achievement unlocked: feminist cross stitch

I waffled on giving this project an “achievement unlocked” headline because I don’t know if it qualifies as a “sewing project” per se…So, as a quick browse through the archives will make clear, I haven’t been sewing a lot in the last few months. Especially since the whole cancer diagnosis, I’ve been pretty tired & having a fair amount of pain. Whether it’s actually related to the cancer, or the anxiety around the cancer, or the blood infection situation that I am still fighting off, or some combination of all three, I have been spending a lot more time in bed & lot less time with my sewing machine.

I’m in this Facebook group for crafty moms, & one of the women started a stitch-along for a cross stitch pattern. My mom did some cross stitch when I was a kid, & I have foggy memories of trying it myself when I was in elementary school. I can’t remember if I ever actually completed a project back then. Maybe a little bookmark or something, to earn a Girl Scout badge. (I would have thrown my own grandmother in front of a train for a Girl Scout badge. I am counting down the moments until Ramona is old enough to join up.) I didn’t really think about it again for thirty years, because most cross stitch you see is just really not my jam. Like wall hangings of Precious Moments characters with Bible verses. Um, no. I tried to get into embroidery a couple of years ago, because that seemed more “modern” & elegant. But it just didn’t work for me. It seems to require a level of visual creativity that is beyond my ken, & the “hip” ready-made patterns tend toward a rockabilly aesthetic that just doesn’t appeal to me.

This is the pattern that was chosen for the stitch-along:


& here is what I produced:


& now I am obsessed with cross stitch! It’s something I can do literally while I am laying in bed. It’s fairly easy to pick up & put down if a child suddenly summons you. The required supplies are very affordable–I bought everything I needed for this project for less than I’d pay for a single yard of fabric. & it sends me into that same flow state I get from sewing. I would sit there & stitch for an hour & suddenly come out of my happy stitching head space & remember: Jared doesn’t have a job. I have cancer. Trump is president-elect. Everything is fucking terrible but I just forgot about all of it for an hour.

Another thing I like about it is that it takes for-fucking-ever. Maybe I’m just really slow at cross stitching & I will get faster if I stick with it, but this sampler took me about forty hours. Maybe you are wondering how this could possibly be considered a good thing, when that is longer than it takes to make a pair of jeans from scratch. It’s good because lately I have kind of been wondering how many clothes I really need. I love to sew, & I love to sew clothes, but my handmade wardrobe is pretty full. I don’t really have any holes right now. I am able to dress head-to-toe handmade without even trying. Anything else I make right now would just be for the love of sewing…which is a GREAT reason to sew, don’t get me wrong. But I do stress sometimes about the expense involved. & the potential gluttony of having more handmade clothes than I could really wear in a month.

It turns out that cross stitch is a great way for me to express my stitch-y creative energy, at low cost, while I’m laying around in bed. Even complicated patterns are just a matter of putting the right X of colored thread in the right spot & building from there, which means it engages my attention just enough to be challenging & fun, without asking me to use visual skills I don’t really have. I can have hours of stitching fun without feeling like I am adding a mountain of material goods to my space.

I took some progress photos as I made this sampler, to share with the other ladies in the craft-along:



The finished sampler is now hanging on my bedroom wall (even though Ramona asked me to put it in her room: “Mama, will you hang that in my room so it can be my most favorite decoration ever that I love so much?”–I declined only because she is in a big “all surfaces are canvases for my marker art” phase & I don’t want her scribbling on it during her quiet time) & I’m plugging away on a second sampler. I designed the new project by borrowing a pretty flower motif with a saying I didn’t love from another cross stitch pattern. I loaded it into Flickr & erased the text, & then added my own text & adjusted the colors a bit. I sent the updated image through an online cross stitch pattern generator. It’s pretty cool. It lets you choose the size of your finished project & it gives you lots of different options for how detailed you want your pattern to be. It gave me the choice of using anywhere from ten to seventy different thread colors (& it actually tells you exactly what colors you will need, which is handy). I went with something in the middle, & have been stitching away. I might try a portrait of Ramona next. I kind of want to do a cross stitched version of Ramona’s birth photo, despite the gore…


Hard to believe that was almost four years ago. Her birthday is on Wednesday. When asked what she wants gift-wise, she says, “A circle, a triangle, & a square.” ??? I might just take her to the toy store & let her pick out a few things.

Any other cross stitch aficionados reading this?

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

8 thoughts on “achievement unlocked: feminist cross stitch

  1. VERY pretty you did a good job. I don’t x stitch as it takes too long & I HATE math so I just do rework & a little surface embroidery. Super easy I can draw a picture or take a coloring page trace it on cotton fabric or clothing back with some guidance interfacing stitch it up & it’s done. Sometime I turn the stitched picture into pillow, baby quilt or throw although most of them languish in a Rubbermaid container for my kids to find & dispose of when I’m dead. Ha ha too bad for them I am tempted to write a snarky note & put it with them but I think I’ll leave that with the battery powered toys instead lol hope you feel a lil more peppy soon.

  2. Ciara said “I would have thrown my own grandmother in front of a train for a Girl Scout badge.”

    Oh hell yes! I am with you on Girl Scout badges!

  3. I really love cross stitch. It was my gateway craft as a kid, I couldn’t get enough because it has that crafty goodness but also you can set it up and then just go. Got me through some rough times. One of the most favourite things I’ve ever made is the candyhearts that spell out ‘FUCK’ from Subversive Crossstitch.

    Your stitching is wonderful. It would also be my own very favourite decorate ever. I’m so sorry you’ve been feeling so lousy but I am glad you have found a crafty companion for those times.

  4. I am rotten at cross stitch (but I used to be a pretty good embroiderer) and I love your pattern/design. As a feminist myself, I am dismayed that these days the word seems to have negative connotations and attract some pretty negative comments … from girls!!! When did that happen, are we going backwards (oh hang on, that is a dumb question, Trump got elected)? Good luck with your energy levels, it sounds as if you are doing it tough, so I hope things improve very soon for you and your family; 2016 has been pretty horrible for a lot of people but it’s nearly over.

  5. My grandson shares your sweeties birthday. He is also four. Little ones are so amazing and full of joy. I always enjoyed cross stitch but these eyes are too old now. Have a lovely day.

  6. That looks great! I have been doing some embroidery, but I seem to have misplaced the little bag with all of my embroidery stuff in it. I feel the same way about it… that’s it’s a nice way to feel constructive/creative, but without so much overhead.

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