A Most Powerful Word: Welcome

10 March 2021

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It was January, 2018. The word was neatly written by hand onto robin’s-egg-blue- coloured fabric with white flowers, and then carefully covered using a back stitch in red embroidery floss.

It was a perfectly imperfect first embroidery project, and it was impossible to miss the pride and hopefulness on her face as she held it in her hands.

I told her it was lovely. She replied, “One day I will hang it on a wall so that when my friends visit they’ll see it… when I have a home.”

It is a memory that sometimes catches in my throat like a knot in thread, but I am grateful that she shared her hopes and dreams, and that moment, with me. 

Click here for the embroidery pattern designed by Laurie Dolhan, inspired by her student’s work and this essay.

It is one of many gifts I have received over many years of volunteering. I have been leading craft programs on a volunteer basis since I was twenty-six years old—that’s twenty years working off and on with people of varying ages, abilities and circumstances, almost all experiencing poverty. For the past three years, I have volunteered with an organization that helps women and children experiencing homelessness. It is an honour to be invited to share, and a privilege to be able to contribute. 

I don’t lead workshops very often. It takes a lot of focus and patience and “peoplingfor this introvert, so I need to save up extra mental space and energy for each workshop. I do it because I strongly believe that everyone should have access to the comfort of craft. It’s healing, inspiring, and practical. And making is always an act of faith—the faith that our own hands will make something from nothing but a vision for how our finished creations will inhabit our lives or the lives of others. We need reminders of what we are capable of creating, and we grow through learning when things don’t go as planned.

Throughout history, we as human beings have spun, woven, knit, and stitched intention and love into our everyday. Nothing says home to me like the simple softness and comfort of handmade fibres.

Image description: Embroidery hoop close-up, being held in one hand, with blue fabric with white flowers stretched in the hoop, with "WELCOME" embroidered in red thread.

Laurie’s student’s embroidery, featuring the word, “Welcome.”

My grandmother’s granny square blanket, tatted linens from a hope chest, a quilted pillow from a lover, a child’s name embroidered into the lining of a jacket—threads are both magical and ordinary. A full range of life experience and emotion has been channeled into generations of hand worked pieces.

As a child, I would run my fingers across knitted blankets searching for a break in a pattern, a slipped stitch or a colour out of place. I had hoped to find proof of the imperfect to make light of my own youthful clumsiness, but I was continually disappointed. I no longer feel compelled to search for imperfections in my own or in the work of others. Experience has taught me that the imperfections are and always have been there, even when I couldn’t see them. Machines make “perfect; humans make art.

As someone with a history of anxiety and depression, at times crippling, the act of making has always been an important tool in my wellness toolbox. Working with textiles pulls me out of dark and sharp places, one stitch running into the next and the next. I love the tactile feel of fibres in my hands, and the rhythm of needles or hooks is a moving meditation.

 Over the years, I have learned to favour practice over perfection. Making is a pleasure I find time for almost every day. Although I make my living designing embroidery patterns, I still feel like stitching is a treasured moment for myself. In addition to my own patterns, I stitch designs from other artists I admire. Sometimes, I mend clothing or add a little something special to make it more special.

My stairwell is an evolving homage to embroidery. Lined almost from top to bottom with finished embroidery pieces, there is still vertical space to fill with future treasures. I love walking up and down the stairs admiring each piece; it’s a short trip filled with beautiful memories. Most of the hoops were stitched by me, but others were gifts or purchases. I love them all. I moved into my house ten years ago, but it did not feel like home until I created that one wall only a few months ago.

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Home. Photo credit Laurie Dolhan.

Since the start of the pandemic, more and more people have returned to craft. There is comfort and joy in the making, as well as in  the creating of a fuller, more meaningful sense of “home. The sharing of perfectly imperfect first efforts on Instagram and Facebook fills me with wonder and happiness. I feel a strong sense of connection with so many makers in this time of disconnect. We share messages and Zoom calls with other makers and stitchers around the world. I imagine long threads, cut into pieces and sent all over the world to be made into new things by different hands. In a strange way, we’re at home both alone and together.

Of course, “staying homeis predicated on actually having a home to stay in. It makes me sad to think that there are people that do not have the basic comfort and security of housing.

A few years have passed since I met the woman with her hand-stitched welcome sign. I’ve thought about her more often these days, and I hope that she is safe and happy. Maybe she has continued to stitch. I hope that she has made her own home and that her “welcome” hoop has taken its well-deserved pride of place.

And when the world is safer and we invite friends to gather again, I hope that her guests always feel… WELCOME.

Make Your Own "Welcome" Embroidery

Make an embroidery from Laurie Dolhan’s design, so your guests can share in a warm welcome to your home when we are once again able to gather.

Featured photo credit Laurie Dolhan.

Copyright © Laurie Dolhan except as indicated.
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About Laurie Dolhan

Laurie is the artist behind the Hook, Line & Tinker craft studio in Ketch Harbour, Nova Scotia. "As part of my journey to date, I have been a Jersey Girl, a Yukon Sourdough, and now I'm what some Nova Scotians refer to as a CFA (come-from-away). Like my favourite things, I have been lost, found, and creatively reworked. Throughout my life, I have always been making something or other. Craft has given me joy, comfort, and taught me patience too."

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