achievement unlocked: Ramona’s birth cross stitch

I’m still alive! I’ve just fallen deep down the cross stitch rabbit hole. This is my latest creation:


It’s based on this photo of Ramona’s birth:


Let the record show that Ramona is sitting next to me as I write this. She looked at this photo & said, in a very concerned voice, “Mama? What am I covered in in this picture? Is it…red sauce?” Yes, baby, it’s red sauce. Nothing but a bit of marinara.

I stitched this on 16-count Aida using 75 colors of floss. It took roughly 250 hours. “How is that possible?” you may be wondering. “Didn’t you just learn how to cross stitch last month?” Yes, I did just learn to cross stitch last month. I’ve just gotten really, REALLY obsessed with it. It’s an amazing anxiety management tool, & I have had a lot of anxiety lately. I was stitching literally ten or twelve hours a day.

I’m pretty pleased with the way this came out. I’m not 100% happy with the flower border, which I kind of freehanded. But I really like the numbers, which I also freehanded, & the image itself turned out well.

My goal is to cross stitch a photo of Ramona every year from her birthday. I’ve already started on the image of her first birthday. I’m doing a few things differently with the new project, based on what I learned from this one. I started the birth project in the middle of the cloth & worked outward. Apparently I prefer the “cross country” method of cross stitching, working one color at a time, instead of plodding along row by row, switching colors as necessary. For a project like this, row by row would have been nightmare-ish. There were sometimes as many as fifty different colors in one little ten-stitch by ten-stitch square. I don’t trust myself not to get a bunch of parked threads tangled into a giant mess, so I’d rather just work one color at a time, even if it requires more counting & thus greater risk of accidentally stitching one row or column off (which did happen several times).

Since there’s so much counting involved, I drew out a grid on my new pattern & numbered each ten-stitch by ten-stitch box. I drew a corresponding numbered grid on my Aida cloth using a Frixion marker. (The lines disappear with the touch of a hot iron.) So this way, I can be like, “Okay, there’s one stitch of color number 986 in box 17, two up from the bottom & four to the right.” I don’t know if this makes sense, but it really does make the process a lot faster & easier. I can sit & carry on a conversation or watch a TV show even while I’m working on a ridiculously complex 75-color 70,000-stitch project.

I also added the extra step of scanning the pattern prior to each new color & making list of all the boxes that need that color. It’s a little more prep work, but it makes the stitching go faster because I can just consult the list & go, instead of having to scan each box, stitch, scan the next box, stitch, forget if I finished the last box, re-scan, etc. I guess some people use the double highlighter method, but my lists work for me, for now.

I’m also working on developing the habit of stitching without using knots. Knots are a no-no in cross stitch. They distort the fabric & make things lumpy, & especially for a complex project, the knots can really get in the way of adding new colors & maintaining even thread tension. This is a big departure from the kind of hand-stitching I’m used to, but I’m getting there.

& with the new project, I’m also working on parking my stitches if there is more than a five-stitch gap between stitches in the same color. Cross country stitching is totally my jam, but running the too far across the back of the project is a waste of thread, & it can also create too much bulk on the back of the project & cause difficulties as stitching progresses. For example, I had run a lot of brown thread across the back of the birth project while I was working on the outline around Ramona’s head. When I added the off-white thread on her forehead, some brown fibers got pulled through. It’s barely perceptible. I’d probably have to point it out before anyone else, especially someone who doesn’t cross stitch, noticed it. But I see it, & I’d prefer to avoid it, so I will be more patient about parking stitches.

I also decided to experiment with the order of colors added in my new project. With the birth project, I just added whatever color I wanted whenever. I worked from the middle & didn’t necessarily finish a color all in one go. But this time, I am trying to finish off each color before I move on to a new one (easier said than done with literally thousands of stitches in a project), & I’m starting with the darkest colors & working toward the lightest. I’m hoping this will make the lighter colors pop more, & also reduce the possibility of the lighter threads getting a little grimy before the project is completed.

I’ve been really anxious because I had my first cancer surgery in mid-December. It all went pretty smoothly & I am recovering pretty well, but obviously this has all been really stressful. I’m seeing the oncologist tomorrow to get the results. Hopefully we will be able to definitively stage the cancer based on that surgery & decide on treatment. It fucking SUCKS that I am going into 2017 with this whole cancer thing hanging over my head (along with everything else, like Trump), but it will be good to have more information & a plan. Best case scenario: the cone biopsy showed clean margins, the cancer is mostly likely limited to the cervix & endocervical canal, I can have a hysterectomy & we’re pretty much all good. But if the margins are not clean (meaning the portion of cervix they took was just part of the tumor), we may have to do more imaging to see how invasive it is, & I may have to have chemo &/or radiation to try to shrink things down. I don’t know. We’ll see.



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.

6 thoughts on “achievement unlocked: Ramona’s birth cross stitch

    1. Thank you! I’ve gotten sidetracked with some smaller cross stitch projects I’ll share soon, but I am really looking forward with continuing the series. I think it helps that I have a remarkably photogenic child. (She gets it from her father.)

  1. Gorgeous! And what a great idea, a piece of art to preserve a moment from each year. So amazing to see how far things have come since my days of enlarged photo copies of my “subject” and a clear overlay grid. I had to choose it all. It was still fun. So fun I worked about 10hrs a day too. Somewhat coincidently I was filling time in a hospital waiting room. That was my first time as designated caregiver. In my case it’s needlepoint, but my first choice for a take/with project ever since. Never made anything as beautiful as you have.
    I hope your health news Is good. Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy New Year and Happy stitching! 🙂

    1. I cannot imagine the whole enlarged grid/choose your own colors thing. I am actually not much of a visual person, not really arty, so I would really struggle with that. Even while I was stitching this, I was like, “Huh, the pattern says this color goes here…I don’t understand how that is going to look right.” But then, like magic, it did! Disparate colors seemed to blend together like magic to create all these variegated tones. The photo I posted here really doesn’t do it justice. Anyone who was doing anything like this on their own with grids & colored pencils or whatever is an absolute genius.

      Happy new year to you too!

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