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After Work: Unfinished Business

…I was eight years old and my mother thought cross-stitching an alphabet sampler would be a wonderful summer project. I thought otherwise. I couldn’t wait to finish the letter A and didn’t look forward to the other twenty-five, much less to the blue birds and posies that framed the piece…


Despite this off-putting experience, Dona Gibbs, a master craftsman with words, still desires to create with her hands.

To read more of Dona’s superb columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/

I poke at the eye of the embroidery needle with the dark blue thread. Again and again I attempt to thread the needle. Again and again I miss.

“Dona, calm down and take your time. You’ll get the hang of it, “ my mother says.

I was eight years old and my mother thought cross-stitching an alphabet sampler would be a wonderful summer project. I thought otherwise. I couldn’t wait to finish the letter A and didn’t look forward to the other twenty-five, much less to the blue birds and posies that framed the piece.

I sighed. I squirmed and my slightly grubby hands smudged the lovely crisp linen.

My mother and I had taken the bus into Durham, then a small town plopped in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. Our mission at Belk’s, a now long gone department store was to buy the thread, an embroidery hoop, the linen stamped with the sampler design and a winsome pair of scissors with gold colored handles. It was all for me. And I adored it and the chicken salad sandwich with which we celebrated our successful expedition.

It was downhill from there when it became clear that my mother intended for me to put away my beloved books for part of each afternoon and take up my needle.

I finally finished the piece the following summer. My stitches were sloppy when they weren’t knotty and loopy. And worse of all for my mother, it was not suitable for framing. She tucked it away at the bottom of a chest under a batch of cancelled checks.

As a young married woman living in the New York suburbs, I looked around at the other mothers in my son’s kindergarten class. While waiting for the kids to burst from the classroom, they sat, chatted and worked on their needlepoint.

Looks like fun, I thought. I bought the canvas, the needle and the threads and instructions. I began a brightly colored pillow cover. Poking the needle up and down in what I think is called a continental stitch. The pillow too was not a showpiece of needlework.

Meanwhile, back in the hills and hollows of the rural south my mother was a veritable pillow-making factory. She propped her prizes along a deacon’s bench. Her neighbors oohed and cooed.

Years passed. The garden club I belonged to thought it would be a wonderful idea if we all made needle point pillows with our club emblem on them. The emblem, an espaliered potted tree surrounded by flowers, looked simple enough for me to tackle, I thought as I happily handed over the money for the canvas.

I had set my sights too high. There was no way I could complete the thing in time for the annual flower show. I rolled it up and hid it in the back of a closet where it wouldn’t rebuke me.

My desire for handicrafts hasn’t left me. Each day in New York I pass a yarn shop. The windows are filled with beautiful artsy hand knitted sweaters. There was a wonderful knit coat and matching muff that might fit a girl of four. It was oozing old-fashioned charm. I would like to create something knitted with such obvious love.

On warm days there are often one or two women sitting on a bench, chatting and knitting. When the days turn cool, I peek into the lighted shop and see women knitting away. A cat patrols the windowsill, staring out in that superior way cats possess.

I’d like to knit, I think. Then I scuttle home to a book.

Recently a bubbly new friend asked me if I did any needlework. If I did, she added, there was a group of women who meet in one of Palm Beach’s most lovely settings, a garden pavilion.

I had, I replied, omitting my history of failures.

“We’re getting together to finish up our projects,” she explained and asked if I’d like to join.

“Bring an unfinished piece,” she went on. “We meet on Monday mornings.”

I didn’t have the courage to admit that my unfinished piece, the needlepoint garden club emblem, was at the back of a closet in New York and that the only work I’d done on it was to shake off the dust bunnies.

I went to the meeting empty handed.

“I’d like to learn how to knit,” I told them.

They beamed and nodded.

My friend gave me a shopping list. On my way home, I stopped at the local craft store, bustled down the aisles and filled a basket. There was even little gold handled scissors. All kind of memories came at me like a wave.

I have all the supplies I need to begin. Maybe this time I’ll be adequate. I don’t dare hope for excellent or even good.

“Bring something for show and tell,” my friend instructs us.

Me, I have my new supplies. And I have this piece. It’s the fine print –a caveat so to speak—for what I’m about to undertake.



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