A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time



One of the oldest forms of being creative is often one of the most overlooked and underappreciated – sewing.  Early humankind needed coverings and the art of sewing created them.  Sewing is much more than simply joining two pieces of fabric, though.   It also includes decorative stitches and the art of quilting.  Grammy-winning pop musician Mary J Blige is an avid quilter, explaining that “I like to do interior design; I love to quilt.  I love to see different colors together, and I love to match thing up.”


Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. In this way, it has been practiced for decades.  The origin of embroidery can be dated back to Cro-Magnon days or 30,000 BC. During a recent archaeological find, fossilized remains of heavily hand-stitched and decorated clothing, boots and a hat were found.  In Siberia, around 5000 and 6000 B.C. elaborately drilled shells stitched with decorative designs onto animal hides were discovered. Chinese thread embroidery dates back to 3500 B.C. where pictures depict embroidery of clothing with silk thread, precious stones and pearls. Examples of surviving Chinese chain stitch embroidery worked in silk thread have also been found and dated to the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC).


Embroidery and most other fiber and needlework arts are believed to originate in the Orient and Middle East. Primitive humankind quickly found that the stitches used to join animal skins together could also be used for embellishment. Recorded history, sculptures, paintings and vases depicting inhabitants of various ancient civilizations show people wearing thread-embroidered clothing.


Thicker filaments were woven into heavy yarn and today, some acrylic yarn is made from recycled water bottles.  Can we do sewing with these and call it being creative?  The answer is a resounding yes and this type of sewing is known as crochet… sometimes.  Ruthie Marks explains:  “You and I call it crochet, and so do the French, Belgians, Italians and Spanish-speaking people. The skill is known as haken in Holland, haekling in Denmark, hekling in Norway and virkning in Sweden. … No one is quite sure when and where crochet got its start. The word comes from croc, or croche, the Middle French word for hook, and the Old Norse word for hook is krokr.


American crochet expert Annie Potter, has a different theory: “The modem art of true crochet as we know it today was developed during the 16th century. It became known as ‘crochet lace’ in France and ‘chain lace’ in England.” She also refers to a 1916 visit by Walter Edmund Roth to descendants of the Guiana Indians in which Roth found examples of true crochet.


Fiber arts researcher Lis Paludan of Denmark, who limited her search for the origins of crochet to Europe, puts forth three interesting theories. One: Crochet originated in Arabia, spread eastward to Tibet and westward to Spain, from where it followed the Arab trade routes to other Mediterranean countries. Two: Earliest evidence of crochet came from South America, where a primitive tribe was said to have used crochet adornments in rites of puberty. Three: In China, early examples were known of three-dimensional dolls worked in crochet.  But, says Paludan, the bottom line is that there is “no convincing evidence as to how old the art of crochet might be or where it came from. It was impossible to find evidence of crochet in Europe before 1800. A great many sources state that crochet has been known as far back as the 1500s in Italy under the name of ‘nun’s work’ or ‘nun’s lace,’ where it was worked by nuns for church textiles,” she says. Her research turned up examples of lace-making and a kind of lace tape, many of which have been preserved, but “all indications are that crochet was not known in Italy as far back as the 16th century”- under any name.


Another form of fiber arts is knitting.  Knitting is the process of using two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment or some other type of fabric. The word is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, to knot. Its origins lie in the basic human need for clothing for protection against the elements. More recently, hand knitting has become less a necessary skill and more a hobby.


Knit as a word in English has probably come from Knot meaning to tie. In old English there are references to ‘knit/ knitting’ meaning to draw close, (knitting the brows), which we even use today. More often than not the history of a word, tells us a lot about the craft, e.g. ‘weaving’ as a word exists in many languages, but knitting does not. There is no ancient Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit word for knitting.  The art of combining fibers to make fabric is where weaving got its start but why some languages use the two terms interchangeably is unknown. 


Like the other forms of creativity we are discussing this week, the needle arts also have health benefits.  Anna Deen listed them for AllFreeSewing.com:  Sewing is a relaxing alternative to watching TV and scrolling on our computers. Screen time leads to a sensory overload—while watching your favorite TV show may seem relaxing, such an activity is actually tiring and leads to feelings of unrest and unhappiness. However, because sewing is a purposeful, completion-based activity, you actually feel relaxed, focused, and accomplished while sewing!  Sewing is a great social activity with which to meet people and form sewing groups, get advice, and build relationships with others who share similar interests. You can join both online groups as well as attend in-person meet ups to build sewing communities and friendships.  Focusing on one activity helps relieve stress and focus your thoughts after a long day. By focusing on sewing, you become mindful of concentrating on one activity at a time, which helps you feel relaxed.


 Additionally, there are mental health benefits as well.  Sewing can help decrease levels of depression? When you do an activity that you enjoy (like sewing!), your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which is a natural antidepressant. By sewing, your brain releases dopamine which makes you feel happy and decreases depression.  Working through a sewing pattern gives you a sense of accomplishment. This feeling of accomplishment improves your levels of self-esteem and confidence. The high confidence levels you get from sewing help you overcome hurdles in other parts of your life.


At its most basic, sewing and the other fiber arts require us to focus both physically and mentally on a task. It’s hard to sew if you’re not paying attention – many a pricked finger stands testament to this. So if you’re concentrating on your sewing you can’t be worrying about what to give the kids for supper, or fretting about problems at work.  Monica Baird, pain specialist at the Royal United Hospital Bath states “It changes brain chemistry for the better, possibly by decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good serotonin and dopamine.”  It also improves eye-hand coordination and assist the elderly in emotional, social, and cognitive skills.


 A stitch in time might just save your sanity and increase your life span, as well as helping clothe someone and decorate one’s abode.  By the way, that famous quote goes like this:   “A stitch in time saves nine” and means an action taken now will prevent problems later.  It was first used by the English astronomer Francis Baily, in his Journal, written in 1797 and published in 1856 by Augustus De Morgan:  After a little while we acquired a method of keeping her [a boat] in the middle of the stream, by watching the moment she began to vary, and thereby verifying the… proverb, ‘”A stitch in time saves nine.”   By being creative with the needle arts, a stitch in time might just increase your life span.

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