My interest in cross stitch is relatively recent. The first piece I am aware of really noticing was in September 1987. This was at an Arts and Craft Exhibition at the Waigani Arts Centre in Papua New Guinea. The very next day I bought a chart, some fabric, threads and a needle and the rest is history - I was hooked! There was no going back. Do one piece of cross stitch and you're addicted for life.
Since that day I have stitched innumerable pieces, designing in excess of one hundred and thirty of them. I am constantly being asked how I go about designing. It seems that I work completely in reverse to the way that is usually taught. I design by stitching first, charting what I have done as each thread or area of colour is completed. It never ceases to amaze me that, when sitting with pen on graph paper, so many people will ask: 'Do you work that all out on computer first?' But then again, I am often asked if I am working in acrylics or watercolours. Have I tried oils? Have I ever tried designing anything original? And there I am sitting outside my little gallery that is crammed with all the originals that I have managed to keep my hands on.
It has been suggested that I have the largest range of cross stitch originals on display anywhere, but I am not able to confirm or dispute this.
I dearly love detail. Possibly this stems from a life-time involvement with art. A letter to my parents from a United States marine shortly after the end of the Second World War asked: 'Does little Graeme still keep up his interest in art?' And that was when I was still in my early teens.
I was born in Ballarat, Victoria, in December 1932 and my childhood was spent on the family property of Avondale at Miners Rest. Two of my cross stitch designs, 'Early Avondale' and 'The Hayshed', were inspired by this period of my life.
The last year of my schooling was spent at the Arts Faculty of the School of Mines, Ballarat. Here the greater part of the year was spent designing such items as toothpaste packets and lettering our names over and over and over in precise detail. I found it all most uninspiring.
After joining the workforce at the age of fourteen, I became a window dresser where, once again, artistic flair and attention to detail were the all-important factors.
In 1961 I answered the call of the wild and flew off to distant shores to train as a teacher of English as a foreign language in Rabaul, then in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. After graduation I was posted to Manus Island. It was then that my interest in needlework began, with my first piece being worked in hessian, using any form of thread that I could obtain in the village trade store.
In 1968 I resigned from teaching and moved to the national capital of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby. There I began working on insect screen, once again using any form of thread I could lay my hands on. During this period I also illustrated five children's books, created a deck of playing cards with all the court cards featuring warriors and women of Papua New Guinea, and held an exhibition of traditional designs worked on stained and carved plywood, which was a great success and sold out.
At this stage I came upon my first genuine canvas and tapestry wools. From that day until the time that I discovered cross stitch, I designed needlepoint pieces. Three of these were purchased by the Governor-General and were hung in Government House in Port Moresby.
I find that designing and stitching in public has its amusing moments, some of the comments I hear are really worth repeating. During my very first week of stitching in public, when I was still feeling particularly embarrassed about it all, a woman came along and said: 'You look stupid sitting there doing that!' I could feel myself shrinking when she added: 'That's woman's work!'
There was the dear old soul in Melbourne who walked right up, looked me directly in the eyes, and said: 'You don't do cross stitch on a tapestry frame'. Maybe she does not, but I do, and I prefer it that way. My work never needs washing, and I find it easier, quicker and far neater.
Of course there are the argumentative ones, like a woman in Cairns who asked: 'Is that long stitch or needlepoint you're doing?' I replied that it was cross stitch. 'I know it's cross stitch', she snapped, 'What I want to know is, is it petit point or gros point?'
And then there was the day when I had a deaf and mute friend sitting beside me. A woman was deeply engrossed in conversation with him, a fact of which he was unaware. I excused myself and said: 'Pardon me, Madam, but he's totally deaf. He can't hear a thing.' Her response was: 'I was talking to him, not you!'
One encounter is particularly memorable. I was verbally abused for asking $8 for a chart of one of my designs. The customer was outraged; she told me so in no uncertain terms. 'I'll buy one cheaper when I get back to England', she said. I mentioned that she would not be able to buy one in England. 'If I want to buy one in England, I will!' I assured her that as the design was very new and had not been released on the market, she could purchase it only from me. 'Well, when I get home I'll buy something else!' and off she stormed.
This is not an Irish joke. I was serving a young Irish tourist who was rapt in my Kookaburra design. 'Could I do it smaller?' she asked. I suggested that if she did it on 18 count fabric it would be smaller. 'How much smaller?' she asked. Not being a mathematical genius and not having a calculator on hand, I suggested that it would be approximately 25 per cent smaller. 'Oh, that's good,' she said, 'I certainly wouldn't have time to do anything that big!'
One poor young thing I felt truly sorry for. I was stitching a bought design of a Siamese cat. A young mother and her very small son were walking past behind me when the son, in the shrillest voice imaginable, called: 'Look, Mummy, the lady's knitting a cat!'
I really do like to try and look after my eyes despite all that I subject them to. Daily I hear the comment: 'You must have wonderful eyesight!' In fact, I have wonderful glasses, although they are four years old. What is more wonderful still is the 60-watt daylight globe that I always work under. This gives adequate lighting with no uncomfortable glare. An American tourist recently told me she was having trouble because her eyes weren't what they used to be and I suggested she try working under a light like mine. 'I always work under 300 watts', she informed me. The glare would be unbearable.
All of this leads to the comment I hear almost daily: 'You must have been doing cross stitch all your life'. Possibly my life was leading up to it and I merely traded paints and brushes to paint with a needle and thread. A comment that I treasure came from an American tourist: she told me that I have changed cross stitch from a craft into an art form. I can only hope that you will share her feelings. I dearly love cross stitch; each piece is unique and much love has gone into its creation. I hope you too will grow to feel as I do.
Please contact Ross Originals if you have any further questions.