What a ride.
In my last post, I explained how my 365 project got started. I’ve posted regularly on my Instagram about the project from the beginning, but now that I am almost finished, I can look back and start to see the bigger picture. I am sure that I will have a lot more to say about it as I get further away from it, so while I am still close and things are fresh and raw, let me lay down the broad strokes of what my 2021 was like.
The curtains of 2021 drew back on a dismal scene: me and Guy and our doggo Howie, newly removed from our home of eight years, hundreds of miles from our social networks, crammed into less than 200 square feet of my dad’s unfinished basement, not yet one year into a global pandemic, facing unprecedented political uncertainty (even before 1/6), unemployed, no plan for what comes next. “Depressed” is too flimsy a word to describe the rock-bottom outlook I had on the world.
Make Don’t Break (the monthlong community initiative led by Shannon Downey of Badass Cross Stitch) was exactly what I needed. It gave me something to focus my energy on each day, and something to look forward to. A couple of days in, I itched for something tangible to do with that energy, and this was the perfect companion piece. It was easy and fun to make something every day.
Having developed that habit in January, and because I had literally nothing else going on in my life, it was not too tough to keep the project going in February. I wanted to do something useful with my time and energy, so I decided to celebrate Black History Month by writing about a lesser-known Black figure (mostly women) from American history each day and matching my embroidery colors to that person somehow. I spent 2-3 hours every day researching and writing (then editing) a couple thousand words before ever sitting down to stitch, which took another 45-60 minutes at that point. I learned an incredible amount about Black and American history, but it was the *most* time-consuming thing and so, so, so stressful!
When March rolled around, I was so relieved not to have to write an essay every day that I started experimenting a bit with the stitching itself. Up until then, I was strictly doing satin stitch, which is a deceptively simple stitch that easily strays to messy, especially at the scale I’m stitching. Satin stitch is boring, and I got a real jolt out of doing anything different. In April, I tried to think of each segment as a miniature piece of art, which gave me permission to experiment with textures, patterns, types of stitches, and colors. This was exceedingly fun for a while.
Then in mid-April, we moved, and the transition fully disrupted my established routine. While I mostly kept stitching, the two weeks of driving back and forth between living spaces and then another month of getting settled (and getting a new dog, as though we didn’t have enough going on) slowed me down. I skipped several days, I grumbled to Guy about having to stitch, and at several points, I wanted to quit altogether. Fortunately, a trip to Mexico over Memorial Day reset my overall mood (thanks, mom!)
I redoubled my efforts and rededicated myself to the project in June. To get my groove back, I celebrated Pride month with daily personal mini-essays and the most elaborate stitching designs yet. It was twice as fun as either January or February had been, because I truly treated each segment as its own little masterpiece. I enjoyed my trips down memory lane, the things I learned about queer history along the way, and the creative ways I incorporated it all into tiny stitches. With that momentum (and an adequate amount of vitamin D from the summer sun), I sailed through July and August.
September got a little dicey. Though I’d started working (at a job, for an employer) again in July, in September I took on another shift, and something about that relatively small change interrupted my flow. I skipped days, then didn’t have the oomph to come back to them. The fading summer weather didn’t help at all, and this malaise carried through into October and the beginning of November. I tried to keep up, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Then in November, something shifted again. I was phoning it in, but mediocrity is not my M.O., so I had to choose: I could either limp on to the end and let the whole thing fizzle, or refresh my commitment and finish the project with style. Maybe it was the encroaching holiday season and the inevitable end of the year that loomed beyond, but after I accidentally stitched on the wrong segment one day, I finally found the strength to pull myself together.
Thus, December arrived, and I decided to really go for it. These were the last 31 segments I would ever stitch on this project, I reasoned, so I should make the most of it. I pulled out the stops, cranked it to 11, went above and beyond. By mid-month, it definitely got out of control, but I am 100% delighted that this piece has finally taken on a life of its own. I feel like a parent who’s seen their child go from birth and the sunny stages of childhood, through the dark and brooding teenage years, and into the full bloom of adulthood. I’m so proud!
Here is the completed piece in all its glory:
I think this project has changed me. I knew it would be a massive undertaking, but I knew in my bones that it would help center me during a tumultuous time, and it did. It also challenged me in good ways—I encountered questions like, “what is the color of hope?” and, “how does my experience translate to art?” and it made me see the world differently. It connected me to myself every day, asked me to be present, if only for a few minutes, and gently persuaded me to think about things in a way I otherwise wouldn’t. I truly hope I can bring this reflective practice with me into the next project.
Happy Gregorian New Year, friends! I extend to you all my best wishes and highest hopes for a return to the sane and precedented.