Are you a textile technique addict?

Are you a textile technique addict?

And why using too many techniques is killing your creativity

Have you ever looked at a stunning piece of textile art beautifully presented against the crisp white wall of a gallery and thought Wow! How did she do that? How did that artist develop such mastery over her techniques? How does she manage to speak so clearly through fibre in a voice that feels fresh and exciting?

And then perhaps you do that thing, that we all do and know we shouldn’t, of comparing yourself to them. And you start to feel a bit inadequate or even envious because, although you have a lifelong passion for textiles and a ‘heart and soul’ commitment, you’re struggling to settle on a style for your art that feels authentic.

You would love to develop an original visual vocabulary. You long to innovate with your materials and techniques. But your process is confused, your results are random and your voice feels shallow and indistinct.

And as you’re standing there at that exhibition in awe of the masterpiece before you, you tell yourself, I just wasn’t born with natural ability. My work will never have the impact of this piece. I’m just not good enough.


Here’s some great news! None of that is true… and, by the way, you should learn to go easier on yourself – your inner critic is really harsh!

The truth is this: That artist you so admire is probably no more innately talented than you or me. But… (and this is important)… they know something you don’t know. It’s a secret that transformed the process of a textile artist very close to my heart and set her free to push the boundaries of her techniques. And it could just do the same for you!


By the way if you prefer to watch rather than read, scroll down or click here to check out the video we made for Facebook to go along with this article.


Sue Stone: Tea Party in Tokyo

Sue Stone: Tea Party in Tokyo

How Sue Stone found her flow

Disclaimer: Sue Stone is my mum and I’m very proud of her as you’re about to find out! 

Now I may be biassed (did I mention she’s my mum?), but I think Sue Stone’s visual identity strengthens with each new piece she makes. Which probably explains why she’s enjoying such acclaim as a textile artist.

In March 2017, her work was featured on the front cover of Embroidery Magazine and, at the end of 2016, her solo show Do You Remember Me? was a huge hit at the UK’s biggest textile event The Knitting and Stitching show. Her boundless enthusiasm for sharing her passion with others means she’s recently been invited to teach illustrative hand stitch and appliqué to readers of Selvedge magazine and share her secrets for developing pattern, texture and line with the students of Studio Preniac in South West France.

But the journey to success hasn’t been a smooth one.

After a break of nearly 30 years, Sue rediscovered her passion for the techniques and materials she’d grown up with. Textiles had been part of her life since she was a child when her own mother taught her to sew. But now in her 50s, Sue struggled with a lack of confidence. She flitted from one technique to another. Never truly committing.


Sound familiar?

Perhaps you can relate? Maybe you have a hundred ideas buzzing around your head but lack focus. You try to bring those ideas to life using every technique in the book. After all, there are hundreds of possible pathways as a textile artist; the options can be overwhelming and it can be confusing knowing what to focus on.

Sue had fallen into a similar trap.

But after jumping from style to style, enough was enough. It was time to reconnect with a lesson from years earlier…


Learning from a textile art legend

In her days as an Embroidery student at Goldsmiths College in London, there was one teacher above all others whose impact on Sue would last a lifetime and not just because of her bright green hair: Constance Howard’s work and example has been credited for being responsible in no small part for textile art’s transition from minor craft to important artistic genre.

And there was one very simple concept at the core of Constance’s approach:

“You don’t need to know hundreds of stitches. But you need to use the ones you do know well!”

By the way, we made a free PDF to go along with this article; in it you can find out the stitches Sue Stone uses most frequently to create her textile art and why. Download the freebie by clicking on the big yellow banner below!

Click here to download


Constance Vs convention

But surely the only way to stop your textile art being unoriginal, trite and boring is to have a wide range of techniques at your fingertips? And, if you ever stand a chance of innovating, there’s no way you can rely purely on basic, traditional techniques, is there?

Well, the woman described by the Guardian newspaper as “the most influential pioneer in textile design of her generation” disagreed.

So, despite what conventional wisdom tells us, perhaps using endless techniques is not conducive to creativity. Maybe a desire to try everything could actually have a detrimental affect on your work as a textile artist. What is often framed as “versatility” can hold you back from ever truly fulfilling your creative potential.

Constance Howard: The Country Wife

Constance Howard: The Country Wife


7 ways ‘versatility’ can crush creativity

Before we dive in, I want you to promise that you won’t go beating yourself up if any of this rings true. You’re not the only one. These are issues that most artists have struggled with at some time or another during their creative lives so be kind to yourself.

1. You’ll struggle to innovate

If you dabble with a wide range of disparate techniques, how can you hope to deepen your mastery of them? Without making a commitment to a more limited selection, you’ll never get under their skin. You’ll struggle to make them your own. You’ll be tempted to imitate rather than originate.

Only when you truly take control of your techniques can you start to push their boundaries and innovate with them.

2. Your voice will be jumbled

Trying to develop your own visual vocabulary and an artistic identity that is clear and strong becomes increasingly challenging the more techniques you try and incorporate. Even those working in mixed media like Ann Goddard and Gizella K Warburton, two artists with very distinctive styles, limit the pallet of techniques and materials they use to achieve their desired results.

