Cross-Stitch – Revealing and Healing Mental Health Issues

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Cross-stitch work of house with mice

Copyright Liz BlackX
One of the works my grandmother made for me

Three years ago, while randomly browsing through AliExpress, I found cheap cross stitch kits. They were complete kits with a pattern, a canvas, floss and needles. And maybe you think they only sell boring old-fashioned sets with flowers, but that’s where you’re wrong. They carry a broad range of designs with the cutest animal pictures, landscapes and cartoon drawings. Of course, it’s also possible to send in your own photo to have it converted to a customised pattern.

Family Tradition

The reason it caught my attention was that my grandmother was a fervent lover of cross-stitching. Throughout her life, she crafted the most beautiful and elaborate pieces. I know my father, too, has stitched up works now and then. So I figured it would be an excellent way to continue a family tradition.
My husband figured I would get bored within three weeks, and he would have to finish the project. That’s not what happened.

Finished Product

The first full-size work I finished was a picture of a cat with birds. I remember stitching a lot while watching television that winter. I actually ordered a second kit, because I didn’t have enough floss. It wasn’t the fault of the company who sold it to me, I made a rookie mistake in the way I handled rows of stitches. The feeling of relief when I finished this piece was overwhelming. I actually burst into tears.

Mental Health

Two cross-stitch pieces of Zodiac signs Cancer and Virgo

Copyright Liz BlackX
Two Zodiac pieces I made, a Cancer boy for my husband, and a Virgo girl for me

Since that time, I have started many projects, and I wish I could say I burst into happy tears many times since. Nope, that’s not the case. I’ve switched to a different project every time before finishing one.
Unfortunately, my mental health issues prevent me from completing these projects.
First of all, working on this craft is calming. It’s great to be working on something with my hands, instead of the mind-work I do for my writing. It’s incredible to see a work come to life. I sometimes listen to podcasts or audiobooks at the same time, which can make for a great distraction. This handiwork does have benefits for me.

Lack of Confidence

Cross stitch work of two kittens

Copyright Liz BlackX
The first work that went wrong.

The problem is my fear of failure, combined with my perfectionism. Instead of using pre-printed canvases, I have worked on projects using a blank piece of cloth. The trick is that you count the pattern and copy it correctly on the fabric. I can do this perfectly fine. Until I make a mistake.
Now, I don’t mind making a mistake and taking apart a section of what I have made. It becomes problematic when I find out I’ve done something wrong a good while later when it’s impossible to just remove the crosses

So far, I’ve had to abandon two projects for this reason. In my eyes, they were unsalvageable. I asked my husband for help, but we didn’t find a solution. I didn’t want to take out a chunk of the work I had already done, because I didn’t think I’d have enough floss to redo the bit that went wrong and finish the project.
One of these failed projects should have been a birthday gift last December. I was extremely disappointed with my failure. We gave that friend another present, so it wasn’t an issue, just a hit at my confidence.

Cross stitch work of three animals and hearts

Copyright Liz BlackX
The piece I was making for a friend

Ever since then, I’m scared to pick up my cross-stitching. I have two massive projects that I would love to finish one day. They’re challenging, so the chances of making a similar mistake are enormous. I have one medium-sized work that I still want to finish, but I’m too scared to work on it now.

Trying Again

Cross stitch work of two cats

Copyright Liz BlackX
The one I am working on right now

Instead of working on a blank canvas one, I’ve picked up one of my older pre-dyed canvases to work on during the lock-down. I’ve also ordered a small work of a sleeping deer, with pre-dyed cloth, to see if I can finish a project this size and get my mojo back.

One Day

I really hope to get back into cross-stitching again. Working on it makes me calmer, and it gives me a certain sense of satisfaction. If only my mind wouldn’t block me so much, maybe I’ll one day be able to shed tears of relief and accomplishment. But, the way I see it right now, that day might be far away.


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