Three years and 3,672 stitches later, the needlepoint pillow I started from an Ehrman kit is finally finished. I didn't actually count the stitches. I just multiplied the number of stitches per inch (12) by the size of the design (18"x17"). Math is so useful sometimes.
When I told a friend--an exceptionally creative woman who is always elbow-deep in some project she has just invented--what I was working on, she opened her eyes wide. "You are working from a kit?" she said, appalled. "But that's just like painting by numbers!"
Well, yes, it is--except slower. And that is precisely why I do it.
After hours of squeezing words out of my brain and onto the screen, or notes out of my mouth and into my recorder, nothing restores my soul like threading a needle with bright-red wool and filling in a poppy petal. When you do needlepoint from a kit, the goal is to reproduce exactly the design stamped on the canvas. In a way, it's not unlike playing music composed by someone else, except that the player has a lot more room for interpretation. With needlepoint, you color outside the lines at your own risk.
When I sit at my embroidery frame, it doesn't take me long to enter into a semi-hypnotic state, lulled by the "thwack"of the needle piercing the canvas and the "swish" of the wool pulling through. It's a rhythmic activity, not unlike walking, and like walking it frees my mind to saunter at leisure, and even to wander off its usual well-worn paths. Sometimes, between one row of stitches and the next, an idea comes to me, seemingly out of nowhere, or the solution to a problem appears as I anchor the end of a length of wool. But the main virtue of needlepoint, as I suspect is true of most varieties of handiwork, is that it is almost impossible to remain tense while doing it.
As petals, leaves, and stems begin to emerge I take pleasure in their colors and shapes, and feel grateful to the artist who created them, just as I send thanks to Georg Philipp Telemann for taking the trouble to write, back in the troubled 1700s, the lovely duo recorder sonatas that I am struggling to learn. There is so much beauty in this world, and I give thanks to the artists, musicians and writers who make it their own and then offer it for me to delight in.
A while ago, I briefly considered making my own needlepoint designs, but this would negate all the therapeutic effects of needlepoint. With every stitch I would anxiously question my choice of colors, the curve of a leaf, the shape of the negative space. It would be like endlessly rereading my own writing, word by dispiriting word.
No, for me, the virtue of needlepoint lies in its very absence of creativity, an absence which, happily but unpredictably, sometimes triggers my own.