Ann Goddard: Hanging by a Thread

Ann Goddard: Hanging by a Thread, Willow, burnt paper, packaging

3. You’ll actually be less versatile

It sounds counterintuitive but having a grasp on lots of different techniques can actually make you less versatile as an artist. Merely scratching the surface can lead to textile art that is generic and commonplace. Whereas mining the potential of a single technique through rigorous and structured experimentation gives you the skill and confidence to use it in ever more inventive and varied ways.

4. Your process will lack focus

With so many options flying around you’ll find it difficult to define a clear path forward. Unless you try one thing at a time and stick with it, you’ll have endless ideas but absolutely no way of bringing them together. And with such aimlessness, you might find yourself with a hoard of unfinished pieces, each one less satisfactory than the last!

5. Overwhelm leads to ‘artistic paralysis’

And, leading on from the last point, without a goal, making those vital first marks will feel like torture. Because you have so much choice, you’ll start to feel overwhelmed by the possibilities. This ‘freedom’ often leads to fear. Fear of taking a risk. Fear of failure. And that fear leads to procrastination, inaction and becoming ‘stuck’. What a nightmare!

Gizella K Warburton: Sanctum, textile, mixed media, stitch, 154 x 97 x 3cm

Gizella K Warburton: Sanctum, textile, mixed media, stitch, 154 x 97 x 3cm

6. You’ll confuse your audience

Not only will you be mystified by your process and dissatisfied with your results, others will too! You won’t be putting out a strong signal as an artist if each piece is created with drastically different processes and techniques. Because they’ll find it difficult to decipher a unifying story from one piece to the next, people may struggle to relate to you and your work.

7. You’ll feel like a fraud

Confidence in your work comes from knowing who you are as an artist. It comes from being intentional. It comes from taking action. And you can’t truly know who you are as an artist if you don’t have a strong sense of what you want to say and how you want to say it. You can’t have intention if you don’t have a goal. You can’t take action if you don’t know where to start. As we’ve already discovered these are all very difficult things to achieve if you’re jack of all trades.


Time to stop ‘dabbling’ and go deep

Perhaps the way to truly find your voice, build a sophisticated visual vocabulary and develop true versatility as an artist is to focus on a handful of techniques and push their boundaries through constant experimentation.

It’s that experimentation, that exploration of HOW you use those techniques that will give you the power to innovate, not necessarily the techniques themselves.

Even the most basic hand stitches offer incredible opportunities for invention and unlimited potential for creativity, as the work of these 3 artists proves.

Isobel Currie

Isobel Currie, winner of the Valerie Campbell-Harding prize for Innovation, creates miniature 3d textile art, all of which is built on the foundation of a handful of traditional embroidery stitches, such as the buttonhole stitch and fly stitch. It’s her use of these stitches in their full three-dimensional form that makes her work exciting and distinctive.

Isobel Currie: Point de Sorrento Shoal – 2013| Acrylic, rayon, glass beads; 29cm x 15cm x 13cm

Isobel Currie: Point de Sorrento Shoal, 2013, Acrylic, rayon, glass beads; 29cm x 15cm x 13cm

Isobel Currie: Point de Sorrento Shoal (detail)

Isobel Currie: Point de Sorrento Shoal (detail)

Richard McVetis

Member of the renowned 62 Group, Richard McVetis uses a limited vocabulary of mark making such as embroidered dots and crosses, in combination with meticulously worked wools to create what he describes as ‘binary simplicity’.

Richard McVetis: Units of Time, 2015

Richard McVetis: Units of Time, 2015

Richard McVetis: Units of Time (detail)

Richard McVetis: Units of Time (detail)

Sue Stone

And how about the artist whose passion and commitment inspired me and my brother Sam to start TextileArtist.org back in 2012? Since her return to textile art after a 30 year hiatus, Sue Stone has embraced Constance Howards’s teachings. Her work is unmistakably hers and yet at its core are just a few traditional hand stitch techniques like running stitch, couching and needle weaving. But the more she uses them, the more versatile they seem to become.

Just a reminder about the free gift that accompanies this article. You can download it by clicking on that big yellow button below!

Click here to download

 

Sue Stone: East End Girls aka Alice, Madge and Muriel

Sue Stone: East End Girls aka Alice, Madge and Muriel

Sue Stone: East End Girls aka Alice, Madge and Muriel (detail)

Sue Stone: East End Girls aka Alice, Madge and Muriel (detail)

Find out more about Sue Stone’s process from conception to creation here


The power of limitations

Do I think you should stick with exactly the same techniques throughout your lifetime? Of course not! Nurturing a practice that is ever-evolving in response to your natural curiosity is essential for creative growth.

Nor do I think you should ignore your instincts if a certain technique is calling to you.

But, if you’ve been struggling with anything we’ve discussed in this article, it might be time to make a tough decision about casting aside some of those techniques you’ve been dabbling with and focus on stretching the potential of just a few. Build firm foundations with one technique before you get distracted and move on to another.

Because, despite being told that our imaginations are at their most fruitful when they are liberated from rules and constraints, the secret that textile artists with the most distinctive visual identities know is this:

Only when you are limited can your creativity become limitless!



Check out the Facebook Live session we did as a follow-up to this article by clicking play on the video below



Have you struggled with not being able to fully commit to one technique or another? What has been the consequence for your process and work? Let us have your questions and concerns in the comments section and we’ll try our best to help!

Friday 28th, April 2017 / 00:21
Joe

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe

86 Comments on “Are you a textile technique addict?

  • Thank you so much for this article. Am currently feeling overwhelmed and stuck after trying different styles of stitching (not incl. dyeing experiments !). Your advice has given me the kick up the derrière that I needed. Love your site & your mum’s work. Bisous from France

    Reply
  • I very much enjoyed reading this article. All it says ties up beautifully with my own thoughts about doing what you really want to do, finding your voice, and being true to yourself. And it is a message that should be conveyed to all textile artists.

    I even dropped out of City & Guilds Patchwork & Quilting (20-odd years ago) because I didn’t want to spend my time trying new techniques every week. I knew what I wanted to do and I wanted to stick to it. At that time I explained it to others as ‘being blinkered” and enjoying it! Overtime I developed variations in my techniques and occasionally incorporated new techniques, because they fitted in with my work and did what I wanted them to do. This is not to say that I haven’t occasionally wondered whether to try something else that was ‘trendy’, or that I simply fancied trying – but in the majority of cases I found it did not suit me and abandoned it very quickly.

    You can see my work in my website: http://www.aliciamerrett.co.uk. I would describe it as mostly improvisational pieced work, in strong colours, which over time changed from mostly abstract, through conceptual series, to the maps I’m best known for these days. But I also work with other subjects such as magic and science, and use printed and appliqué words.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Alicia – it’s useful sometimes to question the negative connotations of ‘being blinkered’ or ‘being limited’, isn’t it? Thanks for the comment and for the link to your site. Great work!

      Reply
  • Thank you so much for this! I, also, spent 30 plus years away from my fiber passions due to life circumstances. And I am now trying to find my way in the world of fiber that I love. It has been, and is, a real struggle and frustration, and I had about given up……until this morning reading your article. You have given me a life raft, and I cannot be more grateful to you…..and to your Mum.

    Reply
    • Joe

      How wonderful to hear that the article gave you some hope! Hearing that makes writing it so worthwhile. Thanks for your words of kindness and very best of luck in your endeavours.

      Reply
  • This story is much like mine. Due to a loss of my health I am restricted from painting but I can embroider in small doses. I am still going through the grief process after losing my husband. The thing that saved me from deep depression was embroidery. I see beautiful art that I like and play around with similar ideas. I’ve been scattering my creativity that is just starting to reemerge and unhappy with it. I am trying to find my own voice, my own style but it seems like everything I think of has already been done with much more talented artists. I wonder if I will ever find my own style! Any help and advice would be appreciated!

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Margaret – I’m interested if you have any sort of system built into your process for methodically developing ideas? Something that helps you experiment with your techniques in a logical way so you can build a visual vocabulary of your own?

      Reply
      • I also am still ‘developing’ as a Textile Artist after a long break. I have a mindset that I need to try every technique I hear about, and experiment with as many materials as I can. Then I’ll know what ones are ‘right’ for me. Oh dear! I now have a room packed full of art materials and fabrics – and empty sketchbooks!

        Reply
  • This article is so great to read. I have used the same Woven structure, a by simple one, for 35 years, to make my brocaded tapestries. By limiting the structure and the scale of the threads, I have been able to produce a vast variety of imagery which can best describe the vision I see. I constantly push the imagery to make it work with the technique and make the technique express it fully. Yes, it can be really challenging! Sometimes a piece will sit for weeks on the loom (fortunately I have three looms) while I try to work out how I can come to terms with the image within this vocabulary. http://Www.lfntextiles.com.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Laura – lovely work. So great to hear how versatile these techniques are – spending time pondering a problem helps you come up with the most inventive solution I guess?

      Reply
  • Wow that article sums up the situation for so many people I know – that become paralysed because they are thrashing about trying to find their way. I have been doing a City and Guilds courses in textiles – mainly felt, for 7 years and am lucky to have the same teacher who takes us through the same system of research, expression through mixed media and then producing a resolved piece. As a feltmaker I am finally finding my voice and find it reassuring to read that this process is normal! Thank you 🙂

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Linda – I like the idea that limits can apply to process no matter what technique you use. Sounds like your City and Guilds teacher understands that brilliantly by giving you a system – and a system is reliant on guidelines of some sort. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Brilliant article! I graduated in Texiles last year as a mature student. I have been working on finding my direction and this article has confirmed what I had decided, to concentrate on one area and fully explore it, without getting too distracted. Eco-print and natural dye are vast subjects. After reading this I am going to think about what areas I shall constrain myself too and write it down.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Joelle – that’s interesting. Even within techniques there are hundreds of variants. Some time I guess it can be useful to tighten the limitations even further. Trying to do everything humanly possible with eco-print for example could drive you mad! But if you focus on just a few of those possibilities to begin with and master them, you could be well on your way to doing something new with an old technique.

      Reply
  • Thank you for this article. As someone who prefers buffets to set meals and pursues techniques in the same way lol it’s very timely. Always enjoy your newsletters and posts. Love your Mum’s work.

    Reply
  • Thank you for your article. So much of it echoed my own experience. Although I was not taught by Constance Howard she was my external moderator in 1977 and was very encouraging. I have enjoyed teaching and encouraging others for most of my working life but found my own creative well to be quite dry by the time I retired. A time of recovery from a foot operation and the discovery of this site has been just what I have needed to spur myself on. While I am less mobile I am making myself do something every day and using only the limited materials at hand.
    I am loving how the limitations I place on myself are making me more creative and also making myself do something each day means I am building up a collection of ideas to refer to as the start of a project once fully recovered.
    I love the way you guys are so encouraging of your Mum and am an admirer of her work ( was going to say very envious of her ability but know it is about me finding my own voice).
    Thank you

    Reply
  • Very inspirational article that has made me realise I am my own worst enemy, wasting my time on techniques that don’t suit me because I feel ‘less than’ instead of applying myself to what I enjoy and what I know to work for me. I will come back to this article whenever my head feels too full. Many thanks

    Reply
  • As with many of your brilliant articles, this one is so timely! I am a bit of a butterfly when it comes to different techniques, and this piece sums up my situation exactly…it is incredibly helpful to have read , and I am about to re-read it and then take stock of where I am and what really speaks to me and having done that, pursue MY own path.
    You are right to be proud of your Mum…I think she’s brilliant…and I’m sure she’s proud of you.
    Many thanks for textile artist.org!
    Best wishes

    Reply
  • Spot on! As a self-professed “collector” I have accumulated dozens of techniques during my journey as a textile artist. Just recently I have found it necessary to purge and focus…and it’s difficult…but so important! It DOES make a difference, and I feel much more creative and less like a lemming (although I do still love learning new things!)

    Reply
  • Thankyou so much. As someone who wants to haverbalise a go at everything I am slowly developing my own style and journey using techniques I need to learn for that as and when I need them for my work not just because. And it’s bringing results, just watch this space, at so point I hope to be able to be one of your featured artists after a life time under the Mental health system now out the other side enabling my work to grow daily. Thankyou!

    Reply
  • Virginia Kosydar

    The idea of setting limits reminded me of parenting. Perhaps nuturing one’s creative life is similar? Kids with shifting boundaries can become confused, anxious, or in trouble. By limiting my choices as a artist I have become more focused, confident, and productive.

    Reply
  • Great article. I think it is a particular problem in textiles that people hop from medium to medium and constantly try new techniques! In does not happen so much in the other arts , like Music for example! I think it is partially the problem of textile fairs and certain textile companies that are constantly trying to sell you their wares and ” kindly” having little workshops to lure you in!! Lol.
    I can be as bad myself but so long as we realise that that is dabbling and playing then that’s fine but at some stage you need to knuckle down and get proficient at something and stop being distracted by shiney things!!
    Workshops that offer design work or sketchbook work are always valuable or longer courses that give you real experience in a skill are wonderful but sometimes I think us westerners could take a left from Japanese and become skilled in one area…
    Having said all that ….I’m doing a natural dyeing course next week!! Haha

    Reply
  • Well said. I sometimes feel I’m limiting myself by not trying different techniques but the truth is I’ve tried a lot and have honed my skills to achieve what I do now, which I feel to be quite successful, and I do build upon it with each project.

    Reply
  • This article was very interesting and technique addiction (as well as addiction to materials and tools) is definitely an issue in textile arts. What I am struggling with though is the accumulated skills of more than 55 years which give me proficiency in the wide range of techniques (both textile and painting) I have enjoyed over the years. I have periodically made a commitment to concentrate on something specific and in many aspects of my life I can be tenacious at improving my skills. I can spend time concentrating on a project and once it is finished I want to move onto something else which might be completely different. I know that I still have no coherent artist’s voice and that is what I crave but don’t know how to bring my proficiencies together!

    Reply
  • I enjoyed this article, and I can really relate to it, but what if the thing you enjoy is experimenting? I would love to find my own voice, my own style, but how do you decide which area(s) to focus on? I can recognise all those issues – dabbling, flitting, getting paralysed, confusing an audience. In fact, as I use mixed media, I’m not even sure about focussing on textiles, let alone one technique! But how do you decide what to stay with? As soon as I try to pick on one technique, I immediately start wanting to do something else. I think I may be a hopeless case!

    Reply
  • I make felt, which is an amazingly versatile and diverse medium. After trying all kinds of styles and techniques, three years ago I applied for Woolfest (the premier UK event); I realised I couldn’t send an application with a bunch of unrelated photos, so I thought very hard about 2 things : what do I enjoy making the most and what do I think are the most distinctive items I do ? I structured my application round those things, and I got in. I’ve been working on the same things ever since, and I think my work is a lot more recognisably mine now. Things develop, but by building on the previous thing rather than in unrelated leaps. Love the newsletter, by the way.

