An acquaintance at church, hearing that I had taken up needlepoint, kindly lent me a needlepoint frame. The frame, though cumbersome, turns the canvas a planar surface, clarifying the design and making it easier to follow. My stitches are more even, now that the fabric I am working over is stiff and stable. Mounted on the frame, my needlepoint project has become a curiosity and conversation starter. I do not find needlepoint at all relaxing, yet it opens a door onto a set of experiences no less interesting than those C. S. Lewis once imagined children finding at the back of a magical wardrobe.
Education, women’s lib, and new technology gradually drew me away from an upbringing firmly centered on traditional arts. My mother and father cared about beauty and living well: is that why I was taught so many ornamental (though often practical and certainly life-enhancing) “feminine” skills? Every year of childhood brought new opportunities to learn a craft or art involving the use of my hands. Christmases brought embroidery kits, everything needed to learn knitting, my own sewing machine. As soon as I could sit up straight I learned to read music, and was taught to play the piano and the oboe. My mother taught me how to cook and bake; how to keep a house; how to braid and set hair; and (thank goodness) how to make pie crust. Avid gardeners, my parents drew us children out into the living world, inviting us to help them hoe the garden beds, sow seeds, and care for the flowers and vegetables, and keep them free of weeds. When I went away to college, my mother sent me off with houseplants to care for and inspired my later interest in flower arranging.
It all seemed so beside the point for most of my adulthood! But now, with no garden plot to dig in, no children to cook for, and neighbors whom my imperfect piano playing would only irritate, I appreciate needlepoint for its resemblance to all these other activities. Looking at a pattern and trying to realize it, working with colorful tactile materials, and cultivating serenity by practicing a time-honored art: all this lifts my spirits immeasurably, reconnecting me, as if by magic, to a handmade past.