Curled up in a corner of the couch, Kiesha Jenkins begins working her needle and thread through the fabric.
The delicate design that is emerging, chain stitch by chain stitch, is of a female swimmer diving into the pool in Astoria Park in 1936, the year it opened.
Kiesha, who has shiny, springy Goldilocks curls and buttoned-down horn-rims, stops stitching long enough to lament the fact that the diving pool is gone – it has been turned into a year-round performance center.
She knows her artwork can’t change history, but she hopes that at least it will remind residents of their shared past and spark conversations about the good old days.
Kiesha, who was born and raised on what she calls a “miniature hobby farm” on the outskirts of Zanesville, Ohio, a middling middle-size town in the Midwest, always intended to be a journalist.
Indeed, after graduating from Ohio University, she did work as a reporter for about a year.
“I liked writing fluff features,” she says, “but I hated having to interview people for news stories and asking them questions they didn’t want to answer.”
She worked in retail for a while, and when she and her then-husband moved to Brooklyn in 2009 to be closer to his family, she got a job as a transcriptionist at a post-production center.
In 2015, the year they moved to Astoria, she became an entry-level employee at a digital and direct-mail marketing agency that focuses on nonprofits; she’s now an associate account executive for the company.
Kiesha, who is a creative person, has never been an advocate of the domestic arts, although she has dabbled in them every so often.
She notes that in her 20s, she briefly became a baker, getting so good at mixing and measuring that she appeared on a reality-TV show.
The stitching, that was more her grandmother’s pastime than hers, but about a decade ago she tried her hand at it.
She put it aside until about four years ago, when, for some inexplicable reason, she bought an embroidery kit at a Michaels crafts store.
When the pandemic put the world on lockdown right after her divorce became final, Kiesha started stitching to fill in her down time, which increased dramatically when she commuted from her bedroom to her at-home workspace.
She figured that embroidery, which she taught herself to do by “fiddling around,” would be the perfect stress-reduction diversion.
“I basically do it after work, on weekends and after dinner when I’m watching TV,” she says, as her rescue cat, Benny, sniffs affectionately around her legs. “I have gotten good enough so that I don’t always have to stare at the fabric so I can still follow the shows.”
Her designs, inspired by her own imagination, her neighborhood, pop culture and some of those TV shows, regularly elicit hundreds of upvotes on Reddit and have attracted so much attention that she recently opened an Etsy shop.
One of her more popular pieces depicts a strutting street-wise pigeon proudly wearing a bagel around its neck.
It’s so right on – it is, of course, an everything bagel with a big bite out of the front – that you can’t help but think, “only in New York City.”
Kiesha also created a rat sitting on a slice of pizza in homage to the infamous 2015 subway video and is working on one of a squirrel snacking on a churro.
It is, she says, her trilogy tribute to the Big Apple.
Whether she’s stitching on a tote bag or making a Christmas ornament or a hoop work suitable for hanging, Kiesha draws or traces an image onto the cloth with a water-soluble blue pen, coloring in the lines with embroidery floss.
The stitching, she says, can be relaxing or frustrating.
“I consider this a hobby,” she says. “I don’t want to ever make it my full-time business because then it wouldn’t be fun. Last year, I made about $500 – enough to pay for my supplies.”
She points out that this is not her first artistic endeavor, and it’s unlikely to be her last.
She and her then-husband started a T-shirt business a couple of years back before they founded the Queens Craft Brigade. Some of her embroidered designs originated from that business.
At least for the moment, Kiesha is content to continue her stitched-together life.
“I’m hoping to do more designs for different neighborhoods,” she says. “And I’m looking into doing crafts shows and markets.”
Copyright 2022 by Nancy A. Ruhling