13 May 2008

A stitcher is born

I started stitching very young. My mother did various needlecrafts, including machine and hand embroidery and applique, and she was quite happy to pass those skill on to me. The first thing I remember making was a sunglasses case made from two pieces of felt, blanket stitched together with all 6 strands of embroidery floss and a very big needle. I was probably about 6 or 7 at the time, and for all I know my mother still has that case.

I didn't start stitching in a big way until I was 15, and the opportunity came my way of a Saturday job in a newly opened needlecraft shop in the next village. Most stitchers I know would love a job in an LNS with the main danger being that of spending all your pay before you leave each day, so it became with me.

The shop was called Threadneedle House, in Nuneham Courtenay near Oxford. Sadly it closed down many years ago, but I'm sure there's plenty of people out there who still remember it. It was a tiny shop crammed to the rafters with all things needlecraft. There were threads hanging on the walls, threads in baskets on the surfaces, little bags of beads, bundles of fibres of all kinds, fabrics, wools and charts.

The shop was very popular with the Oxfordshire Needlecraft City & Guilds people as the owner of the shop would hunt out balls and skeins of unusual threads, then chop them up into lengths of 2 or 3 yards, skein them up and they would be sold for around 30p a bundle. Every year there would be an exhibition of that year's City & Guilds work, and then the walls would be hung with fantastic pieces of fabric and fibre art. I remember one year the students had made boxes, but it wasn't just the outside of the boxes that were decorated, inside there were three dimensional scenes. One in particular that I remember was all browns and greens on the outside, with forest scenes, then you opened up the box and there was the forest, miniature trees and shrubs all made from wire wrapped with textured fibres. They were amazing and inspirational.

I worked in the shop on Saturdays, and occasionally weekdays during the school holidays, for three years until I went off to University. In that time I learned a tremendous amount about cross stitch, tapestry and embroidery, and the materials used for each. I also learned an invaluable lesson about customer service, real customer service, where every customer was equally important whether they ended up spending £1 or £100. If it took two hours to ensure a customer was completely happy with their purchase and ended up with all the right materials, then that was just how long it took. This meant that the shop had an excellent reputation and we got people visiting from all over the country, and coming back again and again for more.

This was when my personal stash hoarding started. Some Saturdays I had spent all my pay before I even received it. During the day, when it was quiet, I would put aside those items I wanted to buy, and at then at the end of the day I would be paid, and would then pay for my goodies. Of course it didn't hurt to get a 10% staff discount.

So that was the start of my stitching habit.

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