A Stitch in Time . . .

I am an avid cross-stitcher. When I can find time, that is. I love creating art with needle and thread. My best friend in high school is the one who got me hooked. She and I both worked in a little California tourist town called Solvang one summer, and we found part-time jobs in needlework stores. I might have been forced to wear a peasant blouse and a red Danish corset covered in flowers, but I found a hobby there that has given me years of enjoyment.

Solvang, CA

Needlework is an artform that has been around since ancient times. There are many different types of stitches, but cross-stitch is my personal favorite. It is simple in that the needleworker makes tiny Xs with her thread, usually on linen or some other fabric with an even weave. The tiny holes in the woven fabric serve as a grid for the stitcher to place her design, much like tiles in a mosaic. Others would work on silk, using only their artistic eye to keep the design straight and stitches even. My artistic eye is not nearly keen enough for that. I definitely need a grid.

The earliest cross-stitch pattern books appeared in Germany and France in the 1500’s. But it would be many years before pattern books became readily available. Women would stitch samples of their favorite stitches or patterns on long strips of narrow cloth creating a “sampler” to refer to when they wished to create a design, usually as an embelishment for clothing, table linens, or pillow cases. These samplers were not intended for display. They were usually rolled up and stored in a drawer, and often handed down from mother to daughter.

In the 1700’s, educating women became more accepted, and mothers often taught their daughters two skills at once by having them reproduce numbers and letters in cross-stitch upon their samplers. When settlers came to America, they brought this teaching method with them. Once the girls mastered the techniques, they would display their art.

The samplers below were stitched by two young Massachusetts girls. Sally Noble completed hers at age twelve in 1798, and ten-year-old Dolly Parker finished hers in 1824. Exquisite work for such young hands!










Gradually, patterns became more detailed. A shift could be seen from the two-dimensional designs of the samplers, to three-dimensional landscapes with shading and depth just like in paintings. Not only were these works hung on walls, but they were used to upholster chairs and footstools, create cushions and coin purses, and decorate fire screens. The advancing art of dying allowed more variation in thread color, and by the 19th century, cross-stitch had become a passion. Women’s magazines included hand-colored charts, and soon women from all social classes were learning the art.

With the advent of embroidery machines, however, needlework fell into a decline. Since women could buy embroidered clothing and linens at much cheaper prices, cross-stitch once again became simply a leisure activity. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that counted cross-stitch regained it popularity. This time the emphasis was on decorative stitches with metallic or beaded embellishments. Thousands upon thousands of charts are in existence today with incredibly detailed patterns. However, you will still continue to see designers breathe life into old stitching traditions, with samplers and two dimensional artwork.

I usually try to complete at least one large cross-stitch project a year. In 2010, I completed one that is not a sampler, but it harkens back to that time with it’s two-dimensional design and simple lines. The Noah’s Ark that you see below on the left. This past year, I finished a pattern called Celtic Christmas. While it’s design features a woman from hundreds of years ago, the pattern itself utilizes the modern embellishments of metallic thread and extensive beading. I hope this art form continues to grow and flourish for centuries to come while always remembering its past. 

So are any of you cross-stitchers? Maybe you’re a quilter or some other form of needleworker. Or maybe you love to scrapbook or arrange flowers. What is your favorite hobby, and why do you love it?


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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

33 thoughts on “A Stitch in Time . . .”

  1. Great post Karen! I’ve enjoyed counted cross stitching since the early ’80s and found it very relaxing. I stitched so many items including the Charleston, SC, pictures that adorn our walls – people think they are painted, but they are cross stitch. Sadly over the last several years I have put this hobby to rest as my eye sight for this close-up detailed work just isn’t what it used to be. I love the pictures of your cross stitch.

    My other hobbies are, of course, reading. But, I also love baking and playing piano. I love to bake muffins, cookies, and pies. I have been playing piano since I was a little girl and also teach. Right now I only have one student.

  2. Wow! Karen, you do beautiful work. The Celtic Christmas is just gorgeous.

    My aunt taught me how to cross-stitch many years ago, and I always enjoyed it and used to do it quite a bit, but unfortunately I’ve let it slide over the years.

    Now, I enjoy fiddling. I love how the music reflects my moods, or changes them. And since the instrument is one that is held it is almost as though a person becomes one with the song as the music flows from the bow through my arm and into my heart. My greatest passion has become writing, which isn’t necessarily I hobby, since I hope to be published, but it is usually what I’m found doing during any free time (and sometimes not so free time).

  3. Hi, Lori. I love meeting fellow stitchers! My sister-in-law is one, too, and we love getting together over Christmas so we can stitch and watch Jane Austin movies. Ah . .. Heaven. 🙂

    For years I begged my parents to buy a piano so I could learn to play. They never did, but in college I took 2 years of piano lessons. I had played flute all through jr high and high school and sang in choir, so I could read music, although I kept having to transpose the bass clef to trebble so it would make sense to me. I still don’t have a piano, but maybe someday.

