My introduction to cross stitch came during my first year at senior school.
One of my lessons was ‘needlework’, taught by a very stern lady whom we were all a bit afraid of. Anyway, our first task was to make a tabbard and I had chosen green gingham for mine. I was told to look in the storeroom for some matching thread and I happened upon a shelf that had lots of small brown boxes stacked up. Intrigued, I opened one, to reveal many skeins of a rich ruby red embroidery floss. The colour was so rich and vibrant and completely at odds with the drab box which bore no hint as to the contents, except for a small label bearing the code: DMC326. I opened another and it was full of zingy egg yolk yellow skeins, a third contained a disappointing pale grey, but a fourth was glorious purple.
After a little more searching I found some green skeins that were a perfet match for my gingham fabric and took a bunch of them back to my workstation. We had to hand stitch the tabbards – we wouldn’t be allowed to use the sewing machines until much later – and I think I used the entire box of emerald embroidery floss on my tabbard. When she found out, the teacher hit the roof as it was expensive in comparison to a reel of cotton thread. It was a while before I was allowed back in to the storeroom and even then it was under supervision!
My first cross stitch project was for my GCSE O’level (showing my age!). We were given a magazine each and a small frame, only about two inches square. We had to move the frame over any image we thought was interesting to see if we could find a pleasing composition to re-create in stitches. I found a picture of a willow pattern plate and so began a month of blue and white stitching. I hated it by the time I finished. Mostly because I resented having to use only one shade of blue when I knew that there were many jewel shades of silks just waiting to be liberated from their brown boxes.
In addition to the boredom of using only one colour, the teacher was genuinely terrifying and made most of us girls cry at some point in the year. As a result, when I put down my cross stitch at the end of my O’level exam, I didn’t do another one until eleven years later. I took a wrong turn in John Lewis’ and found myself in haberdashery, opposite a display of embroidery silks. I picked one up and was transported back to the school storeroom. On impulse I bought a few colours and a piece of aida and made a small birthday card for a friend. It was a tiny thing really, just a simple stitched initial with a modest border, but it was enough for me to realise that I could stitch for pleasure.
And so began many years of happy stitching …