My next interview in the “Outlander- the fans who make it” series is with Beth Elahmar, who makes incredible cross-stitch portraits of the Outlander actors and sells them for charity.
I first met Beth on Twitter, and then had the opportunity to meet her in person last year at the Highlanders Con in Blackpool and to admire her amazing work. The quality is so fine that, even when you are standing in front of it, it looks painted, rather than stitched. I was in awe of the fineness of the work and later, of her story.
I have only just learned that Beth is hard of hearing, as I never noticed it when we were chatting. It was a true pleasure to meet such a kind and warm-hearted person.
Here’s the interview:
● Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Beth Elahmar – pronounced E – lahk – mar. A lot of people want to pronounce it El – ah – mar, but no. It’s got an “h” that sounds like a “k”- I live in Tucson, Arizona and I’m 51 years old. For the past 15 years, I’ve worked for a bankruptcy and collections law office as a project manager, in the accounting department. . I have 3 cats. I’m hard of hearing and depend a lot on lip-reading.
Working for a bankruptcy law firm can be a bit disheartening at times, because you are seeing debtors that have reached rock bottom. They’ve lost everything and have had no choice but to declare that they are bankrupt, and we’re tasked with asking them for the money to pay their debts.
One case has always stayed with me and has reinforced my determination to always be kind, to always lend a helping hand to those who have fallen on hard times.
There were parents that had lost their daughter, due to malpractice of the hospital she had been in. Not only did they suffer the crushing and devastating loss of a child, they lost their savings, they lost the money they’d won through a malpractice lawsuit and they were forced to sell the plots on either side of their daughter’s grave, because the courts deemed them unnecessary and wanted the money to pay their debts. It was heartbreaking, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Since I work in the accounting office and not in the collections department, I’m blessed that I don’t have to speak to the debtors on the phone, rather I read their court documents. It takes a certain personality to be a collector and I simply wouldn’t be able to do it. I have too soft a heart to ask someone with nothing for more.
My hobby is cross-stitching, though I’m hesitant to call it a hobby. It’s more of a lifesaver for me, as I suffer from anxiety & depression, and my stitching is my therapy. I don’t have any other hobbies, as cross-stitching is my main focus. When you create portraits such as mine, it forces you to concentrate and not think of anything other than making the item come to life, so to speak. It shuts out the noise of the world around you and you’re caught up in the creation of the portrait. I’ve always thought cross-stitching was like painting by numbers, only with a needle and thread, versus a brush & paint.
I’ve been told many times that my type of cross-stitching isn’t like the stitching of our grandmothers. I like to think it could be compared to writing a book, I suppose. You start with an idea, a plot so to speak, then the colors end up being your words. You spend so many hours, weeks and months creating it, that you literally become part of it. A myriad of emotions are stitched into it, so that, when it’s finally finished, you’ve created a story. It has a hero or heroine (the individual in the portrait) and many antagonists (the stitches you inevitably did wrong and have to rip out). You literally have blood, sweat & tears in it (needles are sharp little buggers and when you’ve spent months on a portrait only to realize you’ve stitched it with the fabric going the wrong way, trust me, the tears flow and the sweating starts, because you scramble to find an easy fix to it, without scrapping the whole project and starting over. The Laird is a perfect example of that complete screw up).
You look at the final piece and remember where you were, what was happening while you were creating it and then you’re already thinking of the next one. The next story.
● What made you start the Cross-stitch project and can you tell us a little bit about that? Have you also done cross-stitch projects for other shows or only for Outlander?
I have been cross-stitching for 19 years. I’m self-taught. I started cross-stitching as a way to convey my sympathies for a co-worker, who had lost his son in a tragic accident. I sent his photo away to have a pattern made and, after completing the portrait, my father was convinced I could design my own patterns, so he bought me the software I needed to create and stitch my own patterns.
I have done cross-stitching for a few other shows, such as ‘The Vampire Diaries’, ‘The Originals’, ‘True Blood’ and ‘Scandal’, but it wasn’t until I started stitching Outlander, that my charity work took off. There wasn’t a lot of interest in helping promote the raffles I had for Ian Somerhalder & ‘The Originals’, so they barely raised $1200 each. I was so disheartened and discouraged, that I swore I’d never put my work out there to be treated like that again. But, when I started The Laird, it got the attention of The Southern Sassenachs, who asked me if I’d be interested in raffling The Laird. They listened to my concerns and recommendations, regarding what I wanted to achieve with my work, and promised to give it the respect it deserved. They posted it on Twitter, and in many fan groups on Facebook, and from there it just took off. One friend brought it to the attention of Sam, and he wrote me a note expressing a desire to see the finished product, and provided me with his autograph to be included in the portrait. After that, a lot of fans from the show saw it and, the next thing we know, the raffle had raised over $10,000 for Caitriona’s & Sam’s respective charities, World Child Cancer & Bloodwise. Upon meeting Sam & Caitriona in San Diego, I offered to do more portraits for their charities. They were thrilled to hear that, and chose the next portraits to be completed. When I was in NYC, I showed Sam a picture of The Laird’s Lady that I was tinkering with at the time, and he requested that I finish that one before completing the two he and Caitriona had chosen. The Laird’s Lady has been nearly completed and will be raffled by The Southern Sassenachs at the end of July.
