Treasure Hunt Bookshelf, by Aimee Stewart

HAED over Heeler - I’m In Love

Oh, Look! Another Hobby!

I took up cross stitching in February of this year, spurred by a passionate desire to learn something new that could be completed in ten-minute increments. There is a tiny hat picture in a previous blog post. I also really enjoyed a few simple ornaments and a miniature embroidered flower. A lot of that earliest stitching was just practice and play, as my crafts often are. Unfortunately, my medication went a little off-balance shortly thereafter and in a fit of hypomania (I have type-II bipolar depression. It’s not fun.) I decided to take on my first-ever full-coverage cross stitch chart!

Partially finished cross stitch pattern based on Van Gogh's Starry Night

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I fell MADLY in love with a chart for Van Gogh’s Starry night a few months ago and I’m almost ten percent done with it. I’ve learned a lot in the process of working the pattern and I’m really enjoying the process. I’ll probably finish Starry Night by next summer and frame it for my husband. The Van Gogh pattern is a different breed, though - still full-coverage, but not nearly as detailed and difficult as this new undertaking.

The original artwork for my new project was called Treasure Hunt Bookshelf, by Aimee Stewart. It was charted by Michelle at Heaven And Earth Designs and it’s absolutely amazing. One piece of advice that is repeated pretty frequently in cross stitch conversations is that if you want to take on a HAED (the abbreviatd term for patterns found at the most important thing you can do is choose an image that you could stare at for years. This is due to the incredible size and detailed nature of the patterns, which can actually take years to complete. In fact, many full-coverage enthusiasts work several HAEDs at a time and don’t intend to ever actually finish one. They're called 'process stitchers' because it's the stitching itself that matters to them more than the finished project. I probably won’t finish this close-up version (I’ve been calling her The Librarian) either but she’s so GORGEOUS I had to at least start.

A close-up image from Aimee Stewart's Treasure Hunt Bookshelf; a slender woman with fiery red hair climbs a latter in a library and lovely little literary references and vignettes line the shelves along with the books

Of course, I’m useless when I do things the easy way, so I had to use a “super-size, max-color” chart and a higher fabric count than recommended. Fabric count refers to the number of stitches in one inch of cloth. Normally, Heaven and Earth Designs suggests a 25-count fabric but I decided to go just a little bit smaller with a 28-count. This would make the finished piece smaller and more detailed. It would also mean that each stitch would be smaller and more difficult to complete. It’s the first time I’ve ever needed a magnifying lamp, and the stitches are so small that I’m using a ‘tent stitch’ instead of a proper ‘cross stitch’. Learning new techniques to manage the tiny stitches helps to make the whole thing slightly less intimidating. Slightly.

Working on such a large and detailed project is definitely taking some getting used to, when I can actually sit down with it. Which is not nearly as often as I’d like because my husband and I are also managing three kids and a new puppy.

My life just isn’t chaotic enough, I guess.

Kids and a Puppy

Have you ever tried to manage a teenager, a preschooler, a toddler, a grown half-lab, and a blue-heeler puppy all at the same time? I honestly don’t recommend it. Second Son (age 5) and Only Daughter (2) are just as energetic as one would expect them to be. They’re both constantly growing and learning. She picks up new words regularly, and he LOVES puzzles and books. My teenager is… well, MY teenager - same attitude, same ADHD, same bizarre sense of humor, same executive disfunction. My kids are bright, energetic, happy, active, funny, and sometimes sweet. We laugh a lot and I am TIRED.

Now we also have a new puppy - an adorable lanky blue heeler named Reyna. I’ve never house-trained a dog before. It actually requires about as much attention and effort as toilet-training a toddler, but takes a lot longer. Also, excited puppies are very loud, they jump a lot, and their brand-new claws and teeth are quite sharp. You don’t have those issues (as much) with toddlers.

Actually, the thing about jumping? I take it back. My daughter could definitely put ANY puppy to shame in a jumping/bouncing/climbing/noisemaking contest. Her brothers have taught her well and she has similar speed and motion to a bouncing kangaroo. My sons are much the same and the amount of energy they put out can be quite breathtaking. Either that or they just run so hard it makes me feel like I’m constantly out of breath. Whatever.

I would die for my kids. I would kill for them. There is no part of me that doesn’t believe they deserve the absolute best of me and that I will do anything (literally. anything.) to be able to provide that.

Two young boys dyeing easter eggs

That’s why it’s so important to keep part of my crafty life intact. Arts and crafts are my strongest form of self-care, so I was determined to make time to start my new project, even if it meant working on it in short bursts throughout the day. I cannot be my absolute best to care for my children if I don’t also make pretty things on occasion. This is a lesson that was absolutely excruciating to learn, and one I refuse to let go of. I’ve found that having a complete kit, a designated stitching area and a flexible schedule helps me make progress even during the busiest days.

My HAED kit is much like all of my other crafting kits - fairly simple. Fabric, hoop, bobbinated floss in a box, and a magnifying lamp all live together in a large purse that’s seen better days. In one of the side pockets of said purse is a small bag containing a pair of thread snips, a finger protector, a pack of needles, and a needle threader. I rotated one of our living room recliners slightly so that the bright lamp in the corner of the room can shine directly over my shoulder while I work. I use this system for nearly every craft I do, and it’s quite effective now that I’ve adjusted to working in short spurts.

When I’m stitching (or reading, writing, drawing, painting, or whichever other thing I’d like to do on a given evening), it’s rare to have more than a few minutes without at least one of my babies needing my attention or climbing into my lap. This has caused me to turn to crafts that are easy to put away very quickly. In 15 seconds or less, I can slip my needle under a few stitches, stuff the entire project into the bag, and run out the door with a puppy before she has time to pee in front of the door. I can put a small project to the side even faster than that as a toddler snakes her way into my lap, bringing her unicorn and a blanket and her cuppy and a book and sometimes a matchbox car. I’ve come to accept that I won’t typically complete more than a few stitches at a time, and this understanding has made a big difference in my enjoyment of a given project.

The Final Result I Might Never See....

After two weeks of stitching, I have completed just over 800 stitches (which is equal to .18%) of The Librarian. Despite the challenges, I am positive I will be incredibly proud of the final product, if there ever is one.

Or even if there isn’t! My near-microscopic progress serves as a reminder that sometimes, the biggest rewards come from taking on challenges and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. I must admit, though, it definitely helps that the mockup image is absolutely beautiful and motivating. I want to hang the BIG one on a wall next to a bookcase. Cross stitching my first HAED on a higher-than-recommended fabric

A cross stitch project with only a few corner stitches completed, next to a tablet showing the chart for the pattern

count while juggling three kids and a new puppy is definitely a challenge, but it’s also a rewarding experience that’s reminding me of the value of perseverance, patience, and the importance of making time for the things we love, even if it’s just a few minutes, a few times a day.

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