Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in my Nanna’s living room during dark winter nights. It was always warm, with thick curtains keeping the cold at bay, and a gas fire quietly breathing out hot air. I don’t remember it ever being cold during winter.
I can remember watching National Geographic documentaries about wolves in Yellowstone Park, and my Nanna sitting in a big armchair with one of those lighted magnifying glasses, and a cross stitch resting on a special embroidery table. I always found the light radiating from the magnifying glass oddly comforting, and admired my Nanna’s tidy working method and her obsession with organizing her materials.
My Nanna would work away at these colossal pieces, and they would always came out as visions of perfection. When one was completed, she’d immediately start another. Once a month my Nanna would have ‘her ladies’ come round, and this cross stitch coven would show off the work they’d been doing and exchange ideas over tea and biscuits.
I enjoyed watching my Nanna cross stitch, but it wasn’t something that I thought I should take up. My head was always too busy being stuck in the pages of a book. One of the last things I remember my Nanna making was an embroidery of two grey wolves. I had it with me when I was in hospital suffering with anorexia nervosa.
I cross stitched a little when I was 15. I was on bedrest in hospital and made book marks with GOTH written in tiny black stitches on blood red backgrounds. When I left hospital, and abandoned cross stitch and for years I didn’t touch a need and thread, apart from when it came to sewing black metal patches onto my battle jacket.
But something stirred in me during the months of 2016. I found myself encountering one dark embroidery after another, and I quickly became besotted with the idea of creating pieces myself. Memorial Stitches and Fever Nest have provided much of the inspiration I’ve needed to be able to move forward and pick up a needle and thread again.
I’m not very good at doing stuff ‘just for me.’ I’ve had great trouble with relaxing during the past twenty odd years of my life, and I finally came to the point where I thought to myself, ‘Katie, you’re going to have to give yourself some time every day just for you, just to do something you really, really want to do.’ After months of agonizing mental hardship, I decided to listen to myself. I decided to go to the thrift store and stock up on materials and I can tell you now, I smiled all the way there imagining what treasures I’d uncover.
It was at Erikshjälpen in Borås where I found the things I needed. I spent a happy hour going through all their thread and odds and ends of fabrics. As a long-term thrifter, I was overcome. It was an entirely new adventure in a store that I’d been in dozens of times before. I didn’t limit myself to just black thread though. At 10 krona a spool, I picked up silvers and pale blues too. I felt re-born creatively.
I knew what I wanted to do for my first piece of embroidery…a goat’s head. After browsing Google Images for a few moments, an ideal pattern appeared. A thrill ran up my spine. I felt prepared and capable and not afraid. A few moments later, I was ready to stitch.
A beautiful feeling of calm washed over me as I stitched. My thoughts, which are usually so hard to tame, became quiet. The more I stitched, the better I felt. When I Skyped with my parents, I was still going.
I finished my first little piece on the first night that I’d started it, and the feeling was one of enormous satisfaction. Despite the fact my two goat heads look very much like a uterus, I’m proud of my work. I’m proud that I took the step to take my creativity in another direction and I’m proud that I was itching to do another as soon as I’d crossed the last stitch.
Many of the embroideries that have inspired me have been influenced by witchcraft and its association with Lucifer, so I took to Pinterest to find my next prompt. I found a pattern with as perfect a text as I could hope to find – an adaptation of a Black Sabbath lyric which read…’Oh Lucifer, Please Take My Hand.
I’m stitching smaller for this piece, and it’s taking longer than I envisaged, but I’m savouring every single moment. I’ve noticed that even when I get a stitch wrong and need to do it again, my mood remains tranquil.
My Nanna and I have been estranged for a few years now, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear to me and the rest of my family, but I still think of her cross stitching all those years ago, and I hope that she would be happy if she knew I was stitching again.