Last week I suffered one of my periodic attacks of "I've got to do something with my hands!" I've been doing quite a bit of writing lately (not here, I know), and writing often brings on an almost physical urge to do something completely different. Over-taxed as well as over-stimulated, my left brain begs me to let it go vacant for a while, and switch to the other side.
Drawing is a good right-brain activity, but not what I would call restful--for me at least, it involves too much judgment. No, when my cranium feels like a dried-out husk but it's still not time for bed, nothing soothes me like needle and thread. Crochet works sometimes, but it's too monotonous. And ever since the German nun who tried to teach me to knit in second grade yelled at me for dropping stitches, knitting has been way too fraught for me.
I got yelled at by various other nuns on both sides of the Atlantic for being a sloppy embroiderer, too, but they didn't leave the scars my knitting instructor did. Crewel is my favorite--it is close to painting on cloth, and the many possible stitches produce a variety of textures. But, after a stint at the computer, crewel is hard on the eyes.
For ease and mindlesness combined with color and tactile pleasure, nothing beats needlepoint. You buy a kit that includes a design stamped in color on canvas, a needle, and a bunch of woolen skeins in the appropriate shades. The work itself is a lot like coloring in a coloring book. You try to stay within the lines and to make the stitches as even as possible. The needle is sturdy and blunt--you don't even have to use a thimble.
Then the fun begins. There is the scratchy feel of the starched canvas, the satisfying thwack of the needle going in, followed by the pshhhhht! of the thread being drawn. Another thwack, another pshhht! and before you know it you have colored in the pale green half of a curvy leaf. You turn to the wrong side of the canvas, anchor the thread and cut it. Now it's time to work the dark part of the leaf. You gloat for a moment over the delicious collection of wools in your work basket, then thread the needle with the evergreen-colored wool, and before you know it you have a lovely, woolly leaf. Next you get to do a flower. The hardest part is stopping.
Since needlework is an old-timey pursuit and I feel deliciously old-timey while I'm doing it, I lean towards old-timey designs: overblown roses set amid generous foliage and spiraling tendrils. But it bothers me that these are someone else's designs, not my own. After all, how hard can it be to design one's own needlepoint? As far as I can tell, all you need to do is keep the design fairly simple and remember that different shades will be juxtaposed instead of shading into each other. Sort of like this: