Now, when I was little, my mother had taught me how to needlepoint, because that's what she did. I could do a decent tent stitch. But what I really loved was french knots. My mother would needlepoint these Charles Wysocki kits, and there would be these trees that needed flowers, which were french knots, and I learned them and to this day they're still my favorite stitch.
My whole family is crafty. I was taught to needlepoint as a kid, I was even taught how to crochet and do a basic knit stitch (by my father, actually, because while my mother was the super crafter, she was left handed and I couldn't figure out how to do it the way she did it, as I'm right handed).
In high school my family was big into plastic canvas. And over Spring Break of my sophomore year, while I was staying with my aunt & uncle, I needed some thicker metallic cord and we stopped by Harbour Stitchery in League City.
And I saw Teresa Wentzler's Castle Sampler, and I used all of the money I had to buy everything I needed right there on the spot (well, everything but the floss, that would come later in the day). The Lugana, the pattern, any embellishments... and oh yeah, my gold cord.
I started stitching the border. I realized I was a little bit out of my depth and wanted to try something else so that Castle Sampler would be *perfect* when I did stitch it.
So I went to Michaels with my Grandma (I was living with my grandparents) and I got a kit (I'm pretty sure my grandma bought it for me). Leopards sitting on a tree branch. There were blended threads, confetti stitching, and all of the leaves were lazy daisies, so it wasn't very basic. I taught myself how to stitch with that kit, and I think it's the one time I used a hoop? I even stitched on it during class in high school (the teachers didn't mind, because hey, I was paying attention, engaged and staying relatively quiet - I was a straight A honors student anyway, so there was no reason to fuss). The very beginning (the left side of the tree branch) has stitches that aren't all facing the same way - the only piece that has "mistakes" like that.
This is my very first finished cross stitch piece.
I eventually finished it after high school and I framed it, using the sticky mat and all of the other stuff I could find at craft stores - this was the mid 90s, there wasn't the huge internet full of information on the "proper" way to frame needlework or the supplies at hand, and I certainly couldn't afford to have it done professionally.
I can't remember the actual name of the piece, exactly what company produced it, or the date when I finished it, but it will always be one of my favorite memories.