Any visit to a craft show brings shoppertunities. In October 1998 just such an opportunity arose - a Knitting and Stitching Fair. As any good Vogon Space Marine will tell you, "Resistance is Futile". I went, I saw, I purchased.
One of the exhibitors was Phillipa Turnbull of the English Crewel Work Company. (Now The Crewel Work Company.) She had a large frame with a partly worked length of crewel work on it and was inviting people to try. Who could resist? Well me for about two minutes until the devil at my shoulder (or perhaps it was Jane-Beth) urged me on. So I sat down at the frame. That brought some expressions of surprise from a group of 'ladies of age' who were also inspecting the embroidery. I threaded the needle, they murmured doubtfully. I chose my spot. They made a comment about moving away "so as not to embarrass the young man". Now one thing I don't get easily embarrassed about is stitching in public. There followed a shocked silence as I stitched a flower petal. I'm not saying it was perfect, but it left a few mouths gaping. I don't think I'd worked out that 'men don't do embroidery' (same as women don't become motor engineers!?!)
Anyhow, having tried it, I decided I wanted to try more so I purchased a kit with a good variety of stitches and a simple stitch guide and took it off home clutched to my heaving chest.
I think I was actually patient enough to wait until the following weekend to start! At that time I was not counting hours, but I know it took three months. I finished it in January 1999 and made it into a wall hanging.
I learned a whole bucket full of new stitches. Chain Stitch, Satin Stitch, Fly Stitch, Seeding, French Knots, Couching, then there was Stem Stitch, Short and Long Shading and Padding. (Rod for own back, I did select a kit with pretty much all the standard stitches.)
Did I enjoy it? Yes.
Would I do more Crewel Work? Yes
Knocking on a year or so, I was attending a talk given by Phillipa. I'll not say where. Questions were invited and I asked one. I can't remember the question now but I still remember the reaction.
I had barely finished asking the question when a stentorian voice from the far side of the room boomed out "A MAAN?"
For a moment I felt as thought I was in a performance of "The Importance of Being Earnest". Next thing a woman actually walks round the hall and looks at me to see that I really am a man. I really couldn't help laughing.
Perhaps I should have been angry, perhaps I should have said something, perhaps someone from the group should have sought me out and apologised for the sexist behaviour of their member. None of the above happened.
But maybe that evening was the spur I needed to start entering exhibitions, to prove that a man can be the equal of a woman in the needle arts.