Carol Hayes | Essays

Taking Things Seriously IV


There it was: "THOUGHTS"! How could I not have seen it before? I was sitting at the dining room table in my aunt's house in Massachusetts when I looked up and noticed this needlepoint sampler for the first time. Holy shit, I almost said out loud. Had it been there for a long time? When did my aunt make it? What was she thinking when she made it? What could it possibly mean?

I have the same inner conversation every time I look at it. Thoughts? Is it thoughts in general, or specific thoughts? Thoughts about a person? Memories? "I'm thinking of you"? Was my aunt trying to express the feeling of going through the mental process of deciding what needlepoint pattern to make next? The sampler's vagueness plunges me into philosophical confusion. The mystery of it is what attracts me, but it's also what bothers me. You think thoughts, but how often do you think about thoughts?

My aunt could tell how much I liked the THOUGHTS sampler and a few months after I spotted it she gave it to me as a gift. I took it home and hung it on the wall. Sometimes I would stare at it, and I'd get frustrated every time. Other people who came over and saw it reacted the same way.

My aunt never explained what she meant by THOUGHTS, and I didn't think it was the kind of question I could ask her. Eventually I had to put the sampler away because it made my head hurt. The idea of my aunt making a picture of the word thoughts in needlepoint amazes me. I never would've thought of it. It's the perfect combination: profound expression and humble craft.

This short essay is excerpted from Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance, a book by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes in which they and other writers discuss the importance of objects in their lives. This is the fourth essay in a series to appear on Design Observer.

Posted in: Media

Comments [12]

My 83 year old grandmother has amassed a collection of vintage counted cross stitch samplers over the years. Many of them share sentimental sayings such as "friends are like diamonds precious and rare." My mother interprets this one as "thoughts of love" because "THOUGHTS" is surrounded by roses, a symbol for love.

Unless one follows a kit, counted cross stitch is a self-designed combination of images and words, so anything goes.

Mary Banas

yours and mine

It reminds me of Thomas J. Watsons slogan, "Think." The ambiguity in the meaning is why it's so engaging. There is no definite meaning, so it could mean anything, positive or negative. It's quality work because it stops you in your tracks to think.

Wait, what exactly makes it profound for you, is it:

a) The word itself being used?
b) The question of why that word was used in particular?
c) Why was that word used with some cross-stitch?

How about if she'd cross-stitched the word 'dreams' and done cherries...would that make a difference?
Matt Robin

This is what would happen if Yoko Ono did cross stitch. I'm sure of it.

Reminds of the campaign in Baltimore to (allegedly) stop littering. Or perhaps it's city pride. All over town there are signs that just say: "Believe."

Inaudible Nonsense

As I just woke up from the Silvester party... and this post was the first thing I saw in the new year, I would like to post some notes from my journal regarding the depicted message in your aunt's cross-stitch.


...Data and thoughts are being processed by our brains language-less, they are more abstract than we would like to admit and yet we translate, interpret them in words, language. A language of our choice... Through that language we are giving form to the un-formed or to the form-ess, the elusive, the strings which by combination of many give birth to our thoughts...


Everyone's life is about everybody else's life.


There will be some changes in my life and definitely the changes begin now. I feel them very vividly and very strong, cannot define them but if I know something for sure is that these changes will be significant and they are going to influence me and the ones around me.


Few days have passed without writing in this journal, but not because of laziness, it was just because a lot of beautiful things happened during this period. I cannot put them in words because I would diminish their intrinsic meaning even banalizing them to a certain degree. I am just fulfilled and happy... going on with my life. THANK YOU!


...I would like to design a book that never finishes, always reconstructs itself ... is endless... a rhizomatic book.



How would a language look/feel like if there would be one language for every living being/situation in this world ?

( an euclidian approach would be to set some rules first and foremost but the paradox is that every being is thinking differently )

06 NOV2007

Oddly enough, for the past days I wrote
only on even days.

-random note-
If you want others to respect you, first you have to respect yourself. Easier said than done...but - think about it.... no - Really think about it.


A repeating topic during these 5 days, while observing and studying human behavior in different contexts was, Responsability and Fault. No one wants to be responsible for his own faults, trying to nail it on somebody else, but the cute thing is, if something good happens, while many are implicated in IT ( the action or thing that went OK ), everybody fights for only one thing...make all the present people aware that they had a major implication in that wonderful result.



These are some thoughts selected from my journal - and dedicated them to this topic and this first thing I got to see on the web in this new year. I am sure it will be a fantastic year for everyone of us.

Ovidiu Hrin

I recently purchased a tea towel at a flea market embroidered with the phrase "Use me." It had never been used. It is a mournful and melancholy work of typographic labor.
Ellen Lupton

I'd assume something along the lines of good thoughts or loving thoughts, part one of Zarathushtra. I like that the stems and roses form an almost heart around the word.

Thoughts are a designers bread + butter.
Cool stuff.
(I lived on the Gowanus Canal too, years ago.)

Carl W. Smith

I agree with jeff in: "It's quality work because it stops you in your tracks to think".
It made my mind stop, and thats the most precious thing that can happen to a human, cause in the STOP - we are in the NOW.
I would have found this work a fine art expression in any contemporary gallery. And I am also sure that in the 'ordinary' lies the meaning of life.

As Jeff mentioned, this immediately reminded me of the IBM "THINK" slogan. My father gave me a plaque in the early years of my career and I've always had it hanging near my desk. It comes in handy to find a little clarity in a chaotic day.

I'm constantly amazed (shocked? amused?) at the number of people who see the plaque and ask me what it means.

thanks great reading
laura burkett

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