Community Stitch Challenge: It’s just the start of your creative adventure - TextileArtist.org

Community Stitch Challenge: It’s just the start of your creative adventure

Community Stitch Challenge: It’s just the start of your creative adventure

In those quiet, small moments when you’re alone, do you wonder how your life has changed in such a short time? Two months ago it was business as usual; family, work, all those responsibilities (and perhaps not much time for creativity).

But then it all changed. You changed. Facing the beginning of lockdown, you rose to the challenge of self-isolation, knowing that you had to be strong for yourself and for others, knowing it was ok to ask for help when you needed it.

But asking for help is self-care. In these turbulent times, self-care has never been more important. Self-care is resilience. It’s how you survive, how you thrive, whatever life throws at you.

If you’re on your own, you have to look after yourself. Eat good food. Sleep well. Get fresh air. And create. Create something that makes your heart dance. It’s vital.

But, in the still, quiet world of lockdown, is your creativity quiet and still, too?

Maybe you’ve taken up an unfinished project and tried to take your imagination on a journey, one stitch at a time, but you’ve felt sluggish and unconfident. Perhaps you’re feeling too anxious and edgy to focus on regular creative practice. