The Emotional Range Of Making

how to embroider

My latest pursuit. I’ve been working with an embroidery kit. Oh yeah, I did tapestry and cross stitch as a child, but I’ve never before pursued the solitary activity of choosing which stitch goes where, with a tiny needle and tinier stitches.

It’s been a revelation.

Why did no one warn me? That embroidery could be so emotional? Every single stitch in this project hugs to it the most precious memories. I know exactly where I was sat the first time I punctured that black canvas with a glinting needle. I remember the joy and distraction of learning a French knot whilst watching a film. The mantra I repeated in my head as other parts of the embroidery took form and the times I cast it aside as the gloaming merged into night and I had no more light by which to see. All I had left to do was listen to the quiet.

But then, the next morning, I’d pick up the bamboo hoop again.

hoop embroidery.jpeg

I already know that I’ll remember every imperfect stitch and what they have meant in my life. The scent of jasmine in the air, the work pursued or put quietly away. The summer of 2019.

Embroidery captures the most heightened emotions, I’ve learnt. It’s small, intricate, demanding of perfection and concentration. Your life bleeds into every stitch, whether you like it or not.

And this led me to consider what my other forms of making mean to me.

DRESSMAKING

sewing with gingham fabric

This, for me, is the adrenalin rush. The sprint to the finish line, wanting a dress – NOW! – and something that makes my brain spark and fizz. It can be meditative, in moments of hand stitching, but largely it’s an exercise in euphoria. Or disappointment. Either way, it seems to be full of highs or lows.

KNITTING

knitting on the isle of wight

The most meditate of pursuits, I’d argue. You have to play the long game, with no instant results. I can spend nine months knitting a garment, only to pull it on and hate it. No matter. I still love knitting. It bleeds life, emotion and thought out of my mind. For which I’m very grateful!

EMBROIDERY

embroidery

And now a new hobby. Embroidery. All said above! Emotional as they come. This isn’t mindfulness, it’s connecting with yourself – and sometimes, for some of us, that can be painful. Consider yourself warned!

So, what is it for you? How do different activities make you feel? And is there one that’s better for your head?

deborah wilding embroidery

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19 Responses to The Emotional Range Of Making

  1. Tanya says:

    Ooh you’ve got me thinking now, great post! Off on a summer camping trip early Monday so do I make a last minute dash to find some embroidery to while away the evening or perhaps that’s not practical? 🤔 Mum was a big embroiderer and I like idea of Croatian nights embedded in every stitch but it could quite easily become BBQ and sunscreen embedded in every stitch! Happy summer! X

  2. I feel that anytime I am “making” I experience a sense of meditation, mindfulness and quietness. I always feel “in the now”, whether I’m sewing or doing paper crafts or making jewelry. It’s a great time to focus just on the task and other stuff kind of fades into the background.

  3. Morgana says:

    I can completely relate to the memories of every motion involved in a craft. I have many memories, or slices of time, that I can remember while working on a project during particular times in my life. One project that really stands out, as I write this, is a counted cross stitch panel I completed when pregnant with my first child. It was an emotional pregnancy filled with ambivalence and loss, and I remember how things smelled, looked, and felt, the music I listened to, and how I perceived my life and the world around me during that time. It was the first embroidery project I had both started and completed as a young adult. As a child I had started many projects that had been cast aside as I grew bored or got too busy. This counted cross stitch project, at this time in my life, was a lifeline, an anchor, and a comfort to me during a time when all else seemed stormy and wind-swept. I still have that panel, and when I look at it I can indeed remember particular stitches and things that had to be plucked out and re-stitched.

    Thanks for the post and for the memories!

  4. Chris T says:

    In your Instagram stories you said that you didn’t have enough fabric to complete a red outfit (can’t remember which one but Fabric Godmother had stocked it. I notice that SewManju has the self same fabric, so it might be worth contacting her to see where she bought hers.

  5. Chris T says:

    Karen, re the red fabric plea on your Instagram story, I also saw that SewManju is using the same fabric, so it might be worthwhile to contact her to see where she purchased her fabric.

  6. shoes15 says:

    I am a woman obsessed when working on a sewing project. (I don’t knit or embroider.) When I am working on an apparel sewing project, I think about it day and night until it’s done. And then I think about the next one!

  7. LinB says:

    When we knit shawls and chemo caps for hospital patients, we think to ourselves “every stitch is a prayer.”

    When we quilt a blanket that is to be used for mission work, some of us sit on one side of the frame and stitch as far as we can reach, then roll the fabric away to those sitting on the other side of the frame to finish. It is as if the stitches themselves mirror the action of starting a task that we must trust someone else to take over, once it has become too much for us to finish, alone.

    And if, when the stitching that is passed along to us is clumsy, or seems wrong in any way, we quietly take out the offending bits and rework them so that the finished article is good, and is good enough — never pointing out the mistake, never blaming the person whose work we are improving. Perhaps that person can no longer see the stitches clearly. Perhaps the person is stitching for the very first time. We conspire to protect the innocent.

    There is certainly a spiritual component of any sort of making. The spinning of the fibers into thread, the weaving or knotting or knitting, the construction of a thing that will bring comfort or pleasure to someone known or unknown to us. Think of Dorcas/Tabitha, of Joppa, whose many acts of kindness to those around her included making clothing for them. When she died, she was mourned by many.

  8. Ros says:

    So interesting! I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently following a stressful few months for a number of reasons.

    Sewing has completely dropped off because it is very much product driven and based on enthusiastic optimism for the outcome, and if I’m not on a positive frame of mind then sewing just doesn’t feature at all.

    Knitting is slow as you say, and so relaxing with a good audiobook, but there is still the anticipation and hope of the end result.

    Spinning yarn I find is the most completely meditative craft just because of the delightful feel of wool in your hands combined with the fact that the end product is not important. Because spinning yarn is only a step in a process between taking wool from a sheep and then turning it into a product either knitted or woven.

    I’ve recently started weaving and that seems to sit somewhere between sewing and knitting for what it gives my brain/soul.

    I too started embroidery last year and whilst I love it, my poor eyesight makes it less pleasurable than I would like.
    R
    But the flipside to all this is that I end up getting frustrated at not having enough free time to indulge and improve all these skills!

  9. Heather Legat says:

    For years I have been ‘a lurker’. I read, I follow, I learn. I learnt to sew about 40 years ago with my mother who was an experienced seamstress but we struggled because she was rigt handed and I, left handed.Still we survived. I loved sewing for my children and continue to sew for my grandchildren. I sewed quickly and often worked late into the night to finish a project. When my daughter was expecting her first child I started exploring the internet with reference to fabrics for creating nappies. At that point I discovered sewing blogs which I have continued to read for the last ten years – I can’t believe it’s been so long. I continued to sew and now I find the most satisfaction in having an idea, mulling it over for hours, days, weeks and adapting a pattern to fit my vision. Often it is something very simple. This, for me, is now is relaxation, meditation and mindfullness – maybe I’m getting old!

    • Robin says:

      Also a lefty here. Sewing stuck, not knitting or embroidery, mostly because right handers were teaching a lefty. Mom was a natural lefty who was “corrected” by nuns. So, not so many good memories because everyone else (sole lefty in the family) lacked patience with me, and I in turn lacked it for myself. I am working up to an embroidery project, I have the supplies, except for the transfer part, which seems like it shouldn’t be difficult, but may be, if I don’t want to spend a wad of money, which I don’t, so…working up to it, as I said. Can’t say I enjoy learning from YouTube either. Hoping I find as much joy as Karen and others have. Sewing, now that’s a relationship!

  10. Marilyn Velvin says:

    I can relate to your blog Karen and to all the comments that have followed.
    Knitting is my go-to project, especially when it’s a tried and true sock pattern or a baby singlet that is relatively mindless to knit. The more intricate fair isle and lace projects take more concentration so are therapeutic in other ways.
    I also spin and weave – both learned in the last 5 years. Embroidery has been more recent – and I love the thread painting idea which satisfies my desire to paint and to stitch.
    Quilting was a passion when my children where younger but I discovered there is only ‘so many’ quilts that I can have in my house and only so many I can give away to others. Maybe that passion will return if there are grandchildren or others who would love a quilt.
    I also sew a lot of my clothes – just because I can! Increasingly I am relying on online sites for patterns and fabric. There is a shortage of fabric shops in NZ.
    So I love it all and am patiently waiting to retire from teaching to follow my passions more.
    I love your blog Karen, keep it going!

  11. All my energy is going into costumes these days and now I’ve returned to the corporate world, I should be converting my huge stash of gorgeous natural fibre, suitable for work, fabrics into a work wardrobe instead of bodging along in a few pieces of polyester RTW the shapes of which I love but in every other way I despise. But when I compare rhinestoning a hearts and minds gown or the luxurious gold fabrics and geometric shiny stones I have accrued for a Klimt inspired costume, the sparklies win.
    I am also struck dumb with lust over a tapestry canvas that’s just come in based on a russian icon – rich reds and golds and the idea of paint-by-numbers style stitching that will look amazing in my house is also tempting.
    I need more time…

  12. Anna says:

    This is such an interesting thing to think about, I would definitely describe dressmaking as somewhat of a rollercoaster! I personally love English Paper Piecing, for me it’s the relaxing version of sewing.

  13. stitchesoftime says:

    I love embroidery for that very reason, as it is slower you do remember everything. Those memories stay with a piece in the same way that somehow making clothes does not. I have many things that I have made that I remember where and when I was stitching them. Knitting is meditation, unless it is a complex lace patter. Sewing is achievement, I think that is because it is the most visible of my crafts. Few people see my embroidery as most pieces are for gifts for individuals, no-one really notices a new hat but when I sew costume for my hobbies they are visible, they get photographed and admired. Sewing gives me feedback and confidence and that is lovely. And yes may your blog long continue, I love it!

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