    Reply
  • Wow, you sure have told my story…better than I could myself!! I have used the term, “creative paralysis” many times to describe myself because that is what it boils down to. Lately my creative juices have begun to flow again. Your post is timely and I will think about this as well as making some choices. It won’t be easy for me to streamline techniques but the time has come and you nailed it!! Thank you for your post and for the emails. I have enjoyed your work here since 2012.

    Reply
  • The article and the comments really resonate with me! I’m in the process of changing my workroom into somewhere that will work for me and am overwhelmed not just by the amount of stuff but the variety of things for differing techniques. I was making a list of what textile things give me joy when I read this. I’m hoping the combination will help me let go of what I’m really never going to pursue without guilt. It’s going to be hard but this is giving me encouragement. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Oh I can soooo relate to your post! We moved house 2. years ago, partly to give me space to have ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ creative spaces, as I stitch and paint. But I have really suffered creative paralysis since, and haven’t even managed to sort out my two rooms. Too much stuff, too much choice. And I’ve joined an Art Club, where different techniques are tried out, and an experimental textile group. I enjoy the company & trying things out, but I feel as if “my own work” just isn’t happening.

      Reply
  • The thing holding me back is I’m passionate about all the arts and want to do everything, how do I make a decision as to what to focus on? Help

    Reply
  • Great article. And exactly where I’m at right now. In my late 60s. Still trying to figure out what I’ll be when I grow up. Came back to textiles a couple of years ago and loving it. And struggling to do what your article speaks about- trying to find my ‘voice’. So thank you for the insight and inspiration to go deeper in my work rather than broader.

    Reply
  • This is really helpful. I’m still a beginner and in the early stages of finding out about so many techniques that are used by different artists. I’ve assumed that I must learn as much as possible in order to decide what’s right for me. At times it leaves me feeling muddled and a bit deflated – how do I steer my way through all these amazing possibilities and find what is really for me? Now I don’t feel so daunted. Yes I need to know about how the artists I admire create their work, otherwise how will I learn? But now I can see the value in keeping things simple after all …. it’s okay to do that!

    Reply
    • Joe

      Yes Philippa – good point. We can take inspiration from artists we admire and be influenced them. Then we have the power to move on and make what we learn our own little by little.

      Reply
  • I too love to try new things. I find that I usually discard techniques I don’t like pretty quickly but I love trying new ideas. when I find one I like I try to “dive” into it and work in a series. I find that the most important thing for me is to “make art every day”, that is go into my studio and do something. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it does not and gets put aside. I stopped worrying about finding my voice and I think that it is developing itself, I was trying to hard to make a voice. The pieces I love the best incorporate quilting, embroidery and beading. I spent time working with each and now I find that they are coming together in my art quilts. I do not think you should stop trying new techniques, but you should focus on ones that you like and work them in some depth to see if they can be assimilated into your body of work.

    Reply
    • Me too Pat. I am working in paper and have found myself exploring colour by working with an idea and creating a series. It is great fun and keeps me focused on just one idea from which I see so many possibilities to keep exploring. Good luck in your endeavours.

      Reply
    • Joe

      Wonderful Pat – sounds like you have a great understanding of your techniques and I agree – making art every day (or at least on a regular, consistent basis) is the key to finding yourself within what you make. Limiting your techniques can be a great way of getting started though.

      Reply
  • This is the article I have been waiting for . . . so many times I asked on Facebook / Instagram etc . . anyone else trying to find their stitch voice. So much time trying new techniques . . so much wasted time looking . . thinking . . experimenting . . flitting from style to style . . I think I understand – not so much try try try as just decide and do.
    I hope I can . . life would be less frustrating. Brilliant article.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Yes Mary. Make some tough decisions and stick with what you decide exploring all the avenues inherent within the techniques you choose. That’s not possible when you choose 100 different ones!

      Reply
  • Thank you!! I am in this very situation, hopefully this article has pointed me in the right direction to finding the artist, I know deep down , I can be!!

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  • Brilliant article! I also feel my self in pursuit to maintain many textile tehniques but after this article i am clearly realizing that i have already everything in my hands what i need! Thank you!

    Reply
  • Thank you for this article, I agree with its message and it is something I have tried to pass on to my students and apply to my own work. Often easier said than done with so many exciting medium & techniques to work with!
    Starting out – do experiment, find a medium/process/technique you enjoy working with, one that speaks to you and suits you by offering a language you can communicate with. Then focus down on this, explore and experiment with it at a deeper level to develop & gain a mastery of it as a process/ technique. Remember it is a tool, a tool for you, a tool to develop and communicate your own personal creative voice.
    It’s hard to avoid the ‘shiny temptations of other processes or new techniques’ . Developing the disciple to ask ‘what will these add or take away from my message and work?’ can help us keep focused.
    I recently faced disciplinary action for voicing such an opinion at my former place of work! Thank you for this timely article, you have reassured and affirmed my sense of worth and approach to both my teaching practice and own practice.

