Tuesday, January 11, 2011


This week our columnist Annie West talks about one of her non-writing passions - cross stitch embroidery.

I've met people who reckon they don't have a creative bone in their body. If you've longed to try some handicraft and thought it all too hard, cross stitch may be just the thing for you. Learning to sew a cross in fabric that already has neat squares formed in it is as easy as pie. Plus there's the advantage of being able to make something beautiful, whether simple and bright or a more complex design and having the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself! Even if you're an experienced embroiderer, cross stitch offers a wonderful world to explore.

I grew up with a female family tradition of handicrafts. There were embroidery cottons in rainbow colours, delicate crocheted edges to towels (for best of course) and some delicate heirloom pieces which my mother still uses. I learned to set a satin stitch at an early age and got taught to knit (a skill I've since forgotten). Try as she might, my mother tried to teach me to sew my own clothes but it was the less useful side of sewing that always drew me.

As a teenager I learned tapestry stitching and spent hours engrossed while half listening to TV. Then one day in a craft store I saw gorgeous cross stitch pictures on the wall . It hooked me - easy to make if I could sew a cross and count my stitches. There was an infinite variety of designs to tempt, from the small and simple to the large and intricate. Here's my first cross stitch piece - I love samplers as they make an impact but you don't have to embroider the whole cloth. This one has an Australian bird, animal or flower for each letter and I fell in love with the lazy koala sprawled in the centre.

While finishing that piece I did a couple of tiny monograms for relatives that took only a couple of days and looked fabulous. My family adored the fact that I'd made the effort to create something personal for them.

Since then there have been larger projects like this Noah's Ark - lots of fun for an expectant mother to work on, as well as a range of smaller projects that make me smile, either because they're light-hearted and cheeky (I have a dragon devouring chocolate that's waiting for me to stitch him) or because of the reaction of people who receive those pieces.

Cross stitching is marvellously relaxing too. I can concentrate on my work and have a chat or listen to music and there's plenty of time to ponder. I think the repetitive movements are particularly soothing when life gets a bit too frantic. But if you want to be challenged there's always the option of designing your own cross stitch project. I was daunted at first, but with graph paper and patience it's not too difficult. If I can do it anyone can!

In the last few years, especially as I focus on a computer screen so much for my writing, I've had less time for other activities and my sewing has stopped. Look at this project - so close to completion and I haven't touched it in ages. The nice thing about writing this blog is that I'm determined to make time for the pleasure of cross stitch, even if only a little each week.

Have you tried cross stitch or some other sort of decorative sewing? Do you have a favorite project you've always wanted to try?

Annie's current heroine, Tamsin, has never tried embroidery, she's been too busy learning old languages and the care of ancient books. You'd think she'd have plenty of time on her hands now she's living in a picturesque alpine kingdom where roads get blocked by snow in winter. However, I suspect that her handsome prince, Alaric, may have other plans for her spare time. Their story, PROTECTED BY THE PRINCE, is a Presents Extra release in early February. You can read an excerpt or enter a contest to win it on Annie's website. Or if you don't want to leave it to chance, you can buy a copy from Harlequin, The Book Depository or Amazon.


  1. Snort! Cross stitch or getting up to naughty stuff with Prince Alaric? I tell you which one I'd go for - a clue to my answer, no needles involved! Love your piece, Annie, and aren't you clever doing those beautiful samplers and other pieces. Sadly, I'm completely hopeless at all that stuff. Can't even cut a straight line and anything I've ever tried in the craft line (we're going back to school here) looked like a dog's breakfast within minutes. I'd love to be handier at that stuff - I can picture in my head what I want but the skills just let me down. Congratulations on the fabulous Protected by the Prince - it's a doozy!

  2. Wow, Annie! You're multi-talented. I had no idea you could do needlework like that! My sister took up cross-stitch years ago and she got very good at it very quickly. I can sew, but not as well as my other sister, who trained as a fashion designer. Me, I'm better at designing and shopping for clothes rather than making them myself.

    Congrats on the release of Protected by the Prince!

  3. Oh, Anna, I agree. Prince Alaric would win hands down. He's just so tempting! Maybe I shouldn't say it but I think he is.

