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Embroidering with my mother

I remember sitting on my mother’s big double bed watching her embroider red flowers on the edges of her pillow case. My mother is not a virtuoso of domestic arts. A strident feminist who pulled herself out of her working class background through a college career begun when I was two, she taught me more about self-confidence and ambition than she did about the ‘feminine arts.’ But, like me, she finds time in spurts throughout her busy professional life to explore her creativity in the skills of her foremothers.

She taught me to still my six-year-old hands enough to draw floss through the wide eye of an embroidery needle and to draw the linen taut through the double wooden hoops. Sitting on my mother’s bed, I learned to push the needle through the fabric without stabbing my fingers, and to follow the outline drawn onto the cloth. I don’t know how many samplers I began and never finished. I know that none were ever completed. I returned to my toys, my mother returned to her papers and neither of us thought much of embroidery for the next twenty years.

Recently my mother and I have both rediscovered our interest in thread-art, partially through our own motivations and partially in dialog with each other. For Christmas this year my mother gave me a bookmark embroidered with an owl and my name and when I went home for a belated holiday visit we sat together in my mother’s yellow living room and practiced together.

Outside, the snow fell relentlessly. We wrapped ourselves in bathrobes and blankets, sipped chamomile-mint tea and relearned together the skills she had given me when I was six. I couldn’t help but think of all the generations of mothers and daughters who have sat together over the years pulling thread into floral patterns on cold winter afternoons. I am grateful that my mother and I both have lives that reach beyond that living room and other, less domestic skills to draw on. But every now and then it is nice to dwell on the positive sides of women’s culture, despite their complex and troubled history.

This is the pant-pocket that resulted from my holiday embroidering stint with my mother:

The photograph is blurry–I need to work on my camera skills. The design is taken from Teach Yourself to Embroider


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