Monday, June 3, 2013

How I Found A Most Agreeable Hobby

Welcome to my blog, EmbroiderElaine!  You might have noticed from looking at my profile on the side of the page that my name is not actually Elaine.  Where did the name come from?  It came from the same place that inspired me to take up embroidery.

Growing up, I was very close with my grandmother (Bubbe) and great-aunt (Auntie).  Each of them had "their" craft.  Bubbe learned how to knit as an adult from a friend who spent summers in the same resort town on Lake Michigan.  She taught me how to knit when I was in kindergarten, teaching me the basics and guiding me to knit my first pairs of garter-stitch booties.  I then lost interest until my senior year of high school, when I took it up again as stress relief.  I have been knitting ever since.

Auntie worked on embroidery.  Everyone described it with the term "cross-stitching," but she was really doing freehand embroidery that made use of cross-stitch motifs.  She worked exclusively on Jewish items--holiday tablecloths, challah covers (for the braided egg bread served by Eastern European Jews on Shabbat).  Her most impressive work was stitching large Hebrew alphabet tapestries for my mother and aunts as wedding presents.

Without children of her own, Auntie treated her siblings children and grandchildren as her own.  I was very close with her, to the point that when I would visit from college, she would always start the conversation by asking, "How am I doing?" I always hoped that I would grow up to be like her--have a successful career, travel the world, and always try new endeavors.  (She started learning to read Hebrew at 60.  She began teaching a Yiddish class in her apartment at age 90 and didn't stop until two months before she died at 100.)  Auntie never taught me embroidery, but I would sit with her and pick up her dropped needles.

In their later years, Bubbe and Auntie shared an apartment together.  Auntie died in 2010, and Bubbe followed her in 2011.  My mother and her sisters gathered to clean out their apartment.  In one corner, they found a bag containing Auntie's embroidery supplies--including an unfinished challah cover.  My mom asked me if I could try finishing it.  I agreed to try, but I didn't even know where to start.  I kept the bag for months trying to figure out what to do.

I had recently gotten married and moved to Iowa City.  While looking up local businesses to check out, I discovered that the locally-owned and independent craft store, Home Ec Workshop, was offering a beginning embroidery class.  I took it and learned the stitches I needed to finish the project.  I gave it to my mom as a Chanukah gift, and she nearly cried.
My first project

Challah Cover--Action Shot!
I realized that this was only the beginning.  I didn't just like embroidery.  I was infatuated with it, and I have been keeping with it since August 2012.  (I also started doing cross-stitch, which is a subset of embroidery.)  It had the same anxiety-reducing effects as knitting, but allowed me to play with color and design in a different way.  It made me feel close to Auntie, as well as all the women across time and distance who took up this same ancient art.  I met a lot of wonderful women who gave me advice and even free supplies, particularly once I became a regular at Home Ec Workshop's Knitting Breakfast Saturdays.  (Crochet and embroidery is also welcome.)  I also got a boost to my ego from people who were so impressed at the skills I learned in such a short time, and the neat appearance of my stitches.

As with the beginnings of all love affairs, I started developing grand expectations.  I became an "embroidery evangelist," encouraging people to learn and to buy patterns from my favorite designers.  I got so many ideas for future projects that I couldn't write them down fast enough.  I had ideas for even larger projects.  Etsy business!  Podcast!  State fair competitions!  I realized that once I started unintentionally mimicking Blair Warner from The Facts of Life, with many pronouncements that "I just had another one of my brilliant ideas," I had to slow down.

This blog is about slowing down, taking the time to document my progress and flesh out my ideas.  I want this to be a place where people can give me honest feedback.  I want to connect with more embroiderers out there, and inspire more people to take up a craft that can be equal parts vintage and new, traditional and subversive.  I also want to highlight designers, books, and folk traditions that can provide inspiration.

I knew that the name for my new blog had to include Auntie's name, Elaine.  "EmbroiderElaine" is pronounced "embroidery lane," which sounds like a district in a medieval town where embroiderers set up shop.  That is definitely a place I would love to stroll and window-shop.  I also like that the name recalls the joke among my cousins that once "Aunt Elaine" began to run together when said out loud, we thought that Auntie's name was Lane.  I wish that she was still around to ask how "she" was doing, but my blog will be here to continue providing the answer.

Question:  Did you have any relatives that embroidered?  Have you wanted to learn, but need help getting started?

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I have always wanted to learn. I'm drawn to it. My grandmother and great grandmother embroidered and cross stitched.