While I was crafting around work in Ballarat last month I listened to a few podcasts. One was the Craft Sanity podcast, and I particularly enjoyed the interview with Rebecca Ringquist. So when I saw her book in a shop I suggested Paul get it for me for Christmas.
I listened to the interview at a point where I was assessing my own interest in embroidery – and craft in general – and a quick look at the book in the shop told me it was something I needed to read, rather than simply for project inspiration and instruction.
You see, while I don’t necessarily want to produce the style of embroidery Rebecca makes in this book, it’s more a book about an approach to embroidery than making the example projects. It says it’s “a ‘bend-the-rules’ primer”, and that’s what I’m after.
When I look at what I’ve enjoyed and succeeded in making with embroidery so far, a few common elements emerge. When the projects have been small, they’ve been detailed and precise. When they’ve been larger, they’ve been looser and more about texture and colour than representation.
I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m not working on something useful. That is, either embellishing a garment or bag, or making jewellery. The few times I’ve made artwork, it’s either been intensely personal (the cats) or I’ve intended to make it into something eventually even if I don’t yet know what. While Rebecca suggests letting go of the notion of the piece having a purpose, I’ve recognised that for me that is a creativity-blocker. I’m the same with colouring books. Only when I turned the pages into greeting cards did I enjoy colouring them.
You see, we have so much artwork already that I freeze in horror at the thought of accumulating more.
Time seems to be an cause of me losing interest, as well. The books I write, the portraits I paint, and the sort of weaving I’m exploring now tend to take a long time, on a scale of months to years. I acknowledged years ago that I need some of the craft I do to provide quick satisfaction. Not necessarily instant, but a scale of days and weeks would be nice. And sometimes I have no energy for thought and planning, and it’s good to be able to pick up something and just stitch.
So I’m looking for embroidery projects that are reasonably fast, that can be done in front of the tv or fit in my handbag for waiting rooms and airport lounges, and that has a use at the end. And aren’t old fashioned or twee.
That pretty much eliminates most designs on the market.
I’m happy to design my own projects, but that does require some thought and planning. However, Rebecca’s approach also appeals because it has a freeform spirit to it. Just take a thing and embellish it. Doodle with stitches. Enjoy texture and colour and accident. I love how she says don’t bother fixing a mistake, just stitch over it. And I love her for saying it’s okay to use knots. Honestly, I’ve been hung up on the whole ‘to knot, or not to knot’ question for ages, because I don’t want to put a whole lot of work into embellishing a garment only to have the ends come loose in the wash. Rebecca even suggests putting the knots on the front of the work. I love that!
So I wrote in my visual diary a list of likes and dislikes:
The textural look of kantha and boro
The enhancing of fabric in sashiko and kogin
The simplicity of stitch in tambour and blackwork
The modern look of ‘new’ crewel and the colour in ethnic embroidery
Unconventional materials and scale, as in stitching greeting cards or giant cross stitch.
And, conversely, finer and realistic work if it’s tiny, as in jewellery
Projects with no use
Using no hoop
Fussy, precise work
Traditional and old fashioned (unless subverted)
Collage-like overly busy work
Worrying about knots
Since then I’ve looked in my wardrobe, gone through my old sketchbook, and peered at my to-do list, considering what I could stitch. I’m looking at long delayed sewing projects with fresh enthusiasm, if they provide opportunity for embellishment. And that’s led to some pattern purchasing, downloading, and printing – and planning a sewing day.
Crafty plans for 2016 are well underway.