I spent much of my girlhood with my Aunt Betty, who went to work early every morning. "Don't go outside until I get home," she emphatically said, leaving me alone to while away the hours as best I could. She didn't own a television, so I occupied myself reading her books and magazines, playing her records, and listening to such greats as Glen Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como. "You're wearing out my records," she told me one day. "You need something else to do."
Off we went to the local five and dime store where she purchased a set of seven bleached feed sack towels, skeins of colored embroidery floss, embroidery needles, an embroidery hoop, and a package of hot iron transfers. We returned to her home, where we cut out the transfers and positioned them on the feed sack towels. Using her steam iron, we pressed the transfer for 30 seconds until it magically appeared on the fabric.
"Wah-lah!” she exclaimed and then began showing me how to cut the embroidery floss, thread it into the needle, and knot it. “The inner circle of your embroidery hoop goes on the backside of the fabric, like so, while the outer circle goes on the front side where you’ll be embroidering,” she continued. “Now, fit the two circles together and tighten the screw, holding the frame securely together, making the fabric tight.”
She placed the hoop and fabric in my left hand and placed the needle in my right hand. “Start your stitches in the right spot,” she said, guiding my hand. “Remember to move from the background to the foreground and make even small stitches. Great! Now you can embroider while I'm at work."
And so I did, lost in choosing the color of the thread, embroidering the design, and making the pattern come alive. Over the course of several weeks, I created seven towels—one for each day of the week that represented the widely accepted daily duties for women of the time. Monday: wash day; Tuesday: ironing day; Wednesday: sewing and mending Day; Thursday: go to market day; Friday: clean house day; Saturday: baking day; Sunday: day of rest (or church attendance).
I loved embroidering from the start. It allowed me to fill the time and occupy my mind, especially when I was feeling a bit "stitch" or out of sorts. Embroidering also gave me an opportunity to express my creativity, something I valued. I still have many of my girlhood embroidery pieces. When I look at them, I realize that embroidering also taught me some pretty important life skills: how to plan; how to be patient, determined, and meticulous; and how to take pride in my work and my uniqueness.
I still enjoy embroidering, especially when I’m feeling "stitchy" and need to focus on something other than myself. At those times, I’m grateful for my aunt and all I learned while using a simple embroidery hoop, a needle, and skeins of colorful thread.