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Personal & Financial

How Attorneys Can Use Cross-Stitching to Practice Mindfulness

Patricia Alejandro


  • Cross-stitching provides a mindful escape from the hectic professional life lived by most attorneys, and it fosters patience and acceptance of imperfection.
  • The author reflects on how her hobby informs her legal work, recognizing the entrepreneurial spirit of many crafters.
  • The author encourages finding similar grounding activities for those uninterested in needlework, emphasizing the value of hobbies in maintaining balance and connection.
How Attorneys Can Use Cross-Stitching to Practice Mindfulness

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I sometimes come home from work with a craving to cross-stitch. As an attorney and a clinical instructor to students learning how to be transactional attorneys, my attention is usually pulled in myriad directions. There is the email that requires an instant response, the message with the pressing question, the draft still to be reviewed, and the back-to-back meetings I need to prepare for. After looking at a screen all day, I find working on something creative in a three-dimensional format more relaxing than watching TV on yet another screen. After more than two decades of cross-stitching, I find comfort in this craft, and it has taught me much about myself and others. 

What Is Cross-Stitching?

If you do not know what cross-stitching is, it is a form of counted-thread embroidery that has been around in some form for two millennia, if not longer. Historically, humans have embellished garments with threaded patterns as a form of language and connection, as markers of social status and family ties. There is beauty and meaning in the tradition of thread, fabric, and yarn.

My great-aunt taught me to cross-stitch many summers ago after I took an interest in what I saw her doing. When I started stitching, it was still seen as something old grandmothers did. The craft was not being passed down as dutifully as in prior centuries. Over the years since I learned to stitch, craft stores reduced their cross-stitching sections, with fewer kits and items available. But if you have heard of amigurumi, seen some of the recent New York Times pieces on knitting (such as on the healing aspects of knitting or the emotional gamble of gifting a handmade piece), or picked up a similar hobby during the pandemic shutdown, you might have a sense that these kinds of crafts are making a comeback.

Mindfulness in the Stitch

Perhaps part of the reason for the cross-stitching comeback is our exploration of mindfulness practices in the last few years. I often receive the comment, “You must have so much patience to do that!” when someone sees me working on a cross-stitch pattern. “If only you knew,” I think. I consider myself a high-energy, must-get-things-done kind of person, but patience is not a virtue I consider innate. Patience, perhaps like most virtues, is a practice.

When I sit to cross-stitch, embroider, crochet, or knit, I follow a pattern or design (my immense admiration for those who create from their imaginations, but that is not yet where I am). I need to count carefully so I don’t make a mistake that could mean undoing an hour’s work. This means I cannot multitask or run through my mental to-do list. There is also a sense of grounding that touching fabric and thread brings that I cannot get from my keyboard. With the repetition of movements and patterns, I am unable, for once, to rush or get distracted.

And if I do get distracted and miss a stitch, I either accept that I will have to redo a whole section or project or accept the imperfection. It is harder to give myself this grace of growth and learning while on the job, and it is a reminder to extend that same grace to others. When we are preparing for trial, in the middle of a fast-paced deal, or dealing with a challenging client or partner, all while running on little sleep with fraying tempers and energy levels, it can be particularly challenging to take a step back and refocus on what really matters. At the end of the day, we will likely continue to work with the same team and opposite counsel, and we will all eventually misspeak and mistype. By focusing on that missed stitch, I forget the fun I had creating all the others.

Skill-Building beyond the Thread

In needlework, I have also found a community. While I still only cross-stitch as a solitary practice, I have encountered a world of crafters, creators, and artists on social media. Whenever I see someone post their new project or pattern, I am inspired by our ability to create something beautiful. Comment threads are always supportive, never demeaning, and what a respite that is from other spaces we inhabit. While often considered a woman’s craft in the female sphere of the home (think of how many times you heard women sitting down to their embroidery in Jane Austen novels), nowadays, there is also a bountiful of male-identifying crafters (couples, even!). The crafting community is welcoming, colorful, and supportive.

Most of these crafters are small business owners, selling their designs or creations to the bigger world. As an attorney who works with small business clients, I am constantly wondering if these entrepreneurs are getting the legal advice they need to protect their creations and brands and to build up their businesses successfully. Through their posts and reels, I can see how these crafters structure their business practices by what they share on Instagram about how they budgeted their costs in the past year, how they package and ship their embroidery kits, and how they attend crafting markets to connect with other crafters and with local clients to boost their visibility and business income. I bring back this appreciation for what it takes to run a business to my work with small business clients.

What If Threading the Needle Is Not for Me?

While I want to share this passion with everyone, and I can go on about its benefits to my life and practice, I understand that not everyone will feel the same way. So, if you think cross-stitching and its sister crafts are not for you, find your better fit. I also dabble in jogging, cooking and baking, playing my ukulele, and puzzling, all of which help me stay grounded and connect with others. These hobbies and practices have communities tied to them, locally and on the web. People are also figuring out ways to make a living from what we consider pastimes. There is a space for all of us, even for the more square-minded lawyers, as creators, customers, or counselors.