● How much time do you spend every day on your cross-stitch project?
I work full time. So, when I’m not working, I’m stitching. For example, when I get off work at 3, I’ll come home and I’m stitching by 4pm and will keep at it until about 10 or 11 at night. Then, on the weekends, I’m up at 5am and I’ll stitch all day until about 10 or 11 as well. It’s normal for me to spend about 30-40 hours a week stitching. Sometimes more, time permitting.
● What do you like most about the Outlander books and show? How much time do you spend on Outlander?
I’m one of those fans that hasn’t read the Outlander books yet, though I finally took the plunge and read the Lord John Grey series. I was brought into the Outlander world by my good friend Pilar and another friend Karen R. Frantz, the artist. I fell in love with Karen’s work first and she insisted I watch the show. Pilar seconded that motion and, before I knew it, I was binge-watching the first season until 2am, because I couldn’t turn the bloody thing off. I was captivated. I started researching every image I could find and decided to make a portrait of Jamie as The Laird.
● Which character in Outlander is your favourite?
I’m fiercely loyal, like Murtagh, so I relate to him the most. I love how he is always solid, yet you know there is a story that lurks behind his eyes. He keeps everything close to his chest, except when he’s with Jamie. He’s someone you always want in your corner.
● How has Outlander affected your life and/or lifestyle?
Outlander is the focus of my creations right now. I have several projects in the works including a personal portrait for a former cast member that’ll I’ll be working on when I’m finished with The Laird’s Lady. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be delivering it to him personally when I travel to Scotland this summer.
Outlander has played a huge part in getting me to finally travel abroad. I knew that, if I wanted the cast to see my work, I was going to have to go to them. At the time, the conventions were all in Europe. So, I got my passport for the first time when I turned 50 years old and booked my first flight.
I want to experience every aspect of it, not only from the filming locations aspect, but also from the actual historical parts that Diana has woven into her beautiful story. I’m planning to stand on Culloden battlefield on my birthday in July. I want to feel it. Diana has stated in the past that there’s something about the area that you can’t help but feel. The spirits are there. I want to experience it whole heartedly.
It has also allowed me to raise funds for a very dear cause that is close to my heart. I lost my brother to suicide 34 years ago. In October 2016, I started a portrait of The Highlanders to help me through my grief of losing my father and decided, when it was done, that I wanted to raise money for people with mental issues, specifically the ones that suffer from depression like I do and like my brother did. I talked it over with Sam at the San Diego Comic Con and told him I wanted to use it for that reason. He was very supportive, as were the rest of the actors in the portrait. As of today, it has raised over $13,000 for Bring Change 2 Mind, a charity started by the actress Glenn Close to bring awareness to mental health issues and encourage people to talk about it and help prevent suicide.
● Is this the first fandom you are a member of? What made you decide to join this fandom, rather than any other one? What do you like and dislike about being part of a fandom?
I was part of The Vampire Diaries & The Originals fandom for a few years. I think that, the difference between Outlander and the rest of the fandoms I’ve been part of, is the age group. TVD & TO are mostly geared towards teenagers and young adults. They don’t really see the actors as actors, but rather as the character they portray, which I’ve always felt was a disservice. Outlander fans don’t do that. I’ve been to several Outlander gatherings and have noticed the behavior of those attending. They see the entire cast as human beings, who happen to have a really cool job. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few that cross the line.
One of the things I dislike, is when they attack the cast & crew, simply because a scene didn’t get filmed exactly the way the author wrote it. There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed or passionate about a particular scene and how you think it should be filmed, but when you start demanding a pound of flesh with your complaints, that is crossing the line. It’s very easy to sit behind a screen and be an armchair director, producer, writer, but it’s not an easy job to actually perform the work. I wish those that do this would take a breather, before launching an attack that involves name-calling and just plain nastiness. There’s no need for it. I fear it will cause the cast and crew to pull back from social media platforms.
We’re considerably lucky, in this day and age. I remember having to send a letter to a fan club, just to get an autographed photo. They didn’t have conventions and gatherings earlier, where you could actually get a hug from your favorite celebrity.
The thing that I like best about the Outlander fandom, is that there is a sense of camaraderie. A feeling of kinship. I’ve said that the Outlander fandom is filled with some of the most generous, kind and amazing people I’ve ever met. I’ve met a few people that I now consider very close friends, and a couple I’d consider family. There is fierce loyalty towards protecting the integrity of not only the story Diana has created, but also the performances and privacy of the cast members and crew. I love that.