Celebrating Strengths

    Krista West was assessed and identified as autistic as an adult in February of 2020.
    While it wasn’t a great surprise because of autistic family members,
    Krista shared that it did take her some time to accept her limitations
    so that she could celebrate her strengths.

    Here is Krista’s story, in her own words:

    I am fortunate in that I have been able to develop a career that suits my autism extremely well: my special interest is historic textiles, and I have worked for 27 years as a specialty tailor to Greek Orthodox communities, creating complex traditional liturgical vesture and paraments for communities around the globe. This work has taken me to Greece several times for research, and on one of these trips, I discovered Greek folk embroidery.

    Handcrafting as a Stim

    From childhood, handcrafts have been my stim behavior, providing me space for mentally processing things while keeping my hands busy and engaged. I’ve done all sorts of handcrafts, but after discovering folk embroidery, it became my passion. I’ve created over 80 pieces of hand embroidery. For a long time, I thought I might be the only person who felt so deeply drawn to these ancient, geometric, stylized designs, but when friends started noticing my embroideries in my home and asking where I got the patterns, I realized there might be others interested in this historic craft.

    Avlea Folk Embroidery

    So, in 2017, I opened my cross stitch and embroidery kit business, Avlea Folk Embroidery, with just a few designs. The response from the stitching community really surprised me—in two short years, my designs were “discovered,” I was a guest on a fiber podcast reaching over 20,000 listeners, and I wrote several articles for national magazines. All the while, I was creating more and more historically-inspired designs. I now have over one hundred designs available.

    Creative, Fulfilling Work

    It has been so incredibly fulfilling, not only to have such a positive reception of my creative work, but also to feel like sharing my stim behavior with the world has helped revive an entire handcraft that could have been lost to history. In this regard, my autism has opened doors, not closed them: for example, I recently gave a presentation on the benefits of handcraft to an organization that uses crafts as a therapeutic tool for veterans struggling with mental health issues. The fact that I struggle with some of the same social challenges as vets with PTSD, really helped build trust and mutual awareness.

    Seeing Patterns Everywhere

    While I still struggle with basic social endeavors such as talking on the phone or navigating a shopping mall, I am grateful to have work that keeps me focused on the positive traits of my autism—my ability to focus, which allows me to lose myself in designing; my ability to see patterns everywhere and therefore find inspiration all around me; and my growing ability to have compassion, both for myself and for others struggling with a disability.

    Krista West