Every so often, I am asked if I teach workshops on the stitch techniques I use. And I usually reply that it’s something I’m thinking about. In fact, I have actually come quite close to running a workshop once or twice, but each time, fate had other ideas and it didn’t happen. It is now a couple of years since I seriously planned what I would like to do and yet I still haven’t made it happen.
Although I blame fate for stepping in to stall me, in fact, I think there’s more to it than that. You see, when I stop to really think about it, there’s a voice inside my head that says what I do isn’t a mystery, it’s so simple anyone could do it, so I’d feel a fraud trying to ‘teach’ anything so basic. I suppose you could say that I do not feel myself to be a natural teacher.
I’m also afraid that at a workshop, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to be told how to decide what you’re going to stitch, where to find inspiration and how to plan and prepare your work.
But the truth is, that’s not how I work. I never really know in advance what a piece will look like. I don’t prepare in the way of artists who sketch or make samples, instead, I work intuitively. Over time, I have come up with techniques that let me channel that intuition, but the truth remains, every time I begin, I begin with no clear vision of what I’m working towards.
Having laid this bare before you, you might decide that there’s not much point in reading any further, but before you click away, I want to tell you the one reason why, despite all the doubts, I’ve gone ahead and written about my process. And that is simply the fact that for me, and perhaps for you, slow, intuitive stitching is the most rewarding method of relaxing, of finding a deep sense of tranquility and a type of mindfulness, I have yet discovered.
I am a very strong believer in the power of slow stitch as a means to mental wellbeing, which I would love to extend to as many people as possible, who might be predisposed to benefit from it too.
This then is why I’ve tried to summarise my process, to offer it as a technique to anyone who feels it might also be of use to them.
So, what follows in this and the following four posts, is my attempt to simply explain what I do, and where possible, why I do it.
Don’t think of it as in any way a definitive ‘how to do it’, think of it as ‘it’s a way to do it’, or simply ‘oh that’s how Anny does it’. If you see anything that appeals to you, fantastic, give it a go yourself. If not, well I hope at least to entertain you for a while.
Over the next four posts, I’ll take you through the processes I typically use, from the beginning of a piece through to the end. Remember though, this is just my approach. Design your own practice to suit you. Feel free to take anything that helps from what follows and incorporate it into what you do, but do not be constrained by anything I suggest. Make your own explorations and if the route of slow intuitive stitch appeals to you, use it to find your sense of peace and with luck, your own creative voice.
Slow Stitch – Intuitive Stitch
Let’s start with the tricky bit, definitions.
How do I define slow stitch? Well, for me, slow stitch is basically hand stitching done for relaxation. Until a few years ago, my work was exclusively needlepoint – first using kits with patterns provided or printed on the canvas, later using designs I made myself. They all involved the use of thousands of tiny tent stitches, filling up the holes in the canvas with threads.
Whether following a pattern or design or making it up as you go along, whatever technique you’re using, cross-stitch, needlepoint, quilting, collage, Kantha, etc. if you’re doing it by hand and as a means of relaxing, then I’d call it slow stitch. By the way, knitting and crochet are also slow practices as far as I’m concerned, but that’s such a huge area, I’m going to confine myself here simply to the realm of threads and fabrics.
As anyone who’s become hooked on slow stitch will tell you, it’s something about the process that draws you in and I believe it’s the repetitive nature of the stitching that produces the relaxing sensation. Whichever technique you use, it’s the repetition of the stitching that’s important.
For me, this is a means of meditation. When someone meditates, they generally seek to slow the mind and calm the waves of thought. There are lots of ways to help yourself to calm your thoughts, focusing on the breath, reciting a mantra, looking at an object, and more. Slow stitching happens to be (for me) an excellent technique. When I pick up whatever I’m working on and begin to stitch, I find that, within a few minutes, I have become absorbed in the stitching process, and gradually I’ll have relaxed and become more peaceful.
There are people who take this even further and aim to concentrate entirely on focusing on each stitch in a mindful way, actually making the stitching a mindful practice in itself. This may be helpful to you, although I’ll be honest and say that I don’t really think about my own stitching as tightly focused as this. For me, it’s still slow stitch, whether you’re thinking about the process, or simply doing it.
What about intuitive stitch?
Now, this one is harder for me to define. I’d say that if you are following a pattern or design, then you are receiving guidance as to what to stitch where. However, if you are making it up as you go along, if you aren’t following a pattern or previously worked out design, then you’re working intuitively.
Of course, this leads us straight to the question – where does the intuition come from?
Shall we park that for the time being? It’s not that it isn’t fascinating, in many ways I’d say that it was the most fascinating question of all. But I’m not up to the task of exploring that here. I’m sure we all have our own take on this and that’s sufficient.
The work that I create is a result of intuitive stitch using my definition because I don’t prepare in advance the designs that I make, so I am working intuitively, letting whatever the source, guide my decisions.
If you’re reading this and thinking that’s all well and good for her, but what about my intuition? take heart. If you haven’t tried working this way before and you’re not sure that it will work for you, have faith. People so often say that they’re not creative, but it simply isn’t true, everyone is creative, in their own ways. If you’re reading this because you’re interested in textile art or slow stitch or finding relaxation, I’d already bet that you’re being guided to try something that will work for you.
The trick, I’ve found, is to have a variety of ways to fire up your imagination and let your intuition start working. In the third of these posts, I’m going to be talking about a range of ways that I’ve tried to get me started on a new piece. I’ll show you the ways I use to ignite the fire of imagination. I’m still exploring this myself and fully expect the list of ways to change as I try out new ideas. If this path becomes your path too, I’m sure you will also find your own preferred ways.
Now, before I end this introduction, I want to spend a few minutes thinking about end results and expectations.
One of the things I really like about my slow stitching practice, is that as I’m relaxing, I’m also creating something, which, at some point, will be a finished thing. For me, that ‘thing’ is a piece of cloth, which I may later choose to display as a piece of wall art.
But I want to emphasize, it doesn’t have to be the same for you. I’d been slow stitching pieces of textile for years before I even showed it to anyone, let alone mounted and framed it for exhibition. I still regularly stitch pieces that I don’t mount or show. They remain rolled up on the shelf – there’s quite a pile.
What, if anything, you choose to do with what you make, is entirely your decision. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people need to feel that they are making something, while others are happy just to be engaged in the stitching process. For me, it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to stitch, whether the end result is somehow pleasing enough to show, or not.
All I would say is, if you strongly believe that you must have a practical, useful end result if, for instance, you want to make a gift for someone, this process might not suit you so well. I cannot guarantee that as a result of using my process, you will create anything that you want to put on your wall, give away, or make into a quilt or cushion, or bag, or anything else of a practical nature. By its very nature, the results are unpredictable. Fortunately, the textile world is wonderfully rich and varied, so although my way of working might not suit, there will undoubtedly be others that are exactly right for you.
However, if you are content to stitch, simply to enjoy the feeling of relaxation that comes with the slow repetition and experience the mysterious workings of the imaginative mind, then please do dive in. If, as a result of the process, you find you have made something you actually like, then that’s a bonus. And oddly, once you relax into the process, you’ll be surprised how much you do appreciate what you end up making.
And one more thing is worth mentioning. I keep referring to this practice as a journey because that’s exactly what it is. What follows in the next four posts, is what I’ve learnt over several years of daily stitching. If this process is still calling to you, then the most important thing is simply to start and then to keep going.