Most of what I’ve discussed on my blog is in relation to social anxiety. It only makes sense to talk about one of my greatest hobbies, cross stitch embroidery, which helps me to relax and bring out my inner creativity. You could say cross stitch is my virtual pocketful of sunshine on a rainy, cold day. But, with the good, there is the bad. I was inspired to write this post after reading a blogger’s story about knitting and social anxiety. In my own post, I’ll talk about how my hobby of cross stitching has increased my level of productivity yet also given way to some self-destructive behavior. Additionally, I have been wanting to create a post on cross stitch for weeks now since stumbling on a great blog about cross stitching. If you’re reading this post and would like to skip to just looking at my cross stitch project photos, you can also find a compliation of most of them here.
I first saw a cross stitch kit in late 2015 while I was volunteering at the Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe. The store receives dozens upon dozens of donated books every day, and they rely heavily on volunteers to unpack, scan and sort the books. Depending on the market value of the book, it may be shelved at the bookstore for resale or be placed as a listing online for resale. Anyway, someone had donated three Heather Lins craft kits, with one full of cards with letter designs for each month in a year. Besides the cards in each package, a needle and embroidery floss were included inside, with instructions on how to punch holes in the shapes on the cards using the needle and how to stitch small X shapes in the designated holes. I had seen the kit in a box labeled “trash” and since no one wanted it, I decided to keep it for myself.
To be honest, I had quite a biased view about needlework prior to trying out cross stitch for the first time. I thought stitching of any kind was a hobby only old women from very traditional families did, which is a very silly stereotype and I can’t believe I ever had this notion in my head. I tried, when I was a teen, to learn how to sew from my mother, but I was very poor at it. It was hard to sew in a straight line. I got impatient and when I did not see immediate improvements in my sewing by the third day of trying, I gave up.
Having to punch holes in the cards with the needle was not fun. I enjoyed the actual stitching aspect and threading floss into the holes with the needle, but more than a handful of times I accidentally stabbed my finger with the needle when I poked a hole in the card. It would take so much pushing to force the needle through that the area surrounding the hole would get an ugly visible crease from all that bending.
Here’s a photo of one of the calendar cards I stitched:
Soon after finishing the cards, I browsed Amazon, curious about what other stitch designs were out there. It was like finding a gold mine. I gravitated towards cross stitch kits so easily. I have always been artistic, after all. I loved drawing anime-esque art as a teenager, and I enjoyed clay pottery projects in high school. So I ordered one with a flower design on Aida cloth, and another of a Christmas angel that was stitched on a plastic canvas and could be hung as an ornament.
I caught on quickly to stitch terms and phrases. For other things, it took me longer to perfect, such as my stitching technique and how to make the floss sit neatly if I was using two strands instead of one. I find what works best for me is the railroading technique. It’s hard to explain this technique in writing, so I recommend watching a YouTube video on it.
I’ve also made my own designs and converted them to charts with symbols and numbers so I can stitch the designs. The first one I ever converted was a photo of a cat on the adoption website KittyKind, a cat rescue group I used to volunteer for. At the time they were having an auction and asking for art donations from any artists out there. I emailed them about my plans to stitch an embroidery of one of their cats who had yet to be adopted. The problem was, as the deadline to submit my project crept closer, I found myself unable to finish it in time. One challenge I did not anticipate was the many colors I needed, and that I underestimated the Aida cloth size needed for the project, so I ran out of room at the very ends of the cloth and couldn’t stitch the side columns. Another thing I was unhappy about was, being an amateur to chart conversion programs, I used one that wasn’t that great in terms of color blending quality. The result? I got a converted chart that had crazy colors.
Another converter chart is a photo of myself from two summers ago. I don’t know why I chose this photo. I’ve never liked looking at pictures of myself and never feel pretty. The photo was taken at a local Home Depot I went to with my parents. The flowers there were beautiful, and my mom and I had fun taking turns with posing for photos. The blouse I wore that day was just as colorful with a confetti of pinks, blues and purples, which further hightlighted the pot of bright yellow flowers I was holding. Maybe that influenced my choice?
