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Quilting and cross-stitch art

Marking time and intergenerational relationships through domestic craft

Kevin Tam
Kevin Tam

Christmas Square

Crafting has always been a family affair for me: my interest was sparked as a young teenager, and it was my mother who taught me how to crochet, quilt and embroider, while one of her close friends who taught me to knit. Browsing the local quilt store in my hometown with my mother, I spotted a pack of Christmas-themed squares. Although I had never made my own quilt before, my mother immediately offered to buy the squares for me. This was the first complete quilt I made – a Christmas lap quilt pieced painstakingly as I would sew, rip apart, and sew again the various squares and borders. My memories of quilting are embedded in the living room carpet, where I would lay out my pieces to see how they looked as an aesthetic whole. I’m sure you can still find bits of thread that have yet to be vacuumed out of that carpet, four or five years later. With my mother’s guidance and advice, I completed this quilt, the first of many.

Kevin Tam

Georgia Peaches

Pattern, “In Praise of Peaches,” published in “Celebrations” vol. 2, #4 in the summer of 1991

When I first saw this pattern amongst the dozens of embroidery books my mother keeps in storage, I was reminded of my childhood and driving cross country in a car packed with children and parents. We used to visit my grandparents in Georgia twice a year, and perhaps the strongest memories I associate with those trips (beyond the carsickness) was the fresh Georgia peaches we would eat in the summer. So ripe they’d fall apart in our mouths, we’d eat them raw all season, cook them into jam for the winter, and bake them into pies for dessert. For me, this is a small memory brought to life by the hours of work I put into this embroidery. That’s one of the joys of cross stitch for me; you take the time to stitch every square, with love, passion, and patience, and the end result is more important, more beautiful, than any print you could get at the store. It has meaning, not only because of the design you chose yourself, but because of the time you dedicated to its making.

Kevin Tam

Summer, Summer

One of the things I enjoy about crafting is that: I can mark time by the projects I’m working on. When I worked on this piece – my first attempt at a large scale cross-stitch – it was summer, and I had just gotten a bike as a birthday gift in May. I found a photo of this piece online, and I immediately wanted to recreate it, so I scoured the Internet for a pattern of it. Finally, I found it (a rarity!), and started to stitch away. That summer, I was travelling eight hours a week to southern West Virginia for an internship. I would spend three days there in McDowell County, and four days in my hometown of Morgantown. The hot summer evenings in McDowell County were spent sweating over my work, watching Bravo, and swatting at mosquitoes and fleas (my hosts’ dogs had fleas). And each weekend, when I stayed at my mother’s house, I’d show her my progress. When it was done, over four months later, I couldn’t have been prouder of my work. A brilliant blue bicycle with flowers bursting from the basket – there was nothing that could better commemorate my summer in West Virginia.