In the past weeks, I have spent a lot of time on our carport. I am here now. It is breezy, shady, and mostly peaceful.
Our house sits on the corner of a busy highway—which, in rural Kentucky, is still a winding, two-lane road—and a quiet side street.
If I sit with my back to the highway, I can tune out the traffic. Unless it’s a big truck with a loud muffler. (We get those a lot.) Or a motorcycle. Without the noise pollution of vehicles, the remaining sounds are largely natural: chirping and twittering birds, the rustle of leaves in the wind, the distant coo of doves.
And if I sit still enough, animals start to appear.
(It helps that we’ve dangled bird feeders from the trees.)
Squirrels. Robins. A pair of cardinals. The occasional mockingbird or blue jay. And most surprisingly to me, dragonflies. Big ones.
There is also a lizard we’ve named Wizard. And Mr. Miyagi, the orange tabby cat who has hung around our place for years now, though he is more skittish than he used to be.
Right now there are three squirrels: one hanging upside down on the cage feeder, one posed by the ditch, and another bounding diagonally across the yard.
But the tight hiss of the air hose in the garage, where Dale is working, just sounded, so now, no squirrels are in sight.
Then an air conditioning unit, ours or our neighbor’s, kicked on. Teenaged voices rose from the yard behind ours. Joining them: the rapid bang of firecrackers, a barking dog.
Here, the manmade hum and racket alternate with brief moments of swelling, singing, buzzing nature.
The neighbor across the side street has a pond. It is encircled by a ring of reeds and cattails. Sometimes frogs croak. Sometimes red-winged blackbirds, who rarely visit our yard, fly over the pond.
To the other side, our neighbor on the highway has large, backyard trees with branches that reach across the property line and mingle with the branches of ours. The park-like shade of our adjoining yards is backed by a ditch, on the other side of which is a dense wood.
The wood only extends partway along the back of our property. The tree line stops sharply at the yard of the firecracker neighbors.
We’ve allowed the ditch that separates us to become overgrown with its own cattails and reeds and a few young willows. That’s where the cardinals and jays like to play.
So even though it is that noisy yard that I face from my chair here on the carport, the old growth of trees and the newer growth of—yes—weeds create a barrier of green.
I keep coming back out here because, despite and maybe because of all the visible and audible busyness of humans and beasts, it is serene.
In the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I scrambled to do something. Shortly after the inauguration this past January, I found the concept of craftivism and started following a few craftivists on Twitter and Instagram. I even started a few craftivist projects of my own creation with the help of these cool sites: StitchPoint and Stitch Fiddle.
I bought hoops, needles, white and black Aida cloth, and a plastic case of, like, a hundred different bobbins of embroidery floss organized by color. My adolescent self would have killed for this setup.
But what you see here is as far as I got. I didn’t finish out the You belong here message in any way—just left it in the working hoop. No continents ever filled in the gaps between the oceans. The message We are all citizens of the same planet never framed the globe.
I got frustrated with counting the watery blue stitches and left it all alone.
Having bobbed up for air long enough to make this progress, I soon sank back down into the darkness that consumed me until, a month or so later, I fought my way back out through fiber arts.
I dove into yarn headfirst: spinning, knitting, crochet, dyeing. I reopened in my mind the concept of Fencerow Fibers and soon opened the Etsy shop. I made sales and started taking custom orders. I joined my creative friends in displaying my work for sale under tents and on tables at markets and fiber retreats. I found communities of spinners, knitters, and independent dyers on social media platforms.
I found joy in making, sharing, and—let’s do be honest here—making a little money while I’m at it.
I still find joy in these things, but I also feel a little bit like those birds and squirrels in my back yard, flitting and bouncing from one tree to the next.
And I find joy in that, too.
A few weeks ago, in the serenity of this spot on the carport, I began a little side project.
One of the craftivists I follow shared a link to a free cross stitch pattern by Julie Taylor, and immediately, I knew that I must make it and send it to the senior senator from my state, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
I selected the black Aida cloth for striking contrast and spent the day on the carport stitching the message. I did have to modify the border and include only one heart (instead of the pattern’s two) because I didn’t center my cloth well.
And when I finished, I felt a sense of pride stronger than I had in a long while. Pride in my stitching. Pride in my choice to act. Pride in my country, which is so threatened.
And then, like a bee happily and busily buzzing from one sweet blossom to the next, I was drawn into the fragrance of embroidery.
With a tiny needle and some embroidery floss, I’ve found a way to merge my color and fiber loves with my voice.
The voice that started to break through its shell when I started this blog. In that first post, I wrote, When words fail me, yarn is how I create.
And somehow, I’ve plied those two—words and yarn*—together into something stronger.
My voice is stronger when stitching a few words or images into cloth. Strong enough to communicate my love for where I’m from: this state, this country, this planet. Strong enough to resist the patriarchy and this national nightmare. Strong enough to advocate for equality. Strong enough to embrace joy, mindfulness, and self-love. Strong enough celebrate sassiness, subversiveness, and stitchery itself.
That little side project gave me the strength to finish that first hoop: You belong here.
That little side project, the reminder to choose country over party, finally went in the mail two days ago, addressed 601 W. Broadway, Room 630, Louisville KY 40202—the same day the senate committee unveiled its heinous healthcare proposal, intending to simultaneously cut medical benefits for the most vulnerable people in our country and cut taxes for the wealthiest.
It gave me strength to embroider more and make them available for purchase at the market.
I sold some. Some are now in the Etsy shop, and more are on the way.
Holly commissioned one inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale, and I quickly received requests for more, which I am happily making with custom colors.
I am trying not to feel any guilt around this departure from my original Fencerow Fibers yarn-and-spinning-fiber path. Part of me whispers that I am flighty and noncommittal.
What is that voice? Whose is it? Why should I feel bad for buzzing from this to that? It’s not like I’ve signed some contract.
Instead, I’m trying to trust my intuition. To follow my joy. To do what makes me happy. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
In writing, I have found that falling down one rabbit hole after another leads me to exactly where a project wants to be—where I want to be—all along.
This is no different.
Maybe embroidery is where I’m headed. Maybe embroidery will illuminate the next step on this path.
(I can get pleasantly lost in lists of fonts while designing embroidered messages. Hmm.)
Anyway, I’m not sure knowing that answer matters.
I do know that the process of gathering ideas for embroidered messages helps me circle around my values and occasionally turns up deeper ones I had forgotten. And the decision to embroider them or not is an unexpected and helpful litmus test: Do I believe this strongly enough to stitch it?
Maybe I’ll stitch something body positive. Maybe I’ll return to that water and fill in the continents.
I’ll keep finding joy and strength in floating from one flower—from one tree, from one project, from one form—to the next.
* In the embroidery section of my late aunt’s 1979 copy of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Needlework, the written instruction for making stitches refers to thread or floss as yarn, which took me by surprise, though it shouldn’t have. The word hilo in Spanish can refer to thread, yarn, or floss. It’s all just string. A rope to pull myself up by—and when woven, a net to catch me when I fall.