My greatest moment of glory with cross stitch was last year on Mother’s Day. When I think about the memory now, I still feel a glow of happiness. What I remember most is how anxious I was that my mom wasn’t going to like the gift I prepared for her, but she was so happy that she cried. I’ve never been good at buying gifts for people, and I definitely wanted to make something special for my mom. I planned for weeks on the design and did a lot of sneaking around to ensure I only stitched when no one was around so the surprise wouldn’t be ruined. I decided to stitch “Happy Mother’s Day” in both English and Chinese, with the Chinese version being “母親節快樂”. I officially finished the golden backstitching around the Chinese words at 3 am on Mother’s Day, though from a distance, the gold color is not very noticeable since I only used one strand. I was exhausted by then. After washing the cloth and leaving it on some towels to dry, I went to get a few hours of sleep before I got up later to iron out the wrinkles on the cloth, secure the finished design in a frame, and wrap it in tissue paper. Wish I had as good gift wrapping skills as I do for cross stitch. 😋
Cross stitch is one hobby I can’t live without. I’ve interacted with other stitchers online, and found that it’s not unusual to have multiple ongoing projects at once. And here I thought I was the only crazy one. 😉 Currently, I have up to 4-5 works in progress.
However, here’s the part where I think I started to use cross stitch as an excuse to avoid people. I did it subconsciously without fully realizing it, at first. For one thing, my days used to start pretty late because I would always go to sleep at around 1-2 AM and would sleep in until 11 or noon. Then I’d wake up but not actually go downstairs until like 2 pm. I started to use that time to stitch.
Let me tell you, avoiding even going downstairs to say hi to my own parents had a terrible effect on me psychologically. The more I avoided a situation, the more I began to associate the situation with fear and anxiety, which led to the manifestation of some bad physical symptoms. I would break out in a sweat and feel like my heart would burst out of my chest, just from thinking about going downstairs and making eye contact with my mom. My mind was in overdrive with negative thoughts and I was convinced everyone around me was thinking negatively of me. It got to the point I didn’t want to go downstairs, even with my hunger pangs, all because I wanted to avoid what I perceived to be awkward and brief verbal experiences with my parents. I would lose myself in my stitching, but somehow still be on edge enough to look at the phone clock every now and then as 2 pm closed in and I would have to force myself downstairs.
Another thing I feel I did wrong was to deter people from talking to me if I was actively stitching in the living room. I’d basically mumble out an answer and expect the person to go away and leave me alone. I think for a long time my mentality was that I was protecting myself from perceived danger (social interactions) because I didn’t want to deal with the rush of anxiety. A handful of times I was bored and want to be around people, but would avoid that and just stitch to pass the time. My heart wouldn’t be into the project at all and I used it as an excuse to not see people.
Today in my life, I have adopted a better approach, though I do not think it’s a perfect one since I still have relapses with my anxiety. I am human, after all. I wake up at 9:30 am now, sometimes earlier by a few minutes if I’ve woken up on my own before my alarm sounds. I find waking up early has its perks because I can get a lot more done. One vice I have curbed is my intake of caffeine. I still drink two cups a day and made 4 pm the cutoff time where I’m not allowed to have any more coffee. Not sure if it’s accurate, but I hear caffeine can stay in the body for up to 8 hours after consumption. This may be why I never felt sleepy by the late evening because I was so high on caffeine after drinking coffee at 5, 6 pm.
When I used to wake up at noon, I was often depressed before even getting out of bed, knowing I wasted half my day and wouldn’t get started on anything until after 2 pm. This one thought would then affect my mood for the duration of the day. Nowadays, I stitch in the afternoons for about an hour or so. I always feel like I never get enough stitches in, but I suppose that’s the fun of it. Then there are days I really, really want to drop everything and stitch away, but I can’t because of other obligations that need my attention. There are also times I’m not in the mood to stitch and feel perfectly fine with leaving my projects until I’m ready to come back to them. The thing I never, ever want to make a habit of is hiding in my room and stitching just for the sake of having something to do and cowering from the world because I’m scared of what’s out there.
The last thing I’d like to add was that this post was a blast to write! Maybe somewhere down the line I will make more posts about cross stitching and display more photos of all my past and present projects. For anyone who is wondering, yes, the featured image for this post is something I stitched and am still currently working on completing. Because the project is still in an early stage, I took a close-up to show the various stitch colors.
Till next time!