  4. Kristen – so lovely to have you here today. My cross-stitch comes and goes in spurts. I usally do a lot during holidays when I have more free time. Sometimes I go months without touching it even though I leave it sitting out where I can see it every day.

    I love that you took up fiddling! Music is such a vibrant part of my life, and I can completely understand your feeling of being one with the music. How fabulous!

    And keep up with that writing. We all start as hobbyists. In fact, I have a day job outside of writing, so some would say I’m still a hobbyist. 🙂 Do you write westerns? I’d love to see a fiddling heroine. 🙂

  5. Karen,

    I do write westerns. Who could pass up writing about cowboys? Not me.

    And one of my first heroines is a fiddler, a much more talented one than I am. She was fun to write, because I would play the songs then write the scene using those emotions. I got some great practice on both fiddling and writing. :o)

    Yeah, I also have a full time job that sometimes interferes with my writing. :o)

  6. I bet you looked really cute in that Danish outfit, Karen. My mom and grandmother (both of Danish ancestry) were avid stitchers. My house is filled with the beautiful things they made. My sister is the same. She does Hardanger, this amazing, intricate embroidery. Me? I take after my other grandma who was very musical but seldom went beyond sewing on a button. Writing tends to suck up all my creativity. When it comes to hobbies I like anything that lets me get up and move.
    Thanks for a lovely blog.

  7. Hi, Elizabeth. Maybe it was that early corset experience that inspired me to start reading historicals. LOL

    Writing drains me of creativity, too. But cross-stitch gives me a pattern, so all I have to do is follow the directions. Art made easy. Some days I wish writing was more like that. 🙂

  8. My older sister did a lovely series of English cottages and a Christmas sampler for me over the past years… I love them but certainly don’t have the patience to do the task myself!

  9. Hi, CateS. You are certainly right about it being time consuming. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy the process. That’s for sure. 🙂 Glad you have a sister who shares it with you.

    I’ve made each of my kids pictures to hang in their room along with their name spelled out in separate letter art. We also have Cross-stitch Christmas stockings, ornaments, tree skirt, etc. It’s all over the house. Ha!

  10. Ah, Karen, you show off. The closest I came to a craft project in the last decade was (I’m thinking okay……I need more time……….)
    I know! I’ve got one! I put a big BOOK under a table cloth when I set out my nativity scene at Christmas. So the Wise Men and Shepherd were on a sort of a HILLTOP let’s say, above and behind the Holy Family. It was pretty.

    Shut up.

  11. I made (In my youth) four beautiful crewel work (aptly named) Christmas stockings for my four daughters. They still hang in a place of honor every Christmas.
    And I used to crochet and knit a lot. I made a lot of afghans. I used to give them for wedding gifts. I made one once that was knit panels, all off white. Each panel, which ran the length of the afghan, had a different look. Cable twists and popcorn stitches, about five or six different panel designs. That was a beautiful creation. Then the bride to whom I gave it ended up being a nasty woman. I always wanted to sneak into her house and get that afghan back. She was unworthy.

  12. If I put out three books or more a year like you do, Mary, I wouldn’t have any time for crafts either. I’m feeling a little envy twinge just thinking about it.

    And don’t let anyone belittle your hilltop. Anyone can take nativity figures out of a box. Only a true ARTIST would think to give the scene depth and dimension by adding a hilltop. Bravo!

  13. Those are just beautiful!! Years and years ago I taught myself to crochet and do needlepoint and only a touch of knitting. The last needlepoint that I did was probably ten years ago. I got partway done on the largest one I had attempted and then realized I was doing in the wrong direction! I was devestated after all the work I had put into it and it really could not be done the way it should have. About that time I got my computer which now takes all my time. I use to do all kinds of puzzles too (crossword and jigsaw). At least I still read as much or more lol.

  14. Mary – your afghans sound lovely. My grandmother crocheted for years, and her last throw was given to the first great-granchild. I beat out my cousin by 2 hours! Woo-Hoo!!! Of course, I had a girl and she had a boy, and we all know girls appreciate handmade tokens so much more. Especially when they’re drooling infants. LOL

    And I completely understand your feelings about the wedding gift. I spent hours cross-stitching marriage records for both of my young step-brothers and they both divorced within a year or two. It makes me sad to think what might have become of those designs.

  15. Hi, Catslady! There is nothing worse that getting deep into a project only to discover a mistake made early on. Boy, do I feel your pain. I started a new project this Christmas and had to take out tons of stitches when I realized I had miscounted one row. I had based everything that followed on that row and didn’t catch my error until days later. Ugh!!!

    Our family usually does a family puzzle during Christmas. The kids have fun getting it started, but I’m usually the one that puts the most effort in after the newness wears off.

