Meditative, Schmediative

For some years crafters and quilters have extolled the virtues of slow hand stitching. They say it’s a soothing meditative process that will relax you, make you appreciate the process, and be mentally restorative. The implication is it will make you a better person.

My latest attempt to reach such a zen-like state was sparked by a free online course called Stitch Camp taught by Gwen Hedley on We began by making random marks on two pieces of white/off white cotton with two contrasting colors.

Initial painted fabrics

Gwen used twigs to apply paint. My first deviation was to skip the twigs as the ground was snow covered. We were to use diluted acrylic paint. My second deviation – I used textile paint that I watered down too much and it made blobs. We were to mark one piece of cotton heavily and the other one lightly, then cut up the cotton however we liked, rearrange the pieces in a way that connected the marks, and hand stitch the pieces together. My third deviation (do you see a pattern?) was to zigzag my pieces by machine and to make two rearranged pieces from them. They were still ugly.

Pieces cut up and arranged into one.
Two starting pieces with some bits left off

Then, we were to use hand stitches to emphasize the connections between the sewn together pieces. After I backed the pieces with fusible fleece, I began to do elementary stitching in red, navy and off white threads. After what seemed like days, I had stitched two long lines, done seed stitching, running and back stitches, and loose satin stitches. I added small bits of fused fabric. (Gwen did small hand sewn applique additions. Deviation four.) The awful looking piece still looked awful, and the only thing I was meditating on was a toss to the waste basket.

Appliqued and embroidered

I figured the piece would become less ugly only if I embroidered over every speck of the surface. That wasn’t going to happen. Every stitch I made annoyed me more as one of my fabrics had a very tight weave that was hard to pull the needle through. The process didn’t make me calmer as Gwen (who stressed this was about process not product) had confidently said I’d feel. I saw many ways the ugliness could be eased, but none involved thread.

Out came the paints and Posca markers. I painted two layers of paint over the piece I had embroidered to help the contrasting colors meld more. I got creative with markers on the unstitched piece and found that process calming.

Painted over and still ugly, but my eye doesn’t skitter everywhere as much
No hand stitching, all fused applique and Posca pens. I think my pen strokes reference many embroidery stitches.

It’s not that I don’t get the tactile pleasure of hand stitching. I enjoyed embroidering my felted wool squares because the colors were bright and wool felt so good to sew. Lots of small pieces to embroider are a better fit with my limited hand stitch attention span. I could finish one square in 15 minutes. However, when my starting point is ugly and stitching is a struggle I am not going to persevere with a project that seems endless. I don’t think my path to process nirvana is hand stitching. The fault is in me, not the instructor. In fact, I could happily fall asleep to Gwen’s soothing voice. I guess Stitch Camp did have some meditative qualities for me.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Commentary, In Process, Stitch

18 responses to “Meditative, Schmediative

  1. Pingback: Recalibrating in 2022 | The Snarky Quilter

  2. Indeed, I get it! And I especially loved the idea that some of your marks referenced hand quilting. Clearly you are ready to write an artist’s statement for that piece 😀

  3. I signed up for that stitch camp. I found it completely uninspiring and not the way I like to work so didn’t do any of it. I love that you went in your own direction with the piece. I think it works!

  4. I admire you for trying new challenges. I can really relate to tightly woven fabric being difficult and not fun to embroider, especially if it is painted. The markers seem to have been a good way to go. Your end results look really neat I find in almost impossible to work in (“primary”) red, (white), and blue.

  5. Donna

    Your painted piece is great. I’m liking the circles. They create movement without pulling you over the edge.
    I too work best when starting with my own ideas.

  6. I too like the piece with no hand stitching.
    I love to do hand stitching and in recent years I have loved the books that have come out with fresh takes on the traditional embroidery stitches, but it is not something I have spent much time on myself.

  7. I love the no-hand-stitching piece…though you could add some hand embroidery just for performance art.

  8. I was part of Stitch Camp but it fell during a week when I had too many other deadlines so I haven’t done mine yet. I agree that she has a soothing voice! I have this on my to do list, so we’ll see how mine turns out.

  9. This process (creating the field for the handwork) sounds so much like doing a Mystery Quilt…. once finished (or sooner) you hate it!!! My mind does not work that organically. I also think there is/are many mindful/meditative moments with the sewing machine!!!

    • What a great analogy! In both you begin with colors that may or may not work for what the piece can become, and by the time you realize that, it’s too late to change them. And I know many sewers who are soothed by the whir of their machines.

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