anxiety · cross stitch · cross stitch embroidery · embroidery · social anxiety

Pocketful of Sunshine

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:

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The bold red color is really eye-catching. I still have this hung up in my room even though the month for this year has already passed. 😉

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.

flower
I struggled the most with the backstitching since I was still new to it. Overall, I’m satisifed with the complete design, which is pretty and simple at the same time. This photo was taken before I cut the extra unused fabric outside the hoop.
angel
It was fun to stitch on plastic canvas. Originally the canvas in the kit was square shaped, but I cut it after stitching everything. This project was a challenge because I learned how to do french knots for the first time. Practice makes perfect… I think?

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.

cat
To this day, the cat is still not fully stitched. Perhaps I will finish it one day. 😋

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?

flowers
No surprise here, I started out stitching the yellow flowers in the converted photo, rather than stitching my own face.

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. 😋

mother3
The finished product is perfect, except I only realized after framing that the bottom flower border was not properly aligned! Oops…

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!

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17 thoughts on “Pocketful of Sunshine

  1. Aw, great post and lovely project completions Nat! So glad that you enjoyed writing this post and how you tied what effects cross-stitching has on your social anxiety. It’s good to see that cross-stitching has gradually been less of a source of avoidance and will continue to be your stress relief.

    Thanks for bringing up the “railroading”! This is my first time seeing the term and I might try it out 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, cross stitching is a true source of stress relief! 🙂 I started to see that I was using the hobby as a way to avoid being social when there were times I didn’t feel happy (at times) while stitching. So those are the times I don’t think I should stitch. Being mindful of my emotions when I begin stitching is an indicator of how I’m really feeling, as I believe any hobby I pursue on any given day should bring happiness into my life, not make me more miserable.

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    2. Railroading definitely changed how I stitch. It still can challenging to keep my floss neat and sometimes I still need to hold the floss with my thumb as I use my other hand to pull the floss through a hole. I’ve seen YouTube videos of people stitching at a very fast pace without having to rearrange the floss before pulling it down. I’m not sure if I can ever be that good lol.

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    3. This is off topic, but I didn’t want to spam the comment section of one of your posts with an unrelated issue. Did you happen to get a notification about a blog award I nominated you for? I wasn’t sure if you got a pingback for it or not.

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      1. I didn’t get a notification about the nomination, but I did see your nomination the day you made the post! I was very surprised and meant to make reply the same day and then I realized I didn’t know how to reply, sorry!

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      2. You can reply by accepting the award and placing the award image on your new post and also mentioning the person who nominated you. To get the image, right click on it, save to your computer and then upload it to your post. This is part of the rules for accepting the award. You can name the blog post as whatever you want it to be. Then copy and paste all the text from my post, starting from the listed rules about what to do if you are nominated, and remove the parts where i wrote things in, such as the answers to questions and who I nominated for the award, but do not delete the section names (such as Q & A and My Nominations). For the questions I wrote for my nominated bloggers to answer, move those questions from the current section they are in and to the Q & A section so you can answer them in your post. You will have to list some questions for your own nominations as well. If you are unsure which section to put what in, refer to the rules or use my award nomination post as a guide. Or you can ask me, I am happy to help. Dont forget to nominate the bloggers you would like to give the award to. 🙂

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  2. I used to love cross stitching! Now I crochet. It is my source of meditation if you will. I love it. I love teaching it too although I’ve had very few students. Many say the want to learn but few show up. I did teach one person and she’s taken off with it like crazy. I’m so happy to have passed it on. Good for you to have found something.

    The cat. Why not leave it as an unfinished project which, in itself, can create a focal point to start many interesting discussions! Consider it an “outside the lines” project. 😀

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    1. That’s amazing to hear you are a crochet teacher. I’m curious about how is your anxiety in a situation like that. I have definitely imagined before what it might be like if I taught people the basics of cross stitching. Funnily enough, my childhood dream was to be a teacher, but I don’t think it was a serious dream since this was before the onset of my social anxiety and the dread I would feel during oral presentations. Maybe public speaking could be different if I’m just teaching people a fun thing instead of presenting a project and being graded on it for school? I don’t know.

      It’s possible I won’t finish stitching the cat design. The project does have a certain appeal to it in its unfinished state. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

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      1. I only do it one on one otherwise I’d be too confused. Well, not confused, stressed. Too much input if there is too many people. Something changes in me when I’m teaching someone something that will benefit them. It’s like I’m a different person. It’s all about them and because I’m so conscious of little frustrations in learning, I’m able to develop their confidence when they make mistakes.

        It’s a relief to not be the person with anxiety, depression, and eating disorder, in pain… on and on. I’m just a teacher. The only topic of discussion is how to do a single crochet stitch, or whatever. And then when they “get it” it’s amazing. They’ll be doing it and suddenly you see the light in their eyes and whatever stresses I had was worth it. One of my students now posts all sorts of projects she’s been doing. I’m so amazed! The last one I had… well, she had a good heart and was a trooper at it but it’ll probably not go to far but that’s okay. We had fun.

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  3. Your work is beautiful! The cat, especially, looks awesome, even unfinished. I might be a bit biased toward it, though, since I’m the adoptive mom of a little orange guy. The crazy colors don’t look weird at all! It might seem strange to use purple in a picture of an orange cat, but light has strange effects, so when you see the image as a whole, it just looks like shading. I like it a lot and I would love to see the completed work sometime. I’m also glad you’re finding balance in life without giving up this art form that clearly suits you.

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    1. Hey. 🙂 Thank you for dropping by my blog. I agree about the purple. By itself, it might stand out too much but with the gradual color change in the picture, it does sorta blend.

      The hardest thing with embroidery is still when I start new projects when I currently have ongoing ones. I really should know better than get involved with more projects when I already have so many, yikes. I’m also pretty bad at organizing my stuff. I tend to just leave the projects around out of laziness rather than store them away neatly.

      On Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 1:39 PM justanervousgirl wrote:

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  4. I understand your post! I too suffer from anxiety, of different kinds. Everyone is slight but it’s there and stitching just relaxes me. Yes, most of the time it’s all I want to do. I actually get butterflies sometimes knowing i can sit and stitch. I also have a five year old so it’s not always possible so maybe that’s why it’s a treasure when I do get to do it. I love sitting, without interruption, with the tv on, and just stitching calmly and watching the piece transform. Stitching does not make me feel depressed, it actually makes me feel productive, I think b/c it is something I truly enjoy for different reasons. Hey, it could be worse. We could both be into something that could get us into a lot of trouble, but instead, we choose the addiction of cross stitching! Have fun with it! And thanks for sharing.

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    1. I am the same way. There are days I just want to stitch and do nothing else lol. It’s easier to stitch with no stress if it’s on my own time if it’s just a hobby, but I can sometimes feel concerned about how much stitching I get done if I’m stitching something for a special ocassion and it needs to be done by a certain deadline.

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