Jamie (Mr X Stitch) Chalmers is one of those blokes you immediately like. You know the ones; they are smart, interesting, charming and passionate. In the lead up to Father's Day, I had a chat with Jamie about the powers of stitching and how he crafted his way out of a dark time after he learnt of his own infertility; a significant issue for many men, but not one that many talk about.
Jamie started stitching as a joke more than 15 years ago. He thought it would be entertaining to watch the reaction of follow passengers on a long plane trip seeing a “manly man” with plenty of tattoos doing needle craft on a plane. Jamie is quite funny (he had me in stitches - deliberate pun! - during our conversation), and making people laugh rates highly for him. What he discovered, apart from some inquisitive and judgmental looks he received from fellow passengers, was a seductive sense of calm and achievement that hooked him into the world of needlecraft and embroidery, a place where men are not seen nor heard very often.
Jamie, who playfully describes himself as the "kingpin of contemporary embroidery", has a keen interest in biology and psychology among many other things, and talks of the therapeutic benefits of stitching. “Hand craft stimulates brain chemistry, the repetition of it promotes calmness” he says. “Every row of stitches is a win. When the picture comes together there is a sense of satisfaction”. Academic research supports the well-being benefits of needlework promoting positive wellbeing and general good health. A great way to look after yourself, which is of course step 1 of the HeyAreYouOK campaign.
On a personal level, Jamie has experienced the therapeutic benefits of the craft himself. Jamie and his wife had been trying to fall pregnant for some time, without success. It was on the same day that Jamie learnt that an application for a work promotion had been unsuccessful that he found out that he was infertile. “Not a great day” he recalls. In the period following this news Jamie describes himself as becoming an “angry old man”, he was on a “real downer”; which is hard to imagine chatting to him now. Knowing that he needed to do something, he reached out for help from a counselling service offered to him at the fertility clinic. The session helped to gain insight into what he was feeling – grief. He was grieving for his fertility, his biological ability to have children. He learnt about what to expect from grief, which he says helped immensely. What makes Jamie’s story unique and inspiring is that he incorporated his grief into a stitch project. He decided to stitch his way through each of the stages of grief starting with denial. By the time he finished anger, he was feeling much better and was back to his normal sense of self.
Jamie completed his first stitching project more than 15 years ago, saying “it made a lovely gift for my mum!” He is now helping others to get hooked on needlework. Jamie uses the craft as a medium for social change in the world including challenging gender stereo types and promoting the slow activism movement known as craftivism… The great news is that Jamie is now a father. So, on this Father’s Day I want to send a special Father’s Day wish to Jamie - changing the world one stitch at a time.
If you would like to learn more about the contemporary version of this therapeutic hobby check out the Mr X Stitch website.
Written by Bianca Hegde (STORM Team)
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