One full year into the Covid-19 pandemic, Alyssa Hertzig has discovered a new way to practice self-care…and it’s about as old-fashioned as it gets. In this month’s “Life with the Girls,” she shares how she stumbled across a way to cope that keeps her hands busy and her mind at ease. (And no, it isn’t not baking banana bread.)
There was a time as recently as 2019 P.C. (that’s pre-Covid, of course) when I was cool.
As a beauty editor, I spent my days attending fancy launches for new lipsticks, nail polishes, or anti-aging creams. I wore pants without drawstring waists and dresses that weren’t designed explicitly for naps. I had my hair blown out weekly in a salon, a practice that now somehow seems alien, dangerous and heavenly all at once.
Then the pandemic hit and, as it did for countless others, changed my life overnight. Events were canceled, budgets tightened, assignments disappeared. My life suddenly revolved almost exclusively around two things: 1) worrying that I or someone I loved would get sick, and 2) acting as a de facto school principal tasked with policing my first grader during remote school. Now, instead of lip gloss launches and article writing, my days were spent with my voice at an 11, screaming at my son to “KEEP YOUR FACE IN THE SCREEN!” and “LISTEN TO YOUR TEACHER!”
As it turns out, I’m a super mean principal. I felt stressed, angry, lost, and somehow both busy and bored. I desperately wanted a way to relax and temporarily escape, but with my usual go-tos like massages, pedicures or drinks with friends off the table, I was at a loss. (And showers are not self-care, don’t even go there.)
In the early weeks of the pandemic, I tried to chill out by reading, but I’d read the same page three times and retain none of it. Though I normally read at a clip of eight or ten books a month, I found myself taking weeks to slog through one. I needed a new form of quieting my mind—something that would relax me, but that I could also engage in as I sat in on virtual school—and it ended up coming from a surprising place.
One afternoon while scrolling through Instagram, I noticed one of my favorite fashion bloggers proclaiming her newfound love of needlepoint. I was shocked. Needlepoint was trending??
It wasn’t exactly new to me: I come from a family of avid needlepointers. My maternal grandmother was a prolific, longtime stitcher, as is my mother. I grew up in a home where their work was ever-present anywhere you looked, from Christmas stockings to Kleenex box covers. But the tradition had stopped with me. Who knows why–I wasn’t crafty? I wasn’t interested? It seemed hard?–but needlepoint just never became my thing.
Until Covid hit.
Suddenly, I found myself ordering a canvas and some threads online and watching a few YouTube tutorials. Before long, I was hooked.
It was actually really simple to learn. Sure, it can get complicated when you delve into more intricate stitches, but it doesn’t have to be. At its most basic, needlepoint is easy—mindless, even. For me, that’s its joy. Needlepoint has become my personal form of meditation. Sure, Headspace is great and all, but have you ever chilled out to the rhythmic symmetry of repetitively pulling thread through canvas over and over again? Have you ever taken out your frustration at the world by stabbing something socially sanctioned over and over again? Stitching forces you to slow down, focusing solely on one thing as you move slowly and steadily in and out, in and out. It’s almost like breathing.
“2020 was so awful in so many ways, but it did bring some gifts, and needlepoint has been one”
And unlike actual meditation, with needlepoint, you have something tangible to show for it afterwards. This kind of meditation comes with a parting gift: a handmade ornament, pillow or framed piece of art you’ll have forever. The “grandmillennial” canvases out now are fun, beautiful and even cheeky.
‘Pointing is also the rare hobby that lets me multitask. Though sometimes I stitch in silence, more often I do it while listening to an audiobook or podcast. If you’re the type to feel guilty about taking a few moments for yourself, this helps. You’re getting so much done at one time!
Needlepoint is unexpectedly social. I’ve joined Facebook groups and follow fellow needlepointers on Instagram–and they’re almost all younger than me! I’m even using community lingo, busting out insider-speak like “ndlpt,” “WIP” (work in progress) and “stash” (the collection of canvases-in-waiting that expands faster than you can stitch. For example: “If my husband ever figures out how much I’ve spent on my ndlpt stash, I’m screwed.”)
If you think the first thing I did once I fell in love with needlepoint was to share this news with my mother, you would be wrong. When I started stitching early in the pandemic, I figured I’d surprise her when I saw her in person. Surely this whole thing would be over by June or so, right? (Of course it wasn’t.) So I stitched in secret for months.
Finally in December, after two weeks of total isolation and Covid tests all around, we were able to see my parents. On Christmas Eve, I gave my mother a small gift bag containing my first project: an ornament shaped like a Starbucks cup, personalized with her name. She unwrapped it and responded with an oh-this-is-a-cute-Etsy-find sort of “Awww!”
I realized that she hadn’t even considered that I might have stitched it.
“Do you know who made it?” I asked.
She was visibly perplexed until you could see it slowly dawning on her. “YOU??” she screamed. She was giddy—and shocked.
So now I’m fully out as a needlepointer. My mom sends me links to cute canvases and is turning one of my projects into a pillow for me (nope, I never learned how to sew either), and my parents gave me a gift card to a needlepoint shop for my birthday.
While I do love the meditative aspects of needlepoint, maybe the best part about it is that I feel like I’m continuing a legacy that my mom and grandma started. I love that my chosen form of self-care has become the thread that binds us together across generations.
2020 was so awful in so many ways, but it did bring some gifts, and this has been one. Not only has the last year allowed me to spend so much more time with my family and teach me to appreciate the small things, it allowed me to fall in love with this pastime that noticeably lowers my blood pressure as I begin to thread the needle. But I’m hardly forgiving the past year, which took so much more from us all than it gave.
That’s why my latest project is an ornament shaped like a dumpster on fire. I’ll be stitching the numbers “2-0-2-0” across the bottom.