    Hey, I'm pleased you're impressed with my needlework skills. The truth is I'm a klutz when it comes to making anything useful like sewing clothes. Ask me to set a sleeve or a zip and I'm in trouble. My mum gave up trying to teach me after years of attempts. But decorative stuff - I can handle that and it's so satisfying.

  4. Hi Vanessa,

    There's an art to designing clothes and putting them together, seeing the potential when they're languishing in the shop. You do that so well! I didn't know you sewed! Fancy that. The things you learn through blogs.

    Thanks for the congratulations on the book!

  5. I've never had the patience for embroidery or needlepoint, but have been doing counted cross-stitch since I was about 14, ranging from simple Christmas ornaments for friends and family each year, to much larger and complicated designs (such as the Mona Lisa--that one took an entire year!). Most of my stitching is done while watching TV or movies.

    I also learned how to do Hardanger needlework when I was an exchange student to Norway at age 17. I would love to try that again, though it is more intricate work than cross-stitch. Have always wanted to learn how to knit, too.

  6. Hi Heather,

    I love the small cross stitch projects too. I used to do trimmings for towels to give as presents when I had more time and some of the little decorations are lovely. The Mona Lisa must have been an enormous challenge.

    I've been fascinated by hardanger too though I've never tried it. Now I think of it I did some lovely Greek embroidery years ago - bought the designs on a holiday there and it was a wonderful way to start conversations with locals - sitting on a ferry sewing!

  7. I have done some counted cross stitch but not lately. My knitting and crochet projects fell by the wayside as well. The current 3 cats that rule our house don't like it. My previous cats would allow me to work but then I was always busy with something back then and now not at all. My eyes got a bit tired following the patterns. I really enjoyed all the projects I did. Way back I did embroidery and hardanger. I can't sew on a sewing machine at all. I think I may have been the only kid to flunk making an apron in home ecomonics.

    Alaric sounds enticing.

  8. Hi Kaelee,

    No, you weren't the only one flunking home ec. I remember hand sewing a skirt again and again as our old fashioned teacher insisted on invisible hemming. Hah! I'd natter to the person beside me and forget about 'invisible'.

    Sounds like you have lots of projects to get back to one day, Kaelee. Perhaps the cats will let you eventually. It's nice to do something with your hands, I find. I always used to feel better for doing that.

    Thanks for popping by. Glad you like the sound of Alaric. I love the fact that he's sexy and tortured but still so charming.

  9. Well, Annie, I'm with Anna -- I'd choose the smokin' hot Alaric over needlework any day! The only subject I failed at school was sewing, which makes it doubly odd that I spent the year between school and uni in a clothing factory sewing the crotch in men's knickers.

    Me and needles of any kind aren't kindred spirits I'm afraid (though I have to say your sampler is utterly gorgeous and I'm feeling quite envious). I do have a longstanding project, though -- I'm latch-hooking a rug. It's taking me forever but I love the meditative trance that repetition brings on.

    Oh, and congratulation on Protected by the Prince. It was a wonderful read!

  10. Well Annie,i think your collection is quite awesome.you are really hardworker.....
    Australian Fashion Designer

  11. Hi Michelle,

    It's great to hear you enjoyed 'Protected by the Prince'. Love the description of Alaric as smokin' hot!

    Oh dear, that year after school must have been hard. I suppose you know more about men's underwear now than you ever wanted!

    The rug sounds intriguing. I've never tried latch hooking. Perhaps you'll post about it when it's finished?

  12. Hi Australian Fashion Designer. How nice to be impressive! It's been over a long period of time though.

  13. You're so talented, Annie. I love the Noah's Ark project - just right for a nursery!

  14. Hi Annie,

    Congratulations on the Protected By The Prince.

    My cross stitching used to be on check material and then filling out four corners with thread as in flower petals.
    I also use to do crocheting(made big doilies, baby clothes, bed sheets, table clothes with beads edging)
    And I also learnt how to do knitting and tatting! Basic only.

    But I can sew my clothes. Tops especially if I put my mind on a certain pattern then I do it.

  15. Gorgeous, gorgeous work, Annie! They're all beautiful but that medieval scene is spectacular!

    I'm a bit of a dabbler so I've done some cross stitch - just small ones! And I've done some cotton embroidery as well as some ribbon embroidery. I've enjoyed it all but I haven't persisted. I used to knit a LOT but then I discovered sewing with stretch fabric! Marvellous! No dropped stitches and I can make something to wear in less than a day! Less than an hour if it's really simple!

