BY HAND

Stitching in public prompts a conversational moment

Posted July 04, 2011, at 2:46 p.m.

I wish more people would knit, crochet and stitch in public places.

I recently found myself in a waiting room, and to my delight a woman sitting nearby pulled from her purse a cross-stitch project. I smiled in her direction and admired her work, the stitches even, neat and carefully placed. Even the reverse side of the piece was orderly, with all the thread tails tucked under overlapping stitches. The woman told me she was stitching a rose in memory of a friend who had loved roses. The woman had chosen soft shades of yellow, the hues varying from cream to butter for the rose.

Her friend, the woman told me, hadn’t wanted real flowers placed on her grave because real flowers don’t last. The cross-stitch piece was an effort to fill that gap. The woman’s plan was to design a frame for the piece that would be weatherproof. She had yet to figure out how to mount it on a rod with a pointed end so it could be pushed into the ground at her friend’s grave site. But she had an idea or two.

Although I did not ask, I suspect that stitching a memorial tribute was a way to deal with the grief of losing a friend. This is not a new idea. In the early 1800s, mourning samplers became fashionable at a time when symbols of grief and grieving were much more public than in our current day and age, and when the process of grieving the loss of a loved one was accepted as natural, and indeed, expected.

The willow tree and urn became the symbolic icons stitched on mourning samplers, motifs that strike me as well-chosen — the willow signifies the many tears shed and the urn, perhaps, stands for the heart where one must store all the sadness until the darkness turns into light again.

I found that stitching a mourning sampler after my sister died in 1996 was exactly what I needed as I grappled with her death. Designing the sampler was a way to think about her life and what her days had meant to me. Stitching the design gave me spells of quiet in which to sit with the new reality of her final absence as I adjusted my frame of reference to it.

In the same waiting room sat a woman who was knitting. She used what appeared to be needles with ends that had a floppy, curving quality — easy to tuck into a tote bag. She knit in the continental way, holding the yarn in her left hand. It was fascinating to observe how deftly she knit the stitches from one needle to the other with quick, precise motion. I did not have the opportunity to ask what she was knitting. It could have been a cap. The yarn she used had a tweedy quality — white mixed with a darker color that might have been green.

I spotted a woman at the Bangor Public Library knitting a hat in purple and white yarn on circular needles. Also, I saw what I believe to be evidence of yarn bombing on a bike rack on the grounds of the library.

Seeing the women stitching and knitting reminded me that I have gotten away from the habit of taking a project with me when I know I face time in a waiting room. I used to keep cotton yarn, knitting needles and instructions for dishcloths in a tote bag in my car, easily within reach when I found myself with a wait ahead of me. I think it’s time to re-establish that habit. In fact, I’m going to put several projects in that always-with-me tote bag — one to knit, one to crochet and one to embroider.

So, if you see someone stitching in public, strike up a conversation about needlework. The time in the waiting room will go by so much more agreeably, and the art of conversation will be advanced.

Snippets

Learn to restring broken necklaces with Ann-Dee Burnham at 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, at the Coastal Community Center, 521 Main St. in Damariscotta. The cost is $10 and includes materials. Register for the workshop by calling 563-1363 by Monday, July 11.

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A Sea Glass as Wearable Art workshop with Lynne Thompson will be held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, at Spectrum Generations Coastal Community Center, 521 Main St., Damariscotta . The cost is $25 and includes materials. Register in advance by calling 563-1363 by Tuesday, July 12.

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The art quilt group Frayed Edges includes Sarah Ann Smith of Hope, Kate Cutko of Bowdoinham, Kate Daniels of Rockport and Deborah Boschert of Crofton, Md. (formerly of Topsham). The four fiber artists and longtime friends use fabric, thread, stitching, paint and other unexpected material and images in their latest collection of art quilts inspired by the theme “Letters.” The collection will be on display through July 31 in the Jean Picker Room at the Camden Public Library. An artist’s reception will be held 2-4 p.m. Saturday, July 9.

The centerpiece of the collection is a set of four triptychs designed especially for the exhibit. Each artist created a triptych — two small art quilts with a third larger piece in the center. The artists embraced the theme “Letters” in many different ways. Some have used letters as a graphic element, others have explored images of letters in envelopes, journals and comic books.

The artists’ work has appeared in juried art shows, books and internationally published magazines. The group includes members of the Pine Tree Quilt Guild, Studio Art Quilt Association and the International Quilt Association.

Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153, or email ahamlin@bangordailynews.com.

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