into letting her teach her to cross stitch or quilt. She's told her she has more fabric and thread than she could ever use in one lifetime but still Momma can't be bothered. When the former neighbor leaves my mom will call me and say, "So and so came over tonight, I can't believe how much money she wastes on her hobbies. She doesn't have insurance but she has fabric. She has very little money coming in but still spends a lot on needlepoint canvases(my words, momma calls it that needlepoint junk)."

I've tried to explain to momma over and over again when we get into the whole "you can't afford to buy this hobby stuff" argument that I would die without my cross stitch stash, my yarn stash, my fabric stash and books. They save me from boredom. They give me something to do with my hands and my mind. They let me put a voice to my creativity. They keep me sane. My stash is also my rainy day creativity fund so to speak. It's there for me when I need it. It's my 401K for those times when money is tight and stitching, crocheting, quilting don't figure into the budget. There are schools of thought that might say if you didn't buy so much stash now you might actually have money later but my twisted mind just doesn't work that way. I've tried to explain to her that for the bargain price of $2.50 she can buy a ball of cotton yarn and a crochet hook and make two dish cloths and have some fun and still watch her soaps and smoke and drink coffee. It's the best deal in town. She then points out to me that that $2.50 could go towards laundry detergent or food. It is then that I know I must be adopted.

I seek out different projects for different reasons. Some are because they are easy and I just want something to do. Some projects I have a definite plan for, know exactly which wall I'll hang it on or whose bed it will cover or what piece of furniture it will be thrown over. Some are just experimental. What do people who don't have a creative outlet think about? I dream about my projects. I read charts before I go to bed at night. I dream about what colors I'll use, fabric choices, where it will hang, or if one my boys will snap it up and claim the item for their room. Doesn't everyone go to sleep with visions of projects floating around in their heads? Am I really an alien?

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