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The spirit of Christmas

by SUSAN DRINKARD Contributing Writer
| December 19, 2021 1:00 AM

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The spirit of Christmas lives all year long at the end of the hallway of “A” wing at Lakeside Assisted Living where Audrey Johnson lives.

Audrey, with her fishing tackle box full of embroidery thread, spends 20-30 hours each week in her cozy environment, embroidering large handkerchiefs she makes using her hand-drawn designs on a half-yard of muslin. She gives all of the hankies away and takes no money for her creative efforts.

In the past 15 years, she has made 1,800 embroidered handkerchiefs. Each one takes her six to 10 hours from start to finish. She works in her room much of the time because she likes to use natural light when she is embroidering.

“I make about 100 handkerchiefs each year and I give them to new staff here and to every new resident,” she said. “Once I gave one to an elderly man and he was so happy, he had tears gushing from his eyes. It is so gratifying to see people respond with such appreciation.”

Some of the recipients carry them around and use them. Others use them as dresser scarves, she said, as she displayed one of her creative works in progress — an eagle in flight. The eagle represents the American spirit, she said.

She uses blue thread to represent virtue. “Green goes next to gold. Green stands for intelligence and gold for honor,” she explained, “because we should fight our battles with intelligence, not violence, my personal belief,” she said.

Many of the handkerchiefs are embroidered with the word “brother” or “sister” with a floral design or a more masculine design for males.

When she was 10 years old, Audrey took an embroidery class offered in the community of Hildale, Utah, with her sisters. The instructor was “Aunt Dot,” not a relative, who taught them the basic stitches.

With a master’s degree in nursing, Audrey worked as an intensive care and emergency room nurse for 10 years while studying to become a family nurse practitioner. She passed the exam for the latter, but soon thereafter was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder — a chronic mental health condition the onset of which can be triggered by stress — railroading her career plans.

Even though Audrey has been unable to work in a nursing setting since she was 30, she is still glad she went to school.

“It enhanced my life and gives me a nursing perspective, she said.

“I don’t want to hide the fact that I was in the psychiatric hospital; it is part of my life’s story. I stay busy. I love to cook and to make homemade candy at my daughter’s house,” she said.

While in the hospital she went to group activities and learned more stitches. She now uses straight point maneuver, zig zag, satin stitch, granny knots, lazy daisy, and band stitch.

She made a sampler of the aforementioned stitches and submitted it to the Bonner County Fair. She was not awarded a ribbon, but she is proud of her submission, nonetheless.

Audrey does not believe embroidery is a lost art. “If you go to the fair you realize there’s a lot of real talent out there.”

The cost of embroidery thread and muslin is fairly affordable, but she receives only a small stipend each month. Her son helps her out from time to time. Audrey says she will do custom work for people in the community, but generally only takes money to replenish her supplies.

“It’s a gift from my heart. Joy is my reward,” she said, smiling, the embodiment of the spirit of Christmas.

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