    Reply
  • I whole-heartedly agree with your sentiments in your article Joe – and many congratulations on choosing such a talented and lovely Mum.
    I would like to add this point – to all those doing a course such as City and Guilds. Please don’t be put off your course by reading this article. It will be providing you with a wide base of visual vocabulary from which you can select and tune to your personal song later. Find your individual voice with knowledge not ignorance.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Perfect Sian. I think there is definitely a place for trying lots of stuff out, but eventually there has to come a time when you ‘tune to your personal song’ as you so beautifully put it.

      Reply
  • I really enjoyed this article. A someone who has only been getting back to sewing over the past 18 months have been struggling with thinking I need to use the techniques that are newer and perhaps unavailable when I sewed freqently when I was younger. That together with a machine that also does more – I think, has meant that I felt unable to ro know what I wanted to achieve and ended up disatisfied with what I did make – not particularly helpful to the creative process. I will certaily stop now and rethink what I enjoy and what I would like to produce for myself for personal satisfaction rather than feeling I have to make something useful. – thanks again

    Reply
  • This is such a good article and the timing perfect as I am at this stage right now. Everything you say rings true. It sometimes takes someone else to make you stop and take a good look at what you have, otherwise you can go round and round in circles, envious of everyone else who puts a needle to fabric. I am going to try to peel myself off of social media for a while. It’s a fantastic place for inspiration – I wouldn’t have found you otherwise, but can pretty much take over and you get buried. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Joe

      I know exactly what you mean Sarah – I’ve been struggling with the social media trap myself but slowly I;m learning to shut all distractions down when it’s time to work!

      Reply
  • I was a textile and fiber artist 30 years ago. Then life struck full bore and I ended up taking care of two parents with Alzheimer’s for 14 years and at the same, my partner was critically injured in a work accident. My parents care giving ended in 2015, but partner still deals with the aftermath. My energy levels are gone.
    I want to plunge myself back into my work, but it’s left me. I can’t concentrate, or even remember some of my skills, it’s frightening, anger/ frustration, even feelings of like I’ve literally left my brain somewhere. I’ve even lost my skills of human interaction and communication skills as I never was able to leave and interact with people.
    I have been trying to kindle the spark by going outside, suck up some nature. I’ve open up my idea boxes with unlimited ideas, colors, but it’s like the plug has literally been pulled.
    Any ideas of rekindling the creative spark?

    Reply
    • Joe

      First of all I want to say that you have been extremely courageous coping with what life has thrown at you. Now it’s time to give something back to yourself. But how do you go about getting motivated to be creative?

      I think you need to think about it in tiny chunks. You’ve already taken the first step by going outside and getting amongst nature. What is the next step along that path? Think small – is there something you’ve experienced in nature that can be the starting point for inspiration? Spend half an hour researching that thing. On another day, give yourself a tiny achievable goal of picking out some materials. Then choose one or two simple techniques. The next step is making something tiny – even a small sample inspired by your subject.

      Break it down into these tiny steps and you’ll at least have started. Momentum will come if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

      I’ve already recommended this book in another comment but I think it could help you too: 5 Second Rule

      Best of luck.

      Reply
  • This is a brilliant article- thank you so much. I struggle because I like trying new things out, then I become confused.
    I would so much like a critique of my work, but I do not know anyone who works in the medium of textiles….any ideas?

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Veronica – we’ve often thought about setting up a mentorship programme so that artists like you can learn from other artists working in the medium of textiles. Unfortunately there are just the 2 of us running the site and it’s not top of the list! We have to be careful not to try and do too many things otherwise we need up not doing anything very well!! A bit like the message of this article really.

      I could put a call out on Facebook to see if anyone would be willing to take a look at your work and give you some advice??

      Reply
  • This could have written specifically for me! I spent many years away from making after doing a degree in Fine Art- I’ve been working in the arts since (over 20 yrs) but although there are many aspects I love, one downside is that I feel paralysed by a combination of the wonderful and occasionally less wonderful work I see- fear of failure is stopping me from investing (in all senses) in my work and taking the plunge of getting it out there. I have a notebook of ideas, tiny samples but nothing else. Now in my mid forties I feel an urgency to create and am thinking about how I can move my practice to something that feels like a practice and not dabbling. I think I know what I want to do and now I have to follow my instinct and do it. Any more tips on taking the plunge would be great. Thanks- and love the newsletter.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Sara – you are not alone. What has been the goal of your practice pieces? Is it to develop ideas for larger, more significant works? If so, revisit them and find a nugget of inspiration that could inspire a larger piece.

      I know it’s easy to say and less easy to do, but you have to just take a deep breath and make something. It might not be perfect the first time but you can learn and progress and the your next piece will be better.

      I have just read a book about taking the plunge; it’s called the 5 Second Rule. Very simple concept but has really helped me be brave in a couple of areas of my life.

      You might find that you need to develop some sort of system to take your ideas from the notebook to completion. I think too often artists feel that they need to be free from rules but sometimes having a set of guidelines to develop your ideas and bring them to fruition can be very empowering.

      Reply
  • Thank you, this article came at the right time as I am struggling with finding where to go with my art (my voice). I so appreciate this newsletter.

