Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stitching as a Metaphor

I've always enjoyed doing cross-stitch (and most of the ladies who attend the Crafting Bee are stitchers as well) but ever since I've started these monthly Bees, I keep finding analogies to Life in the work we're doing.  The latest example of this is dealing with mistakes.  Cross-Stitch is basically grid work, akin to paint-by-numbers; you have a pattern on a piece of paper that you are constantly looking at to make sure that you're stitching in the correct squares with the designated color on your linen.  You count and recount the number of threads, and then usually you count them again.
But even the most meticulous stitcher makes mistakes, and when you finally discover them, you have a difficult choice in front of you; should you unpick your stitches all the way back to the original error and re-do it, or is the problem something that won't destroy the integrity of the piece if you leave it as it is?  Cross-stitching builds upon itself - for example, if you have a row of flowers that is 2 stitches off, it can throw off everything else in the piece because you count threads from one completed section to find the starting point for the next section.  Plus, the longer it takes you to discover that you've miscounted, the more difficult and time-consuming it is to fix the problem.
If you choose to re-do your work, it's painful to lose all those completed stitches, and it seems to take forever, but there's the sense of relief that it will eventually be corrected.  The holes in the warp and weft of the linen get stretched out and the fabric looks a bit battered & misshapen, but ultimately everything will line up the way it's supposed to.
If you choose not to re-do your work, but try and adapt the pattern to accommodate the mistake, it's certainly easier, but you have to live with the knowledge that the piece is now flawed.  No-one else may notice it, but you will always know.  It's a humbling experience, and many experienced stitchers who do lovely, elaborate work will tell you at that point that it's good for you; they've done the same thing themselves.  There's an oft-repeated story among stitchers that in Olden Times, women working on quilts or samplers or embroidered pieces would deliberately make a mistake... because "only God is perfect."
As I've made more and more projects over the years, from tiny, 4-inch square birth announcements to a 5 foot historic Tennessee reproduction sampler (which I'm STILL not finished with) I've made more mistakes, and each time I have to decide - start over, or live with it?  Fortunately in this community of creative women, there is encouragement to be had with either decision - empathy, useful advice, even communal mourning over the lost hours of work that will have to be destroyed.  We will commiserate together, vent our frustration over the damage done... and then go back to work.

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