  16. Christina,

    Yes, the ark was a great nursery project. And more satisfying than bootees! My son used to love looking at all the animals.

  17. Ah, Nas, you're very clever. Tatting looks great but I've never tried it. My mum used to be a dab hand at cotton crochet for tablecoths and so on, before the arthritis hit. Sounds like you have a lot to keep you busy.

  18. Hi Sharon,

    I love that medieval scene too. You should see the medieval tapestry I've got - no, that's another story. One of the highlights of my stay in Paris was seeing the wonderful Cluny tapestries. My embroidery is based on one of them. They're so gorgeous!

    Sounds like you produce wonderful clothes. Somehow I suspect though that it wouldn't be so simple if I tried!

  19. Annie,
    Your work is beautiful. I love cross stitch, but it took me six years to finish my victorian house so I'm slow. Mini-quilts excite me more now, but I've let sewing and other projects slide to make time to write.
    Thanks for the enjoyable post. Good luck with the projects. You inspire me.

  20. Hello, Annie! Happy New Year! Congratulations on "Protected by the Prince"! I truly enjoyed your post on needlework. Cross stitch pieces can be very lovely, especially samplers. Occasionally on treks throught thrift shops, second-hand sales, and antique stores, I will come across a captivating, yellowed-with-age sampler. If it's "signed & dated" in cross stitch, then that's even better!

    I learned to sew on my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine, which was passed down through the family to me. I still have it and it still works! My grandmother could sew and do all types of needlework. She made her own patterns from brown paper bags and used flour sacks for cloth. She made many "broomstick" skirts for my mother and her younger sister. I have made clothes for myself and others in the family. I've done many types of needlecraft work and given them as gifts and also sold them at craft shows. For a time, I made custom-fitted Western-style shirts with embroidery and pearl snaps. I made hundreds of cloth dolls and "country" animals, most of them custom ordered. I have also made quilts, both large and small.

  21. Hi Carol,

    It's lovely to hear from you. How nice that you like some of the projects I've done. Some of my projects have taken years too since they're done in my spare time and there seems precious little of that. It's good though, to have a project ready to pick up when I want.

    I hope you find a little more time for your craft work as well as your writing. That's my aim!

  22. Hi Virginia,

    You really are a needlework expert! All that work must have kept you very busy and I bet the results were so satisfying. Somehow I never thought of making western style shirts by hand.

    I love the story of your great grandmother's treadle machine. My mother has one of those though she doesn't use it any more. It's amazing what can be produced on a simple machine, isn't it?

    The old samplers are wonderful. I've seen them in museums and often wondered about the people who made them!

  23. Carol, I forgot to say thanks for the congratulations on this latest book!

  24. Hi Annie, I love embroidery of all kinds. To me it is art--more specifically, women's art, beautiful, often practical and a craft that has been practiced through the generations.
    Your work looks amazing--how lovely that you are able to share this part of your life with us!
    In my years as a magazine editor, I know how much people love cross stitch because it is quick and easy but gives such spectacular results. I am sure it is good for the soul too!
    You should be very proud of your beautiful work, and also the fabulous four-and-a-half star review I just read in RT Book Reviews for PROTECTED BY THE PRINCE--I can't wait to read it!

  25. Hi Kandy,

    Thanks for the kind words about my sewing. I know that cross stitch brings a lot of pleasure - both doing it and admiring it. Even my daughter who doesn't sew much, loves to go to craft fairs with me to keep an eye out for wonderful projects.

    Thanks too for the congratulations on Alaric's great review at RT. I hope you enjoy the book!

  26. Annie - I didn't know we shared a hobby - well, in my case it's 'used to share a hobby' - I haven't had time to do any cross stitch for ages now. I do have a table cloth that I embroidereds and that we use at Christmas and other special occasions but mostly now I collect old cross stitch samplers etc - I wrote about them in a post on PHS last year

    I loved Protected by the Prince as Passion Purity and the Prince in UK

  27. Hi,
    I have been desperately searching for the Australian Cross stich pattern shown above. I already have my first two sons names done (William and Thomas), but need the U & E pattern for Samuel. Do you know where I can find this pattern? I have searched high and low but have not had any success. Email - lollyka84@hotmail.com.
    THANK YOU!!!