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Eye eye

The barking thing about doing anatomical embroidery as a hobby is the effect it has on everyone who sees me do it. I often do it in public, usually in coffee shops, where I bash out an occipital belly of occipitofrontalis over an Americano (say THAT sentence after too many Babychams). It absorbs me beyond measure but the thing is that it absorbs others around me too. In fact, what I do garners such attention that I sometimes feel like a performing monkey, just without the lice, bananas and flashy red arse. And it’s come to my attention that oncomers fall into distinct categories, to the point that I’m close to creating a bingo sheet for every foray into the public eye. Want to know what those categories are? Good, because I’m gonna tell you anyway…

The Shocked: it’s usually women of the much older persuasion who look as if they need a sit down after viewing my work. They merrily come over to see what beautifying wonders I’m stitching into my hoop, while referring to their embroidery lessons of 60 years ago, only for me to flash them a vagina in varying shades of pink. I swear one of them actually staggered backwards to the point that I feared for her left hip.

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The Anatomists: by luck or judgement, my fave coffee shop is haunted by anatomy lovers from the local chiropractic school. So when they catch a glimpse of my latest uterus or median nerve they’ll stop dead in their tracks, visibly squeak and, bug eyed with excitement, will look as me as if I’ve just offered them an all-expenses paid trip to the Bahamas.

The Bemused: these people start with merry chat but as soon as they see that I’m actually stitching a cochlea they become silent and flap-mouthed. Ever seen someone so lost for words that they make noiseless movements with their face before staggering off, clattering into tables? Well stitch an ovary in Starbucks and you just might.

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The Crafters: these oncomers are stars, not least because they’ll be so stuffed with excitement about me actually sewing in public that they can’t contain themselves. It doesn’t even matter to them that I’m shading a cranium. They just want to swap information about the size of my crewel needle and DMC numbers while inspecting my hoop (which reminds me, I’m due for a smear).

The squeamish: I gotta love these guys because when they look at my work they react in such a way that you’d think I had actual brain matter on my fabric. In fact, I don’t know how they manage to negotiate life what with such an abiding fear of their own bodies. Somehow, in their minds, my basic shading of a tendon is akin to me dragging them into a dissection room to actively sniff the gall bladders of random cadavers. Think of the screaming girl in the truck at the end of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and you’ll get an idea of what this involves.

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The Stealth Viewers: these are the people who are fascinated with what I’m doing but are so determined to not make eye contact with me that I feel like nuclear fallout. They’ll watch me while I’m not looking (luckily, I have the peripheral vision of a stalk-eyed fly) and dart their gaze in a different direction whenever I look up. It’s a bit like how a carriage load of train travellers react whenever drunk gets on and attempts to make conversation with the person in seat 18a.

The Wanderers: these are related to the Stealth Viewers in that they rather saw off their own toes than talk to me. Yet when it’s time for them to leave whatever coffee shop I’m inhabiting, instead of going straight to the door (which is four feet behind them) they’ll leave via my table, passing it in an attempt at nonchalance, adding an extra 30 feet to their journey.

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The Non-crafters: bless ‘em. These are the women (they are always women) who are desperate to sew but don’t know one end of a pinking shears from the other. They gawp at my ability to push a needle through a piece of fabric before bringing it back through again and all but actually clap when they see me do it. Course, I encourage them to run straight to the local haberdashers and demand all of the implements before embarking upon their first ballgown. In short, I cheerleader the shit out of the poor buggers.

All of which means that every time I stitch in public I cause a small amount of stir, even if it’s just making an old woman reach for her walking stick in order to thrash me. And you know what? That’s one of the joys of sewing in coffee shops. Never does my sewing feel more fun, alive and participatory than when strangers take an interest. So what are you waiting for? Grab your needles, thread or wool and head out into the world. You’d be amazed at who’ll you find joining you.

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