I learned to needlepoint before I could color within the lines or write my ABCs, as a way to strengthen a lazy eye. My parents still have the 5” by 7” pillow I needlepointed at age 5, the mast of the simple sailboat a vivid red set against the white sails and blue sky.
Once I started school, I left my needle and yarn behind. My mother needlepointed several projects—including eight (!) identical seats for their dining room chairs—when I was a child, but I had no desire to pick up a canvas and join her. Decades went by before I ever gave much thought to my childhood hobby. Yet in winter 2001, when my husband and I were trying to conceive our first child, I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming urge to needlepoint. I believe it was my over-agitated body’s way of forcing me to chill out.
After taking a beginner class to refresh my memory from 30 years prior, I’d sit and stitch for hours, lost in a creative haze. Several months later, pregnant at last, I needlepointed for entire weekend days, listening to the radio or daydreaming about the baby growing inside of me.
In the early years of my children’s lives, needlepointing soothed my weary mind, taxed from keeping track of twin toddlers at a playground or entertaining all three kids during a Costco shopping expedition. I’m so exuberantly proud of the Christmas stockings I stitched for my three kids, I want them mentioned in my obituary.
But then, just as suddenly as I’d resumed needlepointing, I ceased. A dragonfly canvas, in woodsy shades of green, grey, and brown and destined to be a pillow for our guest bedroom, lay untouched for more than half a decade. Until this spring, when once again, I was consumed with the driving desire to push a needle through a painted canvas, trailing silk-and-wool yarn.
But now I approach the canvas differently: I have to wear “cheater” glasses, meaning I can no longer shift my gaze down to what I’m stitching then back at a TV screen like I used to. (Like slower marathon finish times, my degenerating eyesight is a dreaded by-product of aging.) Podcasts of “This American Life” and “Car Talk” now keep me entertained. This summer, I flew through the long-ignored dragonfly pillow, then immediately landed on a multi-colored owl canvas for my younger daughter’s bedroom.
As odd as it may sound, I embrace needlepointing for several of the same reasons I love running, especially the meditative, repetitive nature of both endeavors. Both activities free my mind to wander and float: Somehow following a road or a needlepointing pattern lets my brain move in a delicious non-linear fashion. Like a moderate-pace weekday run, my needlepoint projects aren’t fancy or embellished. No fancy stitches or gold yarn, just like that Wednesday morning run doesn’t have any intervals or tempo. Simply solid efforts that make me feel flush with quiet pride over a task well done.
What, if any, hobby (hobbies?) do you have other than running?