It started with the greatest intentions.

The cross-stitch Victorian Santa stocking. I figured I could have it ready by the baby’s first Christmas. Such a lovely commemorative heirloom…

I got to work, not realizing how tiny the stitches would be, how difficult linen is to work with, how maddening it was to undo and redo wrong steps. I hadn’t done much cross-stitch before. But I had to keep working. It was a labor of love for my baby.

After he was born, I embroidered his name on the banner over Santa’s head. Christmas was still months away; I had plenty of time.

I didn’t realize that my schedule was no longer my own, that when he slept, I should sleep.

I learned. Quickly.

Christmas came and went, with only half of Santa complete.

Well, my sweet boy’s stocking could be ready by next Christmas. He would not be so babyish then; I would have a little more time to work on this.

I’d never had a toddler before…

It wasn’t finished by the next Christmas. Or the next. We used substitute stockings instead.

Somewhere along the way I finished Santa. I got the the toys stitched. All that remained was Santa’s bag!

A striped bag, with lots of light and dark variations of the same colors for depth and shadows.

It was gorgeous.

It was also my cross-stitch Waterloo. Around that time, my second baby was born.

I folded the linen. I placed it in the craft box as tenderly as a loved one laid to rest in a coffin. With acknowledgment of my abject failure for a eulogy. It was over. There was no point in trying to go on. How could I in good conscience make such a keepsake for one child and not the other, anyway? It wasn’t going to happen. I thought of other people’s beautiful needlework with longing and awe. I mourned how this craft turned out to be so unsustainable for me.

That linen remained buried in that box for years and years… until I came across it one day while looking for something else. I unfolded the cloth bearing Santa and my firstborn’s name. Sadness flooded me. He wasn’t little anymore. He was in his teens. The guide for completing Santa’s bag was missing, somehow misplaced, if I even wanted to attempt it. Could I paint a bag on? Would that look terrible? What if I ruined the linen? Could I cut a little bag from felt or cloth and stitch it on? Why even think about this, now?

That’s when I decided.

He would have his stocking.

I took the linen and the backing to a seamstress (my expertise with real sewing being limited to the reattaching of buttons). “I know this looks weird,” I explained. “I started it for my son before he was born and never got around to finishing. It’s as done as it will ever be. Can you just put the back on, please?”

And so the linen became a stocking, at last.

It’s hung on the mantel every Christmas for a couple of decades now, with those disembodied toys poking out of their invisible bag. I never even finished outlining them, save the teddy bear.

Loose threads, if you will.

Except that every stitch that is there holds tight, for it was placed with utmost care, with the stuff of hopes and dreams. Each one is infused with great love, which never fails, despite imperfections and intentions. Efforts made in love are never wasted. That the picture is incomplete does not mean that the whole is ruined or meaningless. Or that there’s no beauty to be found in it. In fact, I’ve read how there’s something incomplete and fragmentary in all great art since Gothic times, left for the audience to complete (Arnold Hauser). Not so applicable to a cross-stitch Victorian Santa. But maybe an unfinished thing is finished in a way that is different from the picture imagined at the beginning. Maybe it’s a lesson in acceptance.

If nothing else…it certainly makes for interesting conversation.

Inspiration fires the soul
Never imagining
Candles will burn down so soon
On the windowsill of willpower.
Maybe I mourn intention
Passing away
Leaving my imperfections
Exposed for all to see.
That is when inherent beauty comes to light
Even in loose threads, left untied.


The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approachOn Day 9, I am writing around a word beginning with letter i. 

29 thoughts on “Incomplete

    • It’s a little but hard lesson in being proud of how much I was able to do and not allowing what I wasn’t to negate all that effort. A little grace to self…well, there’s always a story in that!

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  1. I could read this piece again and again. Does something that’s “complete” have more value? Hmmm.
    As a person who has been overly-optimistic about crafts, I can totally relate to the paragraph in which you contemplate other ways to finish the design.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have to accept that it’s not “finished” in the sense I originally intended, but I do celebrate the work I did complete. Since I posted, I thought of this line also: A labor of love unfinished doesn’t diminish the love poured into the effort. Sometimes I go back and add late thoughts to posts but I will content myself with leaving this here with your comment – and thank you!

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  2. This takes my breath away, the authentic feeling and the refinished memories stitched tightly into the time capsule of this stocking. I hope you print today’s slice and find a way to keep it with the stocking for him to pass down to his great grandchildren as an heirloom that tells a great story.

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  3. Beautiful! I am in awe that you did this on linen and not cross-stitch fabric. I was an avid cross-stitcher in my younger days. I don’t think my eyes could take it anymore. I think the story of it is more powerful because it is unfinished.

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    • I was hoping someone would note that it’s being incomplete gives the stocking much more of a story, so thank you, Elsie! It was a lesson in being overambitious, and also in dragging one’s self over the finish line while knowing that wasn’t the performance one wanted to make after working so hard. But, nevertheless, finished in its way. -Linen!! It’s irregular! I had no idea! I have not cross-stitched since. I’d rather be writing. 🙂

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  4. The detailed needlework on this piece is incredible, Fran!

    I was an avid needlepointer for awhile. Your slice brought back the memory of when I stitched the atarah, or collar, for my husband’s prayer shawl as a wedding gift. It took me way longer than anticipated. I was teaching full-time and going to grad school. Then I had to deal with it while recovering from neurosurgery. I worried I’d never finish it. Alas, I got it to the finisher on the last possible date and he wore it for our wedding!

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    • Thank you, Stacey, and what a lovely wedding gift, that prayer shawl. Definitely an heirloom for the generations. I cannot imagine how you got it done, with all of that happening!


  5. I love that you finished this project, even if it took you a while. I am sure that he deeply appreciated it… “Efforts made in love are never wasted.”

    If it makes you feel any better, I have a huge bin of unfinished projects. I began stockings for my children when my Isaac was a baby. It’s still not stitched and he is 15 now!

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  6. “Loose threads, if you will.” Because…isn’t this what all of life comes down to? This stocking is all the more beautiful and precious because of the story behind it. And who can’t relate to both the tangible and emotional reminders that, as parents, WE are incomplete, are imperfect, that WE are half-done products that have put ourselves away in boxes until a time when, after years, we come across this unfinished work awaiting our time and attention? So much to mourn, so much to celebrate.

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    • Ha, glad you picked up on that wordplay. I am just thankful I didn’t succumb completely to my own defeat. Parenting is the single hardest job; one never retires from it or masters it … that cross-stitch is far from my greatest failures or imperfections, but it’s surely one of the most visible. There was simply too much of my heart in it to let it lie any longer.


  7. Oh, how I related to the lines “Candles will burn down so soon/ On the windowsill of willpower.” I have as many unfinished projects as unfinished reading of books…and both could quite possibly take me lifetimes to complete. That is why it is such a celebration when I do finally complete a crocheted project or finish reading a book. I’m glad you reached that level of acceptance and finally hung that stocking up–it makes for a good holiday story to be told by the tree for years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad the poem spoke to you, Chris, even if it is with a sigh for projects left unfinished. I’ve thought with a pang about all the books I want to read things I want to do, and how more than one lifetime is needed to do it all… yes, the stocking does make for a good story, as well as a lesson in acceptance!

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  8. Cross stitch is one of those very time consuming delicate skills, well done for trying so hard and then finding a way to make the incomplete stocking complete! It still looks lovely!
    Your slices are always so deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking!

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