I started this piece of embroidery early August, 1973. At that time I was a young 19-year-old bride of 7 months living in Iceland with my husband who was stationed at the Naval Base at Grindavek. We did not qualify for base housing so we lived in an apartment in Keflavik. I absolutely loved the whole experience and totally embraced the new adventure of living in a different country. Our apartment was modest but the view from our living room window was priceless; the Atlantic Ocean in all it’s glory and I remember thinking I’d never take that view for granted or forget. I shopped at the local stores, including going to the fish market every day for the catch of the day. Our mail came through the military base but I’d stop at the local Post Office just to visit with any one who was there at the time. Conversation was never a problem once it was apparent I was an American; they were as fascinated about Americans as I was about them. Our neighbors were wonderful, friendly people who always welcomed us into their homes with such hospitality and graciousness. Icelandic was not easy to speak but I did my best and was never made to feel foolish when I inevitably butchered their language. I’d receive smiles from the shop keepers or the person I was speaking with and then they would help with the words and phrasing. Since the winter nights were so long in Iceland you would have many different hobbies to help keep you busy. A neighbor introduced me to the art of embroidery and instead of starting out with something simple as she suggested I picked this ambitious piece. It was so large that I had to use a standing frame to hold the piece. She told me that as I worked my tapestry the back should be as neat as the front so I began working slowly and carefully.
When it was time to return to the States I only had a small portion done but I wasn’t worried, I was young and had plenty of time to get it finished. Time, however, had other ideas and before I knew it 5 years had gone by and I hadn’t touched my tapestry. I remember setting up my frame and working on the tapestry, watching my toddlers play as I carefully stitched away. I’d set it aside then return to work on it every so often. Life happens, you get busy, and before I knew it more years passed by so quickly. It was not finished when my Dad died in 1982 at the age of 47. At that time I had just about completed the left half of the tapestry to the lady’s shoulders. I no longer had the heart to work on my tapestry so I packed everything up and put it away in the attic.
More years passed so quickly and before I knew it our sons had graduated High School and eventually left home to start their own lives. Sometime during the mid 1990’s I was going through photo albums and came across pictures of our time in Iceland. Seeing those photos reminded me of my tapestry packed away in the attic all those years ago. I found it, set up my frame, and again began working on my tapestry. Watching my needle go in and out, filling each space with colored yarn, I gradually realized that when I was working on my tapestry I didn’t think about anything else. Concentrating on each stitch relaxed my mind. I worked slowly, trying to complete my stitches so that the back of the tapestry was as neat as the front, just as my friend from so long ago advised. I changed jobs during this time period so again work on my tapestry was haphazard at best but I kept it close at hand. Again the years flew by and before I knew it, we had celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Our sons married giving us daughters and within a couple of years we were blessed with the arrival of our grandchildren. There were parties, holidays, celebrations and sometimes painful goodbyes to more loved ones. Health scares, happy times, harsh words, not so happy times, tears and laughter. So much simple day-to-day life happened as I worked on my tapestry every now and then, stitch by stitch.
By April, 2010, my tapestry was almost finished except for several rows in the upper right hand corner. Mom died April 14th that year, and though I still can’t explain why, this urgency came over me to finish my tapestry. I quickly realized I didn’t have enough of the colored yarn for that section of my tapestry so off to Michaels I went, sample in hand, to try to match the color. I wasn’t able to match it exactly but I did find a color that was close enough. To this day, when I look at my tapestry I can see the color difference in that section and I am always reminded of Mom. When I told my husband it was done and showed him the completed piece he praised my work. While the back wasn’t as neat as my long ago Icelandic friend said it should be, he made me feel as if I were Monet and had completed a masterpiece. He told me we had to have it properly framed and that’s what he did. We took it to a professional framer and I remember how excited the gentleman was to work with such a large piece of embroidery. “You don’t see pieces like this very often these days” he said and recommended the use of conservator glass to protect the colors of my tapestry from fading due to sunlight. It took time to pick out the wooden frame and the colors of the matte finish to compliment the colors in my embroidery. I don’t know why, but I remember shedding some tears on the drive home the day we picked up the finished piece from the framer’s shop.
Seven years later my tapestry hangs on our bedroom wall and as I look at it I realize that each stitch, from start to finish, represents 37 years of my life. I’m reminded of our time in Iceland, the early years of our marriage, the births of our children and their growing years. I look at different parts of my tapestry and I’m able to remember certain events in my life both happy and sorrowful. Until I started this story, however, I also realize that I never really saw the beauty of the piece as my husband did. What I saw was failure because it took so many years to complete something that I had started so very long ago. Not any more.
My tapestry represents a life….mine. I am as much a part of that tapestry as the colored yarn that makes up the picture because looking at it now, I remember my desire to create something beautiful when I selected this very ambitious piece all those years ago. Viewing it with different eyes, I also see that it contains my hopes and dreams through all those long years. There is heartache, joy and life in my tapestry. Different parts of the picture hold the tears I sometimes cried while working, soaking into the yarn and becoming a permanent part of my tapestry. My tapestry has absorbed all the love shared during those 37 years, and I now see, as my husband always did, something of beauty, something that holds a part of me in each and every stitch. I accomplished my desire of long ago to create something beautiful and despite time I did it…..one stitch at a time.