    Reply
  • Very fine article, as always, Joe. A great balance of inspiration and acknowledgement of the directed efforts that are usually required to get really good at something. I think each of us finds great enjoyment in playing with techniques and that’s part of “beginner mind.” But at some point, when a little “itch” starts inside, maybe it’s a sign that focusing is in order. And then the paradox: focus becomes quite satisfying!

    A gentle reminder to anyone who wants to delve further into the topic: my book Creative Strength Training (Thanks for the nod to it in your sidebar!!) takes the conversation toward action steps! And they work.
    So glad you are here and doing this.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Thanks Jane – very kind of you. I learned so much from your book. The idea of using limitations that you outline has really influenced the way I think about not only my creative life, but also life in general. I now see how so many artists who I respect are consciously or subconsciously making the most of limitations to give their process and work focus.

      Working within limitations towards action has been a great motivator for us in creating our online course with mum too, so thank you.

      Highly recommend Jane’s book to everyone!

      Reply
    • Lela McKee Friel

      Hello Dear Jane, nice to see you here. We met years ago at a Surface Design Conference in Kansas City.
      I just want to say that I bought your book recently and really loving it. I have been doing the steps and have been on the cleaning organizing step for a few months now! I am sure this is one that many get stuck on! :0) Partly due to caring for my ailing mother that my time is really broken up, but the process of reorganizing and sorting has been healing, and also as one finds hidden treasures along the way, brings new ideas and inspiration, and of course getting rid of the clutter clears the mind. So for those of you out there feeling stuck Jane’s book on Creative Strength Training is a great source of exercises and personal stories like Joe’s mum. I highly recommend it! Thank You Jane! And Thank You Joe for sharing!

      Reply
  • Hi there,

    Yes. I agree with the theme of this article and am glad you brought this up, and I don’t think it is explored often enough. I came to this decision myself, and have decided that I will not be attending many more workshops (much to the disappointment of my usual workshop attendee partner), and I will not be picking up any more techniques UNLESS it fits in with something that I am all ready working on and need some expertise. Thus, “no” to an illuminated felting class that sounds really cool, since I all ready know how to put in circuits and I don’t want to get sidetracked by the felting itself. Nevertheless, the question I will always grapple with, is are you just fooling yourself by thinking you are deepening your ideas? When does a groove become a rut? I will always wonder.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Barbara – I think you need a way of knowing that you are progressing. You need a way of analysing your work to develop ideas and ‘deepen’ as it were – I think this has to be somewhat conscious rather than subconscious, otherwise you can’t tell whether you are moving forward or not. Then when you find yourself merely repeating, you’ll know you’re in a rut and it may be time to add a new element to your work. I know that sounds rather technical and cold, but it doesn’t mean you have to ignore instincts when they come along, but it gives your instincts something concrete to work within. It’s all about balance I think.

      Reply
      • Catarina Bitkover

        That was very well put. When you find yourself repeating. A series is a good thing I think. But how long should a series be? More than 2 but less than 8?

        Reply
  • Lela McKee Friel

    Thank You so much Joe for sharing your mum’s story. I am very taken by this and of her art work. It is stunning! Her story really resinates wit me. I have been a textile artist of sorts since a child. The past 8 years I have been caring for my mum and struggle with getting motivated having my concentration broken up so much. To keep me going in someway I take a workshop here and there, take an hour or two when I can in my studio but so often feeling unsatisfied. Observing other artist realizing their dreams and really delving in makes me happy for them but also gives me a feeling of being left behind. Questioning will I ever be able to really delve in like they can? Or to create such beauty as that person such as you mum? I am looking forward to having more time to do the things I love in my studio and to get more focused. Meanwhile I do what I can and try and keep a sketchbook going of ideas or at least of something I see in nature or the world around me that I want o sketch to keep some thread of creative self alive.
    Thank You again and Thank You to your lovely mum for sharing her story. She is truly an inspiration!

    Reply
  • Renee of Springville NY

    Amazing article. I recently lossed my my mom. She was the who taught me my sewing skills and pushed my artistic flare. I am a quilter that paints the great outdoors.
    I recently was disgusted with quilting. I think cause my mom wasn’t there to guide me, so i put down quilts for nearly 3 years now. Realizing just yesterday i might be trying new avenues but i always seem to fall back on quilts and the great outdoors.

    The timing of this article couldn’t have come at a better time as i joined a online group of blanket weavers that live inside the box. I decided i was going to develop a method of weaving that was really quilting fearing i would get tossed out of the group. I cant wait to finish developing my ideas and presenting them to the group.
    my way of proving the size of the fabric will not define the limits of my work! O thank you so much.

    Reply
  • I hint this is one of the best articles you’ve written – thank you so much. I worked my way through City & Guilds, since when I’ve been teaching, including teaching C&G, at the same time as trying to produce my own work. When I finished my diploma my tutor told me my style was emerging, but since then it’s gone into hiding! For my teaching, I’ve had to keep hold of and continue to use materials and techniques that I might otherwise have discarded years ago. I like to think that I’m fairly immune to the trendy shiny new things at stitching shows, but I am a sucker for social media – Pinterest is a nightmare for idea overload! As my regular teaching schedule has begun to take a back seat in favour of more time for my own work, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m itching to have a clear out, and this article has given me the confidence and kick up the pants to get on with it and claim my space in the textile world without feeling I’m selling myself short by not using everything that I know and can do in my work. On the contrary, you’ve made me realise that it will actually make my work stronger to refine and discern and discard. (I’ve added my website link, but I want to say “don’t look” as I know that it needs a jolly good clear out!)

