Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Far Away Place

Most of the embroidery patterns I buy now are fairly affordable.  It is usually $8-20 per pattern, depending on whether it is just a PDF document or printed on fabric.  For me, it's my affordable luxury.

Last weekend, though, it veered into ACTUAL luxury.

I follow a needlework company called The French Needle, which imports embroidery and cross-stitch patterns from France.  Their patterns are beautiful, but pricey.  Besides, my current style is patterns that are cute and/or related to pop culture.  I never really saw myself buying one in the near future.

Last week, however, one of their new patterns grabbed a hold of my imagination and did not let up until I bought it.  ABC "Les parisiennes" is a pattern of every letter in the alphabet, featuring women standing in front of Paris landmarks and wearing mid-century fashions straight from Dior or Mad Men.  It was stylish and complex, using advanced cross-stitch techniques to create a scene that was as far from old-fashioned patterns as a 1930's Hollywood movie star is from a dumpy fishwife.  I suddenly had to have it, even though it is the most expensive individual pattern I have bought so far.  (That was without shipping!)

You might be wondering why anyone in the world would buy patterns that require translation.  Really, the language barrier isn't that much of an issue.  The cross-stitch world largely speaks the language of DMC floss, and the color numbers are the same everywhere.  What little French is in the pattern is easily overcome with Google Translate.  "Point de croix 2 brins" means "Cross stitch 2 strands."

It is also fun to discover a world of needlework patterns beyond the US, with different countries having their own sense of style.  The French Needle began when the owner took her French sister-in-law to an American embroidery shop.  The SIL complained that she wasn't seeing any patterns in the style she wanted to make.  Each country has a different sense of color, line, and space that makes their style unique, and these patterns are worth seeking out.  (Japanese designers are also gaining popularity among American crafters for their inventive-yet-traditional knitting and embroidery patterns, but that might be beyond my Google Translate capabilities.)

Honestly, though, I bought it because it made me think of my great-aunt, this blog's namesake.  Auntie stuck with stamped cross-stitch patterns on plain weave fabric, so she would have never made a pattern with this much detail.

The real connection is that she was a world traveler.  I grew up hearing her tell the stories of her experiences, the same stories she told my mom and aunts.  One of my favorites was about her going to Paris with a group of friends.  One day, the group split up for separate activities.  Auntie and one friend went to buy opera tickets, while the rest of the group went glove shopping.  As Auntie approached the box office, she realized that they did not have enough money to cover the tickets.  A man in line offered to buy the tickets for them as long as they paid him back later.  Their only solution . . . ask the rest of the group to return the fancy gloves they had just bought.

When I saw the pattern, it made me think of Auntie as a young professional woman.  She was born into a poor immigrant family in Chicago, and through her hard work managed to earn enough money to visit one of the most exciting cities in the world.  Maybe she preferred the opera over gloves, but did she dress with just a little bit more glamor?  What other sites did she see?  What people did she meet?

My grandmother taught me how to knit when I was six.  In high school, I discovered the world beyond knit and purl, and I enjoyed showing my grandmother all the new projects I did that went beyond the skills she taught me.

Today, I sometimes feel sad that Auntie will never see my work.  She'll never see me learn new stitches, never see my projects of increasing complexity, never see the ribbons I win at the State Fair. ( I know she and my grandmother would shout "Hooray!")  I can take comfort in the fact that she still inspired me to explore this new world that brings me joy--a world that includes both the thrill of visiting a foreign land and the thrill of completing a beautiful piece of art.

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