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Crafty as Hell: Stabbing things over and over again for fun and amusement

I’ve received a lot of questions about whether I’m “crafty.”

And yes, weirdly, I really enjoy making things with my hands. (If you’ve never watched that NBC series, MAKING IT with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, you should. It is life-affirming and hopeful and candy fluff for the brain.)

I’m a craft conundrum. I’m terrible with paper arts and scrapbooking, but I like using photos to make gifts through online services – which I think, probably doesn’t count as crafting, but I’m still putting that out there. I cannot knit or crochet a stitch with proper needles. I have a genuine fear of doing myself injury with them. But I can make a hat on a knitting loom in about three hours. I’m pretty handy with decorative sewing, but TERRIBLE at sewing anything that will need to hold together after one wash.

Seams are scary.

Unlike most people, I didn’t start crafting with those potholder loop things. My first craft was counted cross-stitch. My grandma was a needlework master and sewed very intricate and complicated patterns involving lots of shading, metallic thread and sometimes tiny seed beads. When I was 10ish, she explained the basics and showed me how to sew on a button about a thousand times – that’s basically counted cross-stitch is. She helped me decorate a flowered pillow case, which she kept for years, despite it being terribly ugly.

I got more advanced as the years went on. I even have some blue and purple ribbons from the county fair, recognizing my needlework skills. I fell out of the habit when the kids came along and I started writing books. It’s hard to justify spending hours on a needlework project when there's a deadline looming.

I've tried to get back to it as I struggle for a healthier work-life balance. I still find needlework to be soothing, and I have fully embraced the old cross-stitch adage, "Needlework is proof I have the patience to stab something thousands of times until I get it right." I do small, snarkier projects now, like a recent piece I made for my MFA program mentor that summed up most of the advice she gave me.

So I thought I would give you a sort of time-lapse view of a project from start to finish. This is a piece I’m working on for a friend, who loves the Ron Burgundy movies. The pattern is one I found on Etsy by Odiosyncrasy. I’m using white Aida 16 count cloth, an bamboo stitching hoop, common cross-stitch needles, and DMC 938 and 3852 floss.

Before starting a project, you need to 1) be sure the canvas you’re using is big enough to contain the design and 2) center the design on the cloth to make the framer’s job easier. I usually just fold the canvas in half length-wise and width-wise and either mark it lightly with a pencil or use my needle to make that hole in the canvas obviously bigger than the others. (I don’t recommend the pencil if the design center is unstitched, meaning your mark will show when the design is finished.

It's only fair that Ron's mustache is the center of his design.

Also, this is the picture where I realized my hands look just like my mother's. Just going to let that rest in my brain for a bit.

As I mentioned, cross-stitch is making thousands of tiny crossed stitches. Your biggest job is using the right color for the right symbol and making sure the stitches all “face” the same direction. This means that all “first” stitches go left to right, the all of the “cross” stitches have to cover them from right to left. Otherwise, the light will hit the thread in conflicting patterns and confuse the eye.

This pattern is pretty easy as it only takes two colors and involves big blocky shapes. I’m an outliner because once you outline your shape, you can kind of zone out and fill it in without checking and re-checking the pattern.

After that, just sink deep into your stitching like a warm bath for the brain.

I particularly enjoy this sort of work because unlike writing, which can leave you feeling you haven't accomplished much even after hours at the computer, you can see a noticeable difference between what was there when you picked up the hoop, and what is there after.

And here's the finished, unframed piece. It will look much nicer after it's been pressed to get the hoop wrinkles out and framed. This piece took me about three weeks to complete, between writing projects/working.

Also, I’m fully aware of the mistake I made on one of the S’s. You don’t have to email and point it out to me. But mistakes happen! Just enjoy your work and move on!