How to cross stitch: resources for the beginner

Why Cross Stitch?

Totoro

I wasn’t seeking out another hobby when I rediscovered cross stitch – I’d learnt it as a child, but that was a very long time ago.

Five weeks ago I stumbled across the Craftivist Collective, and felt like I’d found a home. I’m passionate about social justice, think it’s important to reflect on big issues, find a state of ‘flow’ when I craft, and would like to be an activist but have yet to find my place as an introvert in that world. The collective seemed tailor-made for me.

I ordered A Little Book of Craftivism and a mini protest banner kit, and realised why embroidery is a great fit for craftivism: it’s such a direct way to communicate – whether the aim is beauty, meaning, or both.

Compared with knitting and crochet, where you create the fabric stitch by stitch, when you embroider you use an existing fabric and embellish it. When your aim is to communicate with your audience, getting straight to the message saves time and energy.

It’s a very beginner-friendly craft: you don’t need a lot of specialised knowledge or equipment, and the results of your labours are visible immediately. Even the more complex patterns require only patience, not necessarily years of practice or skill.

It’s also a great activity for warm weather climates, and very travel-friendly: you can have a whole stash of floss tucked away in one little box.

Embroidery and cross stitch are ancient arts that have been practiced all over the world, so there are centuries of rich tradition to draw upon for inspiration.

As well as all that, it’s fun. And that’s reason enough for me.

2014: I won’t miss you.

Birdwood Square, Perth

Oh, 2014, I don’t think I’ll miss you when you’re over. It’s been intense:

    I learnt how to crochet using strips of old sheets.

    My job got a whole lot bigger. More workload control. More work.

    We discovered the Perth International Vegetarian and Vegan Food Fair, held this year in April and November, and stuffed ourselves silly.

    I was diagnosed with skin cancer. Surgery. Medical bills.

    I taught two of my nieces to knit.

    I found that I was not alone in my fascination with the history, diversity, and story of textiles.

    I enrolled in study (a Cert. IV in Accounting), and despite everything else going on, managed to complete three units. Ten to go.

    I was depressed and disturbed by the trends described in this video, and then GamerGate happened.

    I made soup. And icipoles. And ate lots of burgers.

    Our computer had to be rebuilt, almost from scratch.

    I saw the end of one beloved detective series, and the resurrection of another.

    I found the Craftivist Collective, and installed my first craftivist work (see photo above).

    I discovered a love for cross-stitch.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t all bad.

How was your 2014?

DIY chocolate Paddle Pops – vegan

Vegan choc coconut ice pops / popsicles

Spring in Perth this year has been unseasonably warm, and for me, this kind of weather prompts nostalgia for the summers of my childhood: water slides, running through sprinklers, and icy poles / ice blocks (apparently known as ice pops, ice lollies or freeze pops elsewhere in the world).

One of my favourite childhood treats, the chocolate Paddle Pop, is a smooth chocolate ice-cream on a stick, and top of my To-Veganise list now that I have a freezer mould.

There’s no shortage of vegan chocolate ice pop recipes online, but I decided to start with this one – I subbed cacao powder for the cocoa, brown rice syrup for the honey (and used double the amount, actually), and after 5 minutes they were in the freezer. So far I’m finding them very rich and chocolatey – I think a little more vanilla would be great – but a good base and source of inspiration.

What memories does summer bring back for you?

Red lentil Bolognese

Pantry red lentil Bolognese

I love lentils for many reasons: they last for ages, they’re versatile, they’re a cheap source of protein and iron, and are much quicker to cook than your average bean. Red lentils in particular are great to have on hand for a quick meal, as they only take around half an hour to cook.

If your pantry’s anything like mine, this comforting dish won’t even require a trip to the shops.

Red Lentil Bolognese sauce (Serves 4)

2 C red lentils
2 C water
1 T olive oil
1 t onion flakes
1 t minced garlic
1/4 C tomato paste
2 C beef-style vegetarian stock, prepared (I use 1 t of Massel stock powder to 2 C water)
1 T red wine vinegar
Italian-style herbs (oregano, thyme, basil etc.) to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1. Put lentils and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to prevent sticking, cover, and turn down to medium heat. Cook until water is absorbed – around 5 minutes.

2. Stir in remaining ingredients, and continue to simmer, covered, for another 10-15 minutes or until lentils are soft. Make sure you keep stirring occasionally, as red lentils are notorious for sticking if you leave them too long unattended.

3. Check the seasoning and texture of your sauce, adding more water and/or cooking on low heat for a while longer if you like, to achieve your desired consistency.

4. Serve with your favourite pasta, on toast, or however you like it. Enjoy!

Soup week

I come from a family of six, and grew up learning to cook enough to feed four hungry kids, two adults, and then some. The whole family was catered for most efficiently on soup night: my general method was to get out a huge pot, pile it up with every vegetable that managed to catch my eye in the supermarket, add in a few kinds of protein, some grains and seasoning, and top it up with water.

One of the best things about making a giant pot of soup is the leftovers. Well, this is the kind of soup you can eat for a week without getting bored, because it contains every vegetable you’ve ever loved, and more besides. The flavour of each incarnation is a little different depending on the ratios of vegetables chosen, but it always tastes like ‘vegetable soup’, or maybe ‘minestrone’ if I’ve chucked in a can of tomatoes.

This is still my brain’s default soup-making method, and since I’m now only cooking for two, and have a slow-cooker of finite size to learn how to use, I need to do a little pruning. My mission this week is to try and make a few different flavours of soup, by limiting myself to one or two star vegetables (plus the ubiquitous carrot, celery and onion) at a time.

Wish me luck.

Wash day

Wash day

We had our first real rain on Saturday, almost a month into Autumn. It was so good: the scent of wet earth and newness, the drumming sound on the car windshield, the cool grey skies and the chill in the air.

I love almost everything that comes with it: a cool change, at long last; the end of another fierce Australian summer; soup and hot chocolate and cosy indoor evenings; an inbuilt excuse to avoid leaving the house (for all those extroverts out there – the introverts get it); but most importantly, a chance to bring out the handknits. Last year’s go-to cardigans and cowls, beanies and blankies come out of hiding, get washed and aired and reloved in time for another season.

The evenings are not yet cool enough to contemplate getting out the hot water bottle and flannel sheets, but when they come I’ll be ready.