For our fourth Craft Club class, we will be taking on one of my own personal hobbies and most beloved pastimes. So, a disclosure: I’m not at all objective about embroidery. I think everybody should do it.
I like to secondhand shop, and before I ever picked up the hoop myself, I used to think about the plentiful hand embroidery I saw in thrift stores and antique shops, usually fine vintage work on dishtowels, aprons, hankies, pillowcases and other linens.
It always seemed remarkable to me that people working so hard to run a farm or household, often without modern conveniences, would, at the end of the day, sit down and spend time stitching, purely for the purpose of making something beautiful.
But when I started stitching, I understood.
Embroidery (and its cousins, needlepoint and cross-stitch) is an ancient art and craft, found in cultures around the world, dating back to the Cro-Magnon age and emerging alongside the development of fabric itself.
Embroidery appears in a huge variety of forms, from traditional cultural and ceremonial designs to complex tapestries for storytelling or decoration. It is a fixture in fashion and home décor, and modern reinventions include work with political messages or an activist bent. It is as versatile as a pencil, a starting point for wherever you want to go.
Like other handicrafts, such as knitting and crochet, the very act of hand stitching has benefits, and can be meditative, calming and relaxing.
As Betsy Greer wrote, in her introduction to the book Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery, “the tiniest of movements (a single stitch) can change our attitudes, our minds, our days. Not only does embroidery fortify the maker, it can also fortify those who view it.”
It is a craft practised by both men and women, the work of artists, grandmas, cowboy and kings. (The actor Henry Fonda and King Gustaf V, who ruled Sweden for the first half of the 20th century, were both avid embroiderers.)
Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, a star NFL football player (who, as an aside, later became a bodyguard and wrestled away the gun from Sirhan Sirhan after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy) released a whole book in the 1970s espousing the joys of needlework, entitled Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men.
In the book, Grier wrote that he initially faced harassment from other football players but that, “Every one of them does needlepoint now.”
He also, rightly, noted that needlecrafts make the most wonderful gifts, writing, “Making or designing something for a special lady in your life can be better than sending her roses or wining and dining her in some classy joint.”
In our Craft Club livestream on March 2 at 7 p.m. ET, we will learn embroidery from my friend Neda Toloui-Semnani, a writer and journalist who lives in New York City. I taught Neda some basic embroidery many years ago, and she immediately was off and stitching. She has taken her work and designs in directions I could never have dreamed.
Neda will teach her style of embroidery back to me, demonstrating some basic stitches while talking about what she has learned from embroidery, and why it has become such an important part of her life.
Supplies for embroidering with Craft Club
Download our template for the Craft Club logo and print it full size or resize it. Be sure to work with a printout that’s the size you want the finished piece to be, and make sure if will fit into your embroidery hoop. Other supplies you will need:
- At least one skein of black or dark-coloured embroidery thread, such as DMC floss. (It will be nice to have more colours, so pick up several skeins if you can.)
- A medium-sized embroidery hoop. (A five- or six-inch hoop is a great all-purpose size and will fit the printed Globe design.)
- An embroidery needle. (An embroidery needle is best, but any sewing needle will work as long as the head isn’t too small for the cotton.)
- A piece of light-coloured non-stretchy fabric with a smooth, tight weave. (Something such as a handkerchief is perfect. You can also use flour-sack tea towels, pillowcases or a piece of an old dress shirt, bedsheet or similar item.)
- A piece of carbon paper (also known as graphite paper.)
- A pair of scissors.
- A pencil.