    Thanks for sharing – and by all means…keep on reading! LOL

  16. Karen, you do beautiful work! I bet it’s relaxing after a day of writing, kind of a right-brain thing where you’re looking at colors and patterns, but also a left-brain thing because you’re counting stitches. I’ve never cross-stitched. I’m not patient enough, but I admire the talent and discipline.

  17. Thanks, Vicki. I do find it relaxing. I love working on a project while I’m watching TV or listening to music. I’ve tried teaching my daughter as well. She’s made a few small things but hasn’t fully bought into it yet. Maybe someday we can do it together.

  18. Back in the mid-eighties, when I was pregnant with my twin daughters, my doctor put me on enforced bed rest for the last three months of my pregnancy. To releive the tedium, I taught myself cross stitch from a pattern book I’d picked up. I was immediately hooked and completed a number of projects, among them personalized Christmas stocking for all four of my kids with Cross stitched cuffs. I put it away when I started writing in earnest but picked it back up again briefly this year when I made a matching stoking for my new son-in-law.

  19. When I was young, the big thing was to cross stitch pillow slips, table cloths, etc. for your ‘hope chest’. I did all this even after I was married. I finally got tired of that and started knitting Argyle socks! With all wool yarn. But after the person wore them they put them into the washer and they shrunk to baby size. I quit knitting them. Then after many years passed, I started crocheting. I got as far as single and double crochet. But I have made many quilts with this pattern and it is very relaxing expecially in the winter while watching TV. I also make scarfs and beanies to match. My son got me started on this because his Grandmother had made him a beautiful quilt of a fancy design, but he complained that his toes would go through this beautiful design and he wanted something practical—hence the single crochet. Very solid. I have done a lot of Macrame in my time, too. During my Hippie days in the ’60’s.

  20. Hi, Winnie. I’m glad you picked it back up again. I have fully stitched stocking for each of my kids, too, and I’ve often wondered when they marry, if I should let them pick new designs to go with their spouses or just add to the family collection. Hmmm…maybe I’ll let them decide.

  21. You sound like one craft lady, Mary J. I love being artistic and practical at the same time. Most of my cross-stitch either serves as wall art in my house, a Christmas decoration, or as a gift.

    I loved your sock story! My husband is always accusing me of shrinking his clothes. Doesn’t help that he’s over 6 ft and hard to fit in the first place! 🙂

  22. I remember from my knitting and crocheting days that the trick was to get in the habit of always picking it up when I’d sit down to watch TV. If you ALWAYS reach for it, the afghan (or whatever) grows pretty fast and most things, especially crocheted, need very minimal attention once you’re onto the pattern….and heaven knows most TV needs very minimal attention. So it works.
    But I’m so far out of the habit now I could be in a remake of The Sound of Music. *

    *labelling a ‘habit’ joke. Nun in The Sound of Music reference. (It’s always wrong if you have to label your jokes, I know that)

  23. I have been cross stitching for over 20 years. Don’t do as much as I’d like—have arthritis in my fingers.

  24. Hi, Estella. Wow – 20 years. That’s great! I bet you have quite a collection.

    Maybe in 20 years I’ll finally get around to all those projects I’ve squirreled away for a rainy day. Not enough rainy days in Texas. 🙂

  25. Hi Karen, awesome post. Solvang is one of my mist favorite places ever. We went recently, and yes, I scoped out the needlework shops for my mother In law, who loves to embroider. Our stay was cutnshort, though, due to the arrival of our new grand baby. Yippee! I did some counted cross stitching years ago but I guess I didn’t quite have the gene to keep up with it.

    I’d love to find an antique sampler someday for our guest room which is furnished with the furniture I inherited from my grandma.

  26. I love to cross-stitch! It is one of my favorite hobbies! I’ve been doing it for about 31 years now and it’s very enjoyable. I especially enjoy making baby samplers for people that have new babies but I’ve made many more things too. I’m about to become a first time grandma and I’m stitching a fun baby sampler for my new granddaughter to be! I love meeting others who enjoy stitching (and reading!!) like me!

  27. Tanya – I love that you’ve been to Solvang. I haven’t been there since the 80s. I’d love to visit again someday. And if your visit had to be cut short – a grandbaby is the best possible reason!

  28. Valri – You and me must be sisters of the heart. Reading and cross-stitching. That’s my idea of heaven! Hope your new sampler comes together the way you want it. I know it will be a treasured family heirloom. Blessings!

  29. I love my cross stitch ~ it’s like stress relief therapy for me. I picked up the hobby when I was 8 (I’m 33 now.) I’ve tried other crafty hobbies over the years, but none seem to “stick” for me like cross stitch. The pieces you shared here are lovely 🙂

  30. I’m so glad you commented, Loretta. I can hear your passion, and it makes me smile. I’m a lot like you – cross stitch is the only hobby (outside of reading) that has stuck with me over the years. I’m glad I’m not the only one. 🙂

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