My love of all things stitchy began when I was 20 years old, and my sister went to Austria to be an au pair for a year. I pined - oh, how I pined without her. It was the autumn of 1994, and I was wandering in a craft store with my mother when I saw it. A pattern for a cross-stitched Christmas stocking. I was Paul on the Road to Damascus. Smitten, blinded, utterly compelled to obedience. I grabbed the leaflet, marched over to the DMC rack and, slavishly following the list given, pulled out 30 colours. I plunked them down on the counter, paid for them, then said to the shop assistant, "How d'you do this, anyway?"
I still don't know how I managed to complete this whole Christmas stocking in time for mid-November, when it was sewn, stuffed, and air-mailed to Austria in time for Christmas Eve. I marvel at the sheer bloodymindedness, the pig-headed stubbornness that enabled me to see the pattern, decide to make it, and throw myself at the process with a tenacity only seen in certain terrier breeds, or particularly implacable mules.
Typically, I decided that, No, it was not enough to make one of these for Gwen. I also had to make one for Clumsy, Mum, Dad, Mr Man, The Goddaughter, and all The Nieces. It was a case of "everybody I love is going to have one of these, come hell or high water, or imminent commitment to an asylum for the artistically exhausted." Luckily for me, my mother and sister were just as deeply devoted to the cause as I was, and helped me out a lot by stitching quite a few of the required stockings themselves.*
We were doing great. Stockings were had by almost all. I had a baby, then another. I chose the patterns for them, planning to soldier on to the end, which was now tantalizingly in sight. However, two years ago some terrible things happened.
1) I got finished everyone's stockings except two: my own daughters'. I seem to feel I've got all the time in the world to do theirs. This is bad.
2) My poor longsuffering mother has developed a repetitive strain injury called "seamstress' thumb" (sorry 'bout that, Mum) and my sister has developed something called "crushing boredom and lack of motivation", coupled with "two young children, a full-time job, and a persistently social church group".
3) I learned to knit.
Now that I know about knitting, it just about kills me to sit there staring at a colour-by-numbers chart, painstakingly threading needles and making 18 little Xs per inch, when I could be flying along at 22 sts and 30 rows to 4", needles clicking, chatting to my friends or watching movies. Do you know, cross stitching anything takes like a bazillion times longer than the same amount of knitting?
Anyhow, here is what I have done so far on Charlotte's stocking. In four years.
I just KNOW I can finish this by Christmas. Right? I can, right? Right. Thanks. That's just the encouragement I needed.
* I don't have pictures of these stockings, sadly: this was in the years before I even had a regular camera, never mind a digital one.