A Stitch In Time
Last winter, I accidentally started a cult. But it’s a wholesome cult. Where members stab things hundreds of times.
It began innocently enough; with a friend asking me to show her how to cross stitch. It’s one of the few ‘artistic’ things I can actually manage with aplomb. I’ve always been arts adjacent—I love the arts, but when handed a paintbrush or a pencil or a lump of clay I’m useless. I can churn out mangled watercolours of badly blended sunsets and that’s about it. But cross stitch? Cross stitch I get.
That’s when things got weird. It wasn’t entirely unexpected; if you have a hobby in Yellowknife it’s only a moment of time before someone suggests you form a Facebook group or maybe a board and request funding from the GNWT. One Sunday afternoon I found my house full of women, all hunched around circles of fabric starting their first cross stitches. It’s an incredibly easy craft to pick up; unlike a lot of other fabric arts that require heaps of tools and materials, cross stitch can be learned quickly and you can pick up all the supplies you’ll need for your first one for about $10. (Be warned though, it’s a cursed monkey’s paw that will one day lead you to huge folders of patterns, hundreds of different colours of thread, and the imminent threat of being on an episode of Hoarders: Crafters Edition.)
Cross stitch is actually one of the oldest forms of embroidery, with tiny x’s forming pictures for centuries. One of the most well-known works is the Bayeux Tapestry, a huge 70-meter-long piece, detailing the Norman conquest of England from the 11th century. Cross stitch has endured on the edges of dishtowels and in embroidered samplers for so long because of its simplicity. It’s paint-by-numbers but with thread.
I’d dabbled with cross stitch since I was a kid but the sub-Arctic really slammed the skill from “vague hobby” to “disturbing obsession.” The North is crafty. Our winters are long. Sitting curled up on my sofa with a hoop creating something over a cup of tea is, for me, the perfect solution to there being little daylight in February. More importantly, Yellowknife is all about organized fun. Yellowknife feels the first gust of frost on the breeze and demands to know what clubs you’ve signed up for, what crafts you’ve got waiting in the wings, and how you intend to occupy yourself until spring. It’s one of the things I love most about living in the NWT: we don’t just hide away and endure winter. We find ways to have fun through it—and it’s not all skiing and hiking in the cold winter air. Some of us are indoor cats. Or at least we are when it’s minus 60 for the seventh day in a row, the wind is howling outside the window, and you just can’t bear to put your snowpants on one more time. Lucky for me, around the time I moved North, what was a granny craft began to morph into something, dare I say, cool. Knitting had its moment: these days, it’s all about the rude, snarky, and nerdy embroidery. Etsy is awash in patterns for any interest. There are huge online groups to share pieces and inspiration. Sign me up. A unicorn defecating rainbows here, a few well-placed swear words there, throw in a few pieces referencing Harry Potter, and, suddenly, I had friends asking me to show them the ways of the thread.
Before I knew it, there were disciples lugging their stitches everywhere. Cross stitching was popping up in living rooms, at book club, pulled out with a headlamp at the Woodyard Brewhouse and Eatery. Someone’s partner jokingly asked if they needed to be concerned when they caught her doing it in the bath.
But most importantly, we were gathered in those circles, stitching and talking for hours. And that’s the thing about fabric arts. Women have been doing them for centuries and they’ve mostly been denigrated as cutesy crafts or as wholesome homemaker training because of that (and let’s be real, I would have done very well in 1800 England, if not for the rampant feminism). It crosses cultures, too; there’s something about having something to do with your hands that allows conversation to flow, ideas to spill out. (That could also be the wine. It might be a cult but there’s no Kool-Aid or matching sneakers in sight.) There’s just something about a sewing circle that opens the mouth. There was community and bonding and somewhere around the time I finished a piece that reads “another day another 79 cents” (the current wage gap) there was a moment of power in being joined with other people in solidarity, even if just by a thread.