ZL3 November hotel. These words are deeply familiar to me. As a child I spent many hours in Dad’s radio room, listening to him talk to people on the other side of the world. I remember the sound of the static and strange high-pitched electronic sounds that would emerge from the handsome blue-enamelled radio set my father had built. I remember the static resolving into a human voice, often rich with accent, voices distant with the miles, speaking from Australia, American, Canada, Israel, Europe. Before the internet this was a small miracle.
My father is an amateur radio operator, commonly called ham radio operator, and ZL3NH is his call sign. ZL for Aotearoa New Zealand, 3 for the South Island, and NH, his personal signature. For his recent 90th birthday I decided to embroider his QSL card.
A QSL card is a confirmation of contact. Ham radio operators would send them to each other after speaking on the radio. My father has a box full of them from all around the world, confirmations of moments of contact, voices meeting across vast distances.
A birthday card is also a confirmation of contact, or confirmation of connection. I have one of dad’s QSL card in my office in Belfast. When I was a child I took little notice of the cards, they were part of the landscape of my childhood. Now it is a powerful reminder of not only my childhood but a pastime that has almost vanished. I was deciding what to make for my father’s birthday and recalled the card. I knew its elegant, bold lines and colours would translate well into stitch. But I decided to leave off the technical codes, the writing too fine to execute on a plane.
Stitching is slow. You enter into the work itself—the call sign, the shape of the country I was born in, my father’s name, our former address and the place I called home. It is work rich with memory and meaning.