There is nothing so fulfilling as cross stitching a border and finding that it meets. That moment (heart in mouth) when you see it coming, that moment when your stitches run to meet each other at a junction, at an edge. Although I’ll have been waiting for this moment, indeed, stitching towards it, it’s always a surprise to me. The act of making just ten more stitches, then nine, eight, seven, doing the maths in your head as you stitch, no longer mindfully, but making calculations, by mind and by eye. Will it meet? Will it work this time?
My first border was on an Autumn sampler from Moira Blackburn. It looked so endearing – those polished acorns and rich green DMC running like a trellis round the rim of all that seasonal goodness. When I started stitching those bright crosses and falling into the making of squirrels and leaves, I forgot about the challenge of a cross stitched border. I stitched motifs as they spoke to me, did the border as I chose, a stitch here and there. It didn’t consume me, which is good, as I have a lovely memory of making that first sampler, sitting at my desk with the light over my right shoulder, stitching away cares and problems. Some days it was like I was stitching those cares right into my thread and allowing it to be transformed. When I came to ‘join up’ the border, I poured stronger tea and set to, my mouth in a line and my knuckles whiter than they should be. This was the tricky bit wasn’t it? It came back to me then. Even extraordinarily accomplished stitchers could have trouble with this. Just one little error and it would make itself known here, there was no getting away from it. If you had lost your focus just once during that border – catching sight of rainclouds out the window, a postman in the street, a bird with big wings sailing past – then you were stitchy toast, to be honest.
Of course, not all cross stitch contains a border, but lots do. Samplers are the main culprit and I love a sampler. Love the folky historical vibe of them, the repeated motifs that you come to look for, odd little dogs, ladies in sticky-out skirts, those interminable flower pots full of burgeoning bunches. I like to gawp at them in museums and wonder at the hands that held the linen, the fingers that gently fed the floss through each shining needle. Now, having stitched a border or two myself, I wonder at those too. Sometimes they look like fairytale tangles, with thorns announcing their defensive truth, setting up a reminder that This is Stitching as Art and History: are you good enough to stitch me? Are you? You better be.
I see borders as little fences around our work, showcasing our design, corralling it from the rest of the fabric and the frame. Precision is demanded when you stitch a border. Now when I choose a chart, I look carefully at those entwined stems and folk blackberries. I’m cautious, sensible. Will I be able to focus as it twines at the corner? Is that a carnation or a cabbage? Are there too many colour changes? Is it a border that I can immerse myself in? That’s the key for me. A border that repeats in a way that holds me, is interesting and depicts a pattern that I can follow easily. On good days, that repeat repeat repeat, it’s like listening to music.
Sometimes, I try to stitch mindfully. Eschewing the iPad and the audio book (which are very good things on many other days), I stitch listening to my breath and watch the slippery stem of my silver needle, in out in out, a little dancing glancing fish. On these days (or sessions, I don’t always stitch for long) its a good time to make progress on a border. I love the immersive quality of stitching at any time, but harnessing mindfulness and the challenge of a border (we know at some point, we’ll be held accountable) seems a perfect match. There is a meditative quality in repeat patterns, I think that sometimes those patterns leave the flat page of the chart and become embedded in my hands instead; it’s a lovely feeling. A freeing sense of stitching, when you fly along, stitch and stitch and stitch, losing the sense of time and sometimes place.
So instead of just being simple twirly curly things, often made up of stems and leaves of a sort, ‘just’ part of a pattern (with the central pattern being the focus), I think borders and stitching them can be a complex thing. For while borders are containers, containers of our work, our hours and hours of stitching, of a carefully chosen design, they also have the ability to be especially freeing.
Because they demand such care, they can help us access the crafting zone quite quickly, ushering us into a space where we don’t see the clouds, the postman or the flapping winged bird. If we give up to this, don’t fret or worry, just immerse ourselves in the rhythmic act of needle in out in out, borders might even be fun. Well, maybe not fun. They’re slightly too serious for that, holding up the design et al, but I think that they can be enjoyable to stitch. Sometimes.
And you’re still wondering aren’t you? Did my first border meet? Hell no. But it was only one tiny hole out, so I tell people that it met up just fine. You wont see it, so the error wont nag at you, and you wont tell. Will you?