I've been itching for some time to play with needles, thread, and material. Just plain itching to play. But - I grew up when you took Home Ec in high school, and when cross stitching was the rage. Everyone, every teacher, particularly Anna Hamilton, my high school home ec gal, emphasized precision. Each and every stitch needed to be just so: the perfect exact length, the perfect spacing, and by God, what ever it was I did had to look just as good from the back. My backs were a holy mess, designed to make poor Anna shudder in dismay.
No one had yet to embrace the wabi sabi approach. No one liked, yet alone loved, wonky stitches.
My work always looked like a drunken sailor had gone at it.
Now, no offense to sailors, drunk or otherwise. "Like a drunken sailor" happens to be one of my dad's pet phrases. He took great delight in using it, especially when he viewed his offspring's and their children's first attempt at navigating kayaks. Since dad dropped out of high school to join the navy during WWII and told stories of his youthful escapades while on active duty, I suspect he knows a great deal about sailors, drunk or otherwise.
Then, just a few weeks ago, I found Liz Kettle and slow stitching. My Lord, I love this woman. She embraces wonky stitches, explaining that each needle went in and out just where it was supposed to be. She emphasizes that your stitches can be differently sized, uneven, crooked or more. And, as you can see, I embraced this process with a passion.
Liz just follows a few basic rules:
- Don't spend more than two or three minutes picking out you fabric remnants.
- Never, ever, rip out a stitch. It's fine.
- It doesn't matter what color thread you use. Just grab one and get started.
- The piece will let you know when it's finished; trust your gut.
Liz's slow stitching is her meditation, her way to ground herself each morning. She completes a square each morning before she goes running. I complete one every few days.
Stitching is so new to me; I did cross stitch, but there are wonderful little grids to follow when you cross stitch. I stand a fighting chance to make respectable looking stitches, at least on the front. Just don't look at the back, okay? Miss Anna Hamilton will be shuddering in her grave if you do that, and she'll claim no knowledge what so ever of me.
True confession time - I break Liz's rules.
I can spend a long time choosing my fabric, playing with one color after another, mixing and matching my pieces. This morning, for the first time, I managed to choose quickly. Maybe it comes with practice?
I loved her class at Artistic Artifacts in Alexandria, VA. (If you are a fabric and thread lover, this is your place. It's like going to heaven...fabrics from all over the world. Heaven in the form of colors and textures!)
I loved the class, but I tried to kind of hide myself. This group of women seriously knew what they were doing. Awesome, tiny, straight stitches completed in a heart beat. This newbie stood out and not in the star of the class type of way.
Another part of my confession: I rip out stitches. They're still wonky, they're still looking like a drunken sailor took this class. But, the more of these little babies I do, the less ripping out I do.
I'm learning to live with the wabi-sabi-ness of it all and have managed to deafen my inner critic (aka Anna Hamilton). And the stitches are getting smaller, tinier, and just looking better. Not great, but better. I can live with better.
And, even though these ladies overwhelmed me with their talent and expertise, they were a friendly bunch, and never criticized my feeble attempts.
Thank you, ladies!
As I worked my way through the class, fortified with a bit of wine, (These ladies know how to have a class on a Friday night. The wine certainly didn't help my stitching, and I never came anywhere near the drunken sailor level, but it helped with not completely despairing of it all.) I learned a lot.
I learned that cheap needles will create headaches. They don't go through the fabric as smoothly; they tend to snag. I now own some Tulip brand needles.
I also learned that crewel needles are awesome; no matter the size of the needle tip, they have a really huge eye. For those of us whose own eyes are lacking in sharpness, crewel needles are a blessing.
I learned that I love these little square works of art. They're 4" X 4", so that they don't become a "project."
And, I learned that I love fabric, and I love hand stitching.
Right now, I'm pretty focused on making the needle do what I want it to do, but with 4 pieces down and 1 started this morning, I'm finding a rhythm, and things are going more quickly and easily.
Even though I have to work at it, or think about it, there's a calmness about it all, and a timelessness as well. It's certainly a one of a kind result.
If you're intrigued, Liz has a wonderful video on the whole process, and she explains it far better than I can here. You can find her video at: http://www.textileevolution.com/index.php/easyblog/entry/stitch-meditations (Sorry, it doesn't seem to want to hyperlink!)
The site is a wealth of info on stitching, hand and by machine. Liz has published some great books, and you'll also find samples of her own squares.
A few notes:
I didn't include my class square. That poor baby just wants to hide her pathetic-ness away from the world. I'm keeping her to remind me of how far I'm coming, but I'm letting her hide.
The squares appear in the order I've completed them.
Square 1: that awesome piece of netting like material comes from an old bridal gown donated to a thrift shop. The gown was so badly stained, that the shop could not sell it. I got it in another class, where we ripped up that gown and used ever bit we could. This netting comes from the crinoline under the gown! Lesson learned: I need to haunt thrift shops to get my fabric stash where it needs to be.
Square 2: the material that forms the smallest dotted rectangle is a piece of an old scarf. Fun!
Square 3: Ah...fibers! I can use funky fibers that I love, but that I have no idea what to do with. I've never mastered knitting, crochet, etc.
Square 4: The blue piece with black "flowers" is a piece I created in a fabric gelli printing class. It began as white muslin.