I started stitching the above sampler when I was about twelve - I was a Girl Guide, going for my badge in embroidery. I remember buying the kit mail order through a little ad in the back pages of one of my mom's magazines. It was a stamped piece of linen (off grain as I see now) and I somehow taught myself how to do the cross stitch, the lazy daisy, the buttonhole, and French knots! I don't remember anyone showing me, I may have learned from a book, although there is a vague memory of a printed instruction sheet that came with the kit.
Like most twelve-year-olds, follow-through was not my strong suit. I got about half done, then the cloth ended up a drawer of other misbegotten projects. I quit Guides and moved on to other things as I entered junior high. I was a good student, "a pleaser", cautioned by my father who taught in the senior school that I was not to be an embarrassment to him. I was a teenager now, and eager to fit in, be accepted. I made what were, in retrospect, some serious errors in judgement, to put it mildly.
Long story short, I ended up one Friday night going to a dance in town with my best friend, Diane, and she had a mickey of rum that she had someone older buy for her. We proceeded to get drunk in very short order, got separated, and I ended up in the back of a van in the Safeway parking lot where a number of older boys proceeded to have their way with me. They didn't even know my name, just that I was "Mr. Cameron's daughter". What they did had little to do with desire, it was more about power, getting one over on an authority figure. The cops arrived, chased off the boys, and took me in to the police station. They called my father to come pick me up, taking the opportunity while waiting for him to arrive to show me some photos of what could happen to "girls like me".
Yeah, I know, crap story, but it happens all the time, and worse. Thank god there weren't cell phones and the internet back then, but the news got around the small, conservative town I lived in pretty darn quick. I arrived at school Monday morning to whispers in the hallway, knowing glances, people I didn't even know asking me if it was true. I felt such shame, but oddly triumphant that I was no longer the boring good girl. My pleasure in my new notoriety was short-lived, as soon my friend was transferred to a different school and nobody else was interested in hanging out with me. I was, of course, permanently grounded.
And so it was on one of those endless lonely weekends that I found that forgotten sampler in my drawer. I took it up again, and completed it. You might notice that the light green block of cross stitch at the bottom has two different shades in it. The skein that came with the kit had disappeared somewhere and I remember going to Stedman's to get another and being boggled with all the choices. I think that was the first time I realized how many shades of green there were.
Looking at the sampler now, all I see are the flaws, but at the time I finished it, it received great approval. My mom framed it and hug it in the upstairs hallway. I started getting more into art, and found it was something I was good at. In Grade 11, I took Applied Design in Textiles, and started designing and stitching my own wall hangings. Embroidery had shifted from being a means to show how quiet, diligent and obedient I could be to a means of expression.
Ever the dilettante, I took up other media, studied photography and graphic design, worked in advertising and publishing, and eventually went back to art school where I majored in sculpture and video, and encountered feminism. Always, somewhere in the background, was sewing, which was considered a bit quaint by my cool Toronto friends. But the pleasure and solace of stitching endured, and nurtured my soul, and grew to become something where I could lose myself and find myself again.
So here am, finally recounting my secret, shameful story in this, my 700th blog post. I woke up early this morning with the feeling that I should tell it. Why now? Who cares what happened 40 years ago? I have cried over the recent stories of Amanda Todd and Rehteah Parsons, so sad that the same shit keeps happening to young women, only now on a much more public and tragic scale.
I might say that stitching saved me, and maybe it has, many times over. But really, it was the kindness and caring of multitudes of people over the years: professionals, friends, and family. At the time, stitching was just a way of showing that I was a good person. In the long term, it has brought me redemption and atonement and possibly the positive regard of others. A psychologist might say it is evidence of my neurosis, as is this blog. Ultimately, being able to share and connect with others, with all of you, is what keeps me writing and making art. Thank you, 700 times over.
I know my stitches.
P.S. I was going to disallow comments on this one, because I am fine, this has all been dredged up for years, and I'm not needing comfort - (no more than usual anyway!) But then I thought if feelings were aroused in people because of anything I've said, this could be a space to share those feelings so feel free.