Thursday, April 3, 2008

Learning to Embroider

I received a couple of interesting emails concerning my post on darning socks. My sister, also a darner (is that a word?), wrote, "I like doing mine in colors different from the socks... that way I can "see" & better enjoy my handiwork." I've found when I do that my mind registers "not sock" and I think I've got another hole, so I'm happiest with the patch as close a match as possible.

Another friend, Chris, wrote a lovely response: "Once a Scout, always a Scout. Where did you learn to darn? I learned as part of a sewing related badge in grammar school. Few people know the art; I did not inherit the wooden darning egg. Most people who know I knit my socks laugh at me ... and as one dear friend said, 'Why do you knit socks when you can buy a pair for $1.99?' How do you explain the love of the process? The feel of the wool in your hand? The gentle rhythm your life takes as you sit, knitting, listening to the birds who've come to the feeder you put out for them?"

What a wonderful thought! My knitting expertise is limited to cast on, knit, cast off, but she makes me want to pick up a pair of needles right now. Her question got me to thinking, though. Where did I learn to darn? I must have seen my maternal grandmother doing it, because somehow I knew you had to have an "egg" to do it (for years, I kept a silver L'eggs pantyhose egg for my darning egg). But I don't remember her ever really showing me what to do. I think darning is one of those things I more or less figured out on my own.

My grandmother did teach me the art of embroidery. She used to embroider pillowcases, and I still have a pair she made for me. When I was about five or six, she sat down with me and some embroidery floss. She taught me to cut off a length, how to separate out two strands from the six; how to wet the ends in my mouth and then pull them between pursed lips to stiffen and flatten them so they would go through the eye of the needle. Then to cross the end over a wrap around my finger and roll it off and slide it down so I had a small knot with no tail hanging out.

Then she gave me an embroidery hoop and a printed cross-stitch dresser scarf, helped me get the hoop in place with the material stretched taut, and set me to work. I'd played with sewing cards - pictures on rigid cardboard outlined with punched holes that a child could thread a shoestring up and down through, so I knew the general idea of sewing. Now I was going to learn how to do it with a sharp needle!

I worked diligently on that red flower, and ran to show Grammaw when I reached the end of the thread. She admired my little x's, all lined up so nicely, and then turned the material over. I had a big clump of knots and tangles there, but I had just pulled things tight and kept sewing. Not good. She said, "the back has to look as good as the front," and then I couldn't believe it - she took her scissors and clipped my threads and sent me back to pick out all those stitches!

I eventually finished it to her satisfaction, and then she had me hem it with a running stitch. To this day, I feel too guilty to run a length of thread across a gap instead of fastening off and restarting. I've found embroidery to be a wonderful pastime over the years - from my hippie days of decorating my denim, to playing with counted cross-stitch patterns, making up my own designs, and using the iron-on transfers I've found in garage sales and thrift stores. It's like painting with thread. I love using my collection of pillowcases and kitchen towels. Just seeing them makes me happy (and the backs look as good as the fronts). Thank you, Elizabeth Krukow Marks - Lizzie to most, Grammaw to me.


rhonda jean said...

Great post, Sadge. I really like Lizzie's pretty blue dress. Do you think she did the embroidery on the bodice?

Sadge said...

I wondered that myself, once I'd scanned the photo and could see it better on the computer screen. She might have - but all I remember her doing was pillowcases. Maybe my mom would know.