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 textileartist.org. We began by making random marks on two pieces of white/off white cotton with two contrasting colors.
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.
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.
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.
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.