    Reply
    • Catarina Bitkover

      Agree on Pintrest overload. It is kind of like going down the rabbit hole. Lots of wonderful and magical things, bt very hard to finf your way out of.

      Reply
  • Fantastic article and so true. I review a lot of products and it always requires jumping from one technique to another and it can feel like I can’t quite get out my ‘artistic voice’ because there’s too much going on. I recently reviewed Hilary Beattie’s new book Make it Personal Part 2 and she said exactly that. She restricted her palette and found it much easier. Jane Dunnewold’s book (she has commented above) is also a fantastic starting point for working out what you want to say.

    Reply
  • As a former tutor on a BA Textiles course, all this rings true! Often, my heart sank when students said they were off to yet another workshop that weekend, coming back no doubt, with a part finished piece so reminiscent of that artists style, which was not their own. Added to this, they often came back concerned that they would never reach the same standard at whatever it was, as said artist. Yes, its important to try all the stitches, dyeing techniques and processes you can, certainly for the first year or two, to get a range of techniques under the belt. But then any student (and I include the lone student here, not necessarily on a course, but ploughing their own furrow) needs to concentrate on a few aspects of their work that really feel “them”, these are quite often the things they are actually good at too. Going all over the place, and using every technique in one piece (seen this so often!) does, as you say, lead to confusion, for both the creator and the viewer. So many others will do certain techniques better than you, leave them to it and instead concentrate on those things you felt really competent in, expanding and taking those ideas further. You’ll be amazed at how far you can take simple ideas, adding in stuff over the years or sneaking in a slight adjustment from another technique. Of course this presupposes that you’ve done enough work to find out what you’re good at earlier on, you won’t get good at anything much without a fair bit of trail and error and pushing through learning curves at the very start. Be the best at the things you are best at things you are best at and leave the rest to the others!

    Reply
  • This was such a validating article for me to read. The week before it came out, I posted a comment to Jane Dunnewold’s Creative Strength Training group speaking about how I felt that my taking too many classes and restless seeking after technique after technique was keeping my art shallow and not forcing me to go deep. The comment generated lots of talk in the group, and it is so amazing to see those very ideas here! Your website was new to me before Jane introduced it in the group, and I am thrilled to find it and enjoying it so much. Thank you for your hard work in putting this out there.

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Trish. Wonderful Jane – she’s a great woman with so much fantastic advice. I’m so pleased you found the article useful.

      Reply
  • I’m reminded of Grayson Perry’s Reith lecture – he said when artists leave college they (metaphorically) get on a bus and go along for a while, then they think ‘but someone else already did this’ so they go back to the bus station and try another route with the same result, so they go back again and try yet another route.
    But what they should do is ‘stay on the (expletive) bus’ ! That advice made a big difference to me.

    Reply
  • Catarina Bitkover

    As with previous commentators this article really resonated with me. Looking around my overstuffed apartment I recently had an epiphany. Letting go of techniques and equipment is also letting myself off the hook for not finishing projects or trying techniques that never I really wanted to take on or try. Working with limits can be comforting in that you have a framework to relate to, given that you allow yourself to step outside it if you choose. I once took a class with Barbara Olson in which we were asked to design an art quilt in two different ways, center first or frame first. To my great surprise frame first was such an interesting experience and worked really well for me. The restriction/ instruction helped to put the focus on the designing. Full disclosure: the decluttering is yet to happen. It is hard to get out of the “that might come in useful one day” or “but I really would like to try that technique” mindset. Unfortunately too many choices makes for a paralyzed Catarina.

    Reply
  • What perfect timing! Just a couple of weeks ago I was admiring someone’s work on the internet and I thought that the technique would be interesting to try–but then for the first time I said “No! Just keep on doing what you are doing!!” The same thing happened last week! After reading your article I am proud that I stumbled across the same idea on my own. I’d like to think that what I do is original but of course with all of the surfing on the internet so many things go into the subconscious that I have doubts. I work with a small repetoire of stitches–maybe five–not one of the stitches used by Sue Stone (funny!) but I love making them and they suit my work for now.

    I want to thank you also because I believe it is this site that I first saw the work of Mandy Pattullo. I purchased her book and I read it cover to cover. I have an extensive fiber related library and hers is the first in 30 years that I did not just skim. I had been trying fabric collage and patchwork (as art) off and on for sometime with less than satisfactory results. Ms. Pattullo’s book was the spark I needed to light a fire in my work. Everything has fallen together so that I love stitching, I am pleased with the result, and others seem to like it too.

    Reply
  • Perfect timing for me! I have been involved with a few fibre art groups in my area and have just had a very unhappy experience with a project. It involved too many techniques and someone else’s ideas. I have realized that I need to follow my own path and not jump around so much to please others.

    Wonderful article and I thank you for the advice. I am inspired to head down a new path.

    Reply

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