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Relaxing With Tiny X’s – Staying Calm One Stitch at a Time

Written By Jan

Fig. 1

It’s tempting to think that running an art studio means spending all your time making things. But much of my time is spent planning, buying, organizing, and marketing art activities for others. Still, I do get to try everything!

When I saw the trendy cross stitch kits from The Stranded Stitch, they made me laugh and I resolved to try one as soon as I could. So once the holidays were over, I nabbed the Ruth Bader Ginsburg portrait kit and opened it up.

I hadn’t spent much time stitching in years. In fact, at one point in the past I had found counted cross stitch boring and confusing, and had abandoned it. But now I decided to give it another try. It’s just you and me, RBG!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cross stitch portrait kit figure 1
Fig. 2

THE PROCESS There are two ways to begin a cross stitch pattern: from one end, or from the middle. I decided to start in the very center of the pattern, which happened to land in the middle of RBG’s face.

FIGURE 1 shows how much I got done in the first hour of the project. Not much to show for my time besides the beginning of RBG’s nose and something I hadn’t expected: an intense upper backache from bending over to focus.

The great thing about a project like this is that you can set it down and pick it up again at any time. I left the hoop and threads in the kitchen overnight.

The next morning I felt myself drawn back to stitching. How much more could I do while I had my morning tea? And could I do it without hunching over, to avoid that backache? I began to practice holding the hoop up so that I didn’t have to bend over while stitching, and I placed a warm shoulder pack around my neck as a reminder.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cross stitch portrait kit figure 3
Fig. 3

I should also have asked myself, Is it possible for me to work on this without spilling my tea? Apparently not! Luckily the tea didn’t stain, but I learned to be more conscious of keeping my developing artwork away from food.

FIGURE 2 shows how far I got on Days Two and Three, working maybe 45 minutes each time.

Every morning I did a little bit more. Sometimes I just did one thread length (about 18” of thread) and other times I kept reloading the needle, but I never spent more than 20-30 minutes at a time.

The process was growing on me. I began to look forward to picking up the needle each morning. Sometimes I did it in the evening, too.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cross stitch portrait kit figure 4
Fig. 4

Soon I had RBG’s face nearly complete. I could see her distinct facial features begin to emerge (FIGURE 3).

A NOTE ABOUT THE KIT Once you orient yourself to the design, it’s pretty easy. The threads are precut to a convenient length and the colors are labeled. All you need to do is separate the strands, as the cotton floss comes as six- strands twisted together; the stitches only need 2 strands at a time. The printed instructions are very clear.

MISTAKES HAPPEN I found myself impatient with the face and wanted to move on to another color. Up until this point, I had found it pretty easy to follow the pattern and count the stitches.

For some reason, it wasn’t so easy with the black thread of RBG’s robe (FIGURE 4). My first mistake was in trying to do too many stitches at once.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cross stitch portrait kit figure 5
Fig. 5

When you cross stitch, you start in one direction (I start bottom right to top left, but you may do it differently), and then come back the opposite direction (for me, that would be bottom left to top right). It doesn’t matter how you begin as long as you do it the same way for each stitch.

If there’s a long row, as in RBG’s black robe, you can do the entire row in one direction and then come back along the entire row. You end up in the square you started in. But I decided to do more than one row at a time just in one direction. I didn’t realize until later what a mistake that would be (more on that later).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cross stitch portrait kit figure 6
Fig. 6

I quickly got tired of using the black, so I decided to change colors again (FIGURE 5). I love that you can do that, just as you can change colors in painting. With stitching, you can stop using a color at any time and leave the thread dangling behind the design until you’re ready to pick it up again (just take care not to let it get tangled with the other colors you’re using).

When I came back to the black robe, I found it difficult to see where to start up again. That’s when I realized I should have finished one row instead of trying to do many rows at once. It was very difficult to see individual stitches in a sea of solid black, and it was easy to miss one. I began to appreciate why Natalie had named her company “The Stranded Stitch”!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cross stitch portrait kit figure 7
Fig. 7

I also spent some time stitching more of the robe than I should have, and forgot to leave room for RBG’s all-important dissent collar! I had to take all those stitches out.

To do the dissent collar I decided to start with the pearl gray thread (FIGURE 6). Things started out fine, but as I neared the bottom of the collar I began to lose my way in the count.

I decided to finish the black robe in order to confine the space I had to work in (FIGURE 7). That turned out to be a good decision.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cross stitch portrait kit figure 9
Fig. 8

Somewhere along the way I noticed that I had left a half stitch of pearl gray
in one of the upper rows (can you see it?). I found it amusing that I hadn’t noticed it while I was in that row; years ago I would have found it annoying, but I have come to love my mistakes. I reminded myself to fix it later.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cross stitch portrait kit figure 9
Fig. 9

FIGURE 8 Here she is – finished! If you were to compare the stitching chart to my finished project, there would be—well, a few discrepancies. Isn’t it great to know that most things don’t need to be perfect to be successful?

FIGURE 9 And here’s the very messy back of the piece. My thread ends could have been snipped shorter, and I’m not sure it’s kosher to stretch a thread from one end of the picture to the other, but— remember that pearl gray half stitch I had forgotten? Got it!

I RATE THIS PROJECT: more fun than I thought it would be! I rediscovered the joy of stitching. I loved doing just a little at a time and watching the design come together. I got a laugh out of all the mistakes I made, the times I thought I was paying attention and clearly wasn’t.

Working on this project made me think about Ruth Bader Ginsburg—a lot.

And I came to a true appreciation of the talent of Natalie Naito, the The Stranded Stitch’s owner and designer. Isn’t it amazing how little x’s can turn into a portrait?

Now I’m feeling ready to take on another cross stitch project. Somehow, focusing on something small can help put the bigger world into perspective.

Learn more about sand painting and other creative family activities. 

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Jan thinks of herself as a creative dabbler, and loves trying out new materials and tools, especially sand, paper, fabric, and kathunkita machines*. Jan started out as a letterpress and offset printer, and gauges her happiness on how many things she can make happen each day. Her motto is “Try something new, it will change you, and when you change your life you can change the world.” With this philosophy she opened a walk-in art studio in 1996 that still serves as an incubator for new projects and products. Jan is a Certified Play Expert (CPE) and an MBA.