Art Exchange

When my friend Jorren asked me if I’d be willing to do an art exchange, I was beyond flattered—I was intimidated. My D&D group, which is where I met Jorren, is a wildly creative and wickedly clever bunch. To say they’re talented would be to ignore how much work they’ve poured into becoming as good as they are at what they do. Musicians, artists, programmers, writers, cooks, and homesteaders—art and craft are well represented in our group. Jorren could easily be said to be the most dedicated among us, because he’s working toward becoming a freelance illustrator and graphic designer who supports himself full-time with his art. I had seen his work on several occasions, both sketches and completed illustrations, and I was not at all convinced I could put together something comparable to his work.

But he had seen the subversive cross-stitch I made for my sister-in-law Heather, and he wanted something in the same vein. He envisioned a design with the expression “Don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit.” The details were up to me: fonts, colors, and borders were left entirely to my imagination. He elaborated by saying that he was at all not turned off by traditional elements such as florals, script, or muted colors, and if I decided to go that route, to lean into it as hard as I wanted.

With that brief, I picked out the Floral Circle Border Trio Set of 3 Cross Stitch Patterns from TheStrandedStitch on Etsy. Since I hadn’t chosen an alphabet yet and wasn’t sure how large I’d need a floral border to be to fit such a long phrase, a trio of patterns was a great way to hedge my bets.

A cross stitch of the words "Don't start no shit, won't be no shit" surrounded by a floral border and framed in a hoop

The patterns are designed for 14 count Aida. I used the 7-inch hoop design, the largest of the three (the other two patterns were for 6-inch and 5-inch hoops). I followed the instructions to use two strands of floss, and I did’t substitute any colors. The text is the same dark blue used in the flowers; the font is Georgia from the Subversive Cross Stitch website.

I printed the pattern’s chart and used it to plot the arrangement of the words, but only after I had already stitched the entire border. Thank goodness it worked out. I’d like to think that in the future I’ll exercise better judgment and check the layout first—but let’s be honest, I probably won’t. When disaster inevitably strikes, I will be forced to admit that yes, there was a better way and I definitely knew it, and really, I have no one to blame but myself. Till then? Caitlyn: 1, Cross Stitch: 0.

As with Heather’s piece, I finished the back by trimming the excess Aida into a circle a few inches larger than the hoop, using a running stitch to cinch the loose edge, and blanket stitching a piece of white felt as close to the hoop as possible to hide everything.

Half the fun of making the thing was sending these teaser photos to Jorren of my progress:

Collage showing a ring holding bobbins of embroidery floss, a close-up of a cross stitch chart, a close-up of the loose threads on the back of a cross stitch, and the back of a finished hoop covered in felt secured with blanket stitch

He ate it up. 😀 He’s a good friend like that.

You might be wondering what I asked for in exchange. At the time, we didn’t have much in the way of art at home, and basically nothing hanging on the walls. We’d lived in our house for just shy of three years, and we’d come to playfully refer to it as Pineheart because of the heart pine paneling and our own secret love of the idea of having a Big Fancy House with a Name and an Estate. I’d imagined doing some kind of drawing or collage or maybe even cross stitch to represent the house, and in my head I’d pictured a stylized pine tree with shield on it bearing the image of heart. Maybe a sunset in the background, or woodland creatures about the tree.

That’s what I described to Jorren. And do you know what that absolute madman did?

A framed illustration of a cottage-style treehouse with the silhouettes of a cartoon bear and rabbit in the foreground

THIS.

First off, it’s gorgeous. Second, it exceeded my wildest expectations in both scope and detail. He’s put in lots of little nods to us and the house, things I wouldn’t have thought to ask for. Third, whydidyoudothisIdon’tfreakingdeserveit?!

Jorren gave Justin a sneak peek of his progress when he finished the line art, and Justin tipped me off to how to just how awesome it was turning out. I panicked, because even with only a tiny bit of information I knew I was way out of my depth. I didn’t want Jorren to feel disappointed that he’d gotten a bad trade, so I decided to do a companion piece to the one above in attempt to move up to “nice effort” from “laughably unequal.”

A cross stitch of the word "fuck" surrounded by a floral border and framed in a hoop

Yep. That’s about how I felt about the situation.

The pattern is the 6-inch hoop design; everything else is the same as the larger one.

For his part, Jorren seemed really happy with how things turned out. I still can’t believe I came away with such an incredible and personal piece of original art from someone I respect and admire, and I continue to feel like I owe Jorren a little something extra to make things even.

If you’d like to see more of his work, purchase a print, or commission an original design, check out his positivity brand Mind Fuzz on Instagram!

Know Your Vegetables

Over New Year’s weekend, Heather and her wife were kind enough to host Justin and me so that we could visit with the Myers family. We’ve all done our share of going out to ring in the new year, both at intimate gatherings of friends and big parties of strangers, so we were perfectly content to spend this one at home with a plentiful supply of snacks, drinks, and games.

We’re all four of us gamers, so we’re constantly on the lookout for cooperative video games to play with our spouses and as a group. While there are a fair few online co-op games you can play on separate devices—some of our favorites are Gauntlet for the PlayStation 4 and Don’t Starve and Stardew Valley on Steam—it’s harder to find couch co-op games to play with our spouses (and as a foursome when we’re all together) on one TV that aren’t party games.

Enter Overcooked, an adorable couch co-op video game where two to four players are chefs racing the clock to prepare, plate, and serve up meals like soup, burgers, and tacos. In addition to the timer, players are up against challenging kitchen environments like a pirate ship, where the rolling waves cause the prep counters to slide around in changing configurations that can block access to ingredients or tools.

Despite the cooperative nature of the game, players are often inadvertently fighting each other as they try to reach for the same knife or pan, add the wrong ingredients to the dish another person is working on, or run slam-bang into each other as they’re scrambling around the kitchen.

Justin and I had played Overcooked before, and Heather and her wife had already beaten it more than once, but we had never played all together. Since we were familiar with the game’s hazards, we decided that an additional layer of difficulty was necessary to make it sufficiently challenging. And there is, of course, no easier or more instantly accessible way to do this than adding alcohol.

Seeing as it was a holiday weekend, the fridge was conveniently stocked with celebratory libations that suited our purpose.

As we barreled through several levels without any problems, we couldn’t help but think we work pretty well together in stressful situations. A thought which, while it no doubt contained a kernel of truth, was so confidently felt by everyone in the room in a context so obviously ridiculous that it should have been a clue our faculties were waning.

Not long after, as we were scurrying around trying to keep up a steady rotation through all of the tasks and not collide with each other, Heather called out for an onion for the soup she was making. One of us—I can’t remember who, and I wouldn’t stoop to naming them here if I did—had the misfortune to grab the wrong vegetable and then shove it at her with fervent abandon.

“That’s a tomato, you fuck,” said Heather, with the calm condescension you’d expect from the damned explaining the weather in hell.

Gales of uncontrollable laughter obliterated our concentration and ensured swift and total failure. We tried to soldier on, but alcohol-induced hubris and humor claimed us in the end.

And so, when Heather’s birthday rolled around in April, I could think of no better gift to celebrate her hospitality, handmade-worthiness, and general hilarity than to immortalize her words in cross stitch.

The fabric is DMC Charles Craft 18 count Aida in white; the floss is DMC. The pattern for the tomato was derived from a screenshot of Overcooked that I manually transferred to a grid in Illustrator and printed. The text is an unvention: I didn’t even think to look for an alphabet online, and instead simply charted out something that looked good to me on graph paper.

I took this photo on my phone when I finished stitching during a weekend mini-vacation in Hickory, NC. I forgot to take a true completed shot of the piece before I gave it to Heather, but I did remove the fuzz from the place where I took out the period, spot cleaned the fabric, and finished it in the frame following these instructions on the Stitch Modern blog.

(For those who might be wondering about the censorship: Heather is no shrinking violet, but she has conservative in-laws and a young nephew that she cares not to upset, so I opted for something that would be easier for her to display openly if she chose.)

After the success of Heather’s handmade socks, it was no surprise—but also no less gratifying—that she gleefully embraced a bit of cheeky home decor.