An art exhibition held on Thursday September 25, drew an enthusiastic crowd, admiring the centrepiece – a portrait of a striking young woman staring straight at the beholder, her dark hair flowing over her shoulders. But this piece, along with the eighteen others dotted around the tranquil garden of JOUEL’s Kenwyn House in Seychelles’ capital city of Victoria, deserves closer inspection.
A close look at the finely-detailed images will lead you to the realisation that they have all been painstakingly embroidered in cross-stitch.
The creator of these artworks, Azarel Ernesta, made over 40,000 tiny x-shaped stitches in different colours to form the image in the centrepiece, a portrait of her own cousin, Lizbeth Belmont, who posed proudly beside her cross-stitched self for photographers at the exhibition
Now Ernesta, encouraged by the positive reception, wishes to focus some of her future cross-stitching efforts on immortalising sights and scenes from her own beautiful island home, Seychelles.
“There isn’t really a particular theme that I focus on,” she told SNA in an email interview. “I see a design, it is striking and I go for it. I will admit though that I am particularly fond of oriental designs and portraits from different cultures.”
“For the future however I am going to focus mostly on recreating pictures of our beautiful country.”
In her opening speech, Ernesta recalled her inspiration for the exhibition, which was fittingly entitled ‘Dedication’ – as she dedicated her achievement to her late grandmother, Angela, a woman she remembered as a woman of strength and purpose.
“It was from that one amazing woman that I learnt the art of handling the needle and thread. One simple act from her decades ago, that has taught me to be patient, passionate and dedicated,” she told the assembled crowd.
“She is not physically here today, but the thousands of stitches found in these pieces are testament to a woman who remains very much a part of my life. Sadly I knew her for very few years but I am grateful to have such beautiful memories of her.”
Ernesta uses Aida cloth, locally known as ‘latwal tennis’ to stitch her creations and can take anything from three days to one year to finish a project, depending on the intricacy of the design and her other obligations and commitments.
The designs are made in the form of a chart, which can either be bought from a company that turns beautiful artworks into cross-stitching charts or a method called ‘picture to stitch’, where a picture is converted into a chart.
The thirty-year-old cross-stitcher, who recently left her post as the youngest-ever Clerk of the Seychelles National Assembly to study further, said many people often reacted with incredulity that someone so young could have the time and patience for a hobby that is usually reserved for much older generations.
Affectionately calling it her “grandma hobby” after the grandmother who first taught her how to handle a needle and thread, Ernesta says cross-stitching is a form of therapy from the stress of everyday life.
“I am passionate about this, and I am serious about what I am passionate about. This is something I truly love doing,” she said. “It was passed on to me from a loving individual and it has also taught me patience and perseverance.”
“It is also my therapy. I am constantly told that I think too much – I agree,” she added wryly. “This is the one time when I am thinking about almost nothing. The world comes down to the fabric, the needle and thread, the chart and the wonderful piece it will eventually become. Once I am in that zone, all is quiet and calm and I feel relaxed.”
Ernesta who said she started to seriously engage in cross stitching in 2009 after years and years of not handling a needle has stitched 23 pieces over the past 5 years, most of which she has gifted to several individuals from friends to family.
A bright future ahead
The former Clerk of the National Assembly, who describes herself as “fiercely patriotic” and a “free and passionate spirit with ambitious goals”, is leaving her beloved Seychelles the coming weekend to study law in Cyprus.
But it is a given that the energetic, vibrant young woman will use the next four years away from the comforts of home and family to gain the skills she needs to serve her country when she returns. Ernesta, who already holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Business, Finance & Economics from the Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, is planning to put her law degree to good use in the drafting of new laws and studying the Constitution of Seychelles, widely regarded as “one of the most comprehensive and modern constitutions in the world.”
Ernesta, who has worked in Parliament for a total of seven years, described her two-year experience as the Clerk of the National Assembly as a learning curve and an important part of her life.
“I have learnt many, many things not just about the institution, but also about myself,” she said. “If I can say anything, it is that my time with the National Assembly has provided me with a deeper sense of purpose and clearer goals. My time as the Clerk was especially challenging but very fruitful. We must after all strive to take something good out of everything we do and I am grateful for the many opportunities and challenges I was provided during my tenure.”
aking a leap of faith
Ernesta, who admits that her personality lends her to throw herself fully into things that she is passionate about, says it is important to find a way to balance the demands of work, hobbies and family.
Although cross-stitch will probably remain an important part of her life and an escape for stressful situations, Ernesta will now have to re-adjust to being a full-time student with new challenges to deal with.
Her advice to other young people with big dreams for their future would be to take a leap of faith and to be insistent and passionate about what they believe in.
“Don’t let anyone define your dreams for you; they are your dreams after all,” she said. “You are the sole author of your life. Credit those who help and support you and listen and consider criticisms received. If possible be your own worst critic.”
Ernesta avers that it is important to define what you do not want out of life, even if you are unclear about what you want in particular.
“Be clear about what you do not want. Do not compromise your dreams to accommodate other people’s insecurities or uncertainties,” she explained. “Let them deal with their issues, they will get over it.”
“When it seems that the world is screaming at you, take a moment and bring yourself back to the moment you realised what your dream is. Do not lose sight of what you wish to achieve. And do not be afraid to make mistakes.”