The allure of a perfect kit

Before I learned to knit, my first love was cross-stitch. I started with bookmarks and Christmas ornament kits, and I moved on to buying little counted cross-stitch booklets and larger projects (mostly uncompleted, big surprise).

Lately, I’ve gotten back into needlework, and not surprisingly it was through the allure of some great kits. I’m not sure what it is about kits, maybe just the ease of having everything needed in the right quantities, all in one place, a whole project prepared and ready to go. But I do love a good kit. My current fixation is a cross-stitch kit I picked up in Iceland.

Man, I am obsessed. This kit is so perfect because it uses Icelandic wool yarn in place of embroidery floss, making it tremendously speedy, with a satisfying heft. The design is called Skaftafellsr├│s (if you’re not up on your Icelandic, that means “The Rose of Skaftafell”), and it has a brilliantly clever and elegant geometry to it.

I picked the kit up at a history museum gift shop, as it cost something like $12 and seemed cool. Now I wish I had bought dozens of these kits because I am fanatically in love with it. In this one project, I have a connection with my personal history, remembering the windy and cold winter days I spent stitching as a little girl, as well as a connection with centuries of Icelandic crafting and needlework in general. I can’t even begin to express how deeply, immensely satisfying it is, but I’m sure this material nostalgia contributes to my utter delight.

The stitching is meant to be a uniquely Icelandic form, long arm cross-stitch. It gives a lovely texture and directionality to the stitches, but I gave up on it after a few sections – it just wasn’t enjoyable for me. Instead, I am doing regular counted cross-stich. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll frame this project or sew it as the face of a pillow, though I am leaning toward the latter.

Meanwhile, my kit and I will be bonding, huddled up with a wool blanket and a gray kitty.


This little bit of cross-stitch is literally filling me with glee every time I look at it.

I reckon you can probably guess its subject, especially if you know me well or have ever looked at my Twitter icon. I have a feeling this silly little thing will become one of my favorite craft projects I’ve ever done.

Handmade Ornaments

Since my mother likes to keep the Christmas tree up through Epiphany, we get extra time to admire the decorations and ornaments around the house.

The tree was beautiful this year, but unfortunately my father’s puppy Smooch has taken to chomping up ornaments daily.

Including the baby Jesus from my mother’s DiGiovanni Nativity set. Whoops.

Inspired by some sense of posterity, I decided to photograph some of the cross-stitched ornaments I’d made when I was a child, lest they end up like Smooch’s other prey.

My mother bought me fabulous Christmas ornament kits when I expressed an interest in counted cross-stitch. They came with cute little frames, cardboard backing material, a square of Aida fabric, a tiny little pattern, the right-size needle, and generous lengths of all the DMC colors you’d need. I kept the whole kit in a sandwich bag while I worked on them and thought they were just the most charming things.

This church ornament was the very first cross-stitch project I ever did. I love its painted wood frame, and I still have to smile at those cute little stained glass windows.

My mother and I were admiring this ornament, and she asked how old I was when I made it. I turned it over, saw that I’d clumsily embroidered 1991 on the back, which I showed her. She looked at me, perplexed, as she tried to count back from 2007.

We both got a good laugh when I rolled my eyes and said “Mom, I was born in 1981.”

This cat and mouse were my two favorites (even though I can see an error in the cat now) because they were the cutest designs and also in part because they used a very fine-count Aida cloth.

At that time, I usually worked on 12-count, and I think these were 14 or 16 count, so I felt terribly sophisticated.

I was kind of a snot about this swan because I felt it was too simple and easy, stitched on 12-count fabric.

I also wasn’t as wild about the rocking horse because it had almost no back-stitching, which at the time was one of my favorite parts.

That was my 10-year old sensibility, of course. Now I think they’re all adorable, and I admire them fondly. I love having something that I made more than 15 years ago so well-preserved and cared-for.

Then again I shouldn’t be surprised. My parents have kept ornaments I made at a very politically-correct kindergarten: a geeky snowflake,

and their personal favorite, my star of David.

Lastly, while I’m admiring my favorite ornaments, I had to post a photo of this one, which I did not make, but which we bought many years ago from a basketry artisan at a Pennsylvania Dutch folk festival in Kutztown, PA.

I just love this weaving, and I want to learn how to do it.

When I return to Brooklyn, I may take a stab at finishing some of the other cross-stitch pieces I have had “in progress” for 10 or 15 years. I was really into stitching way before knitting, and I actually got quite good at it, so it’d be nice to pick it back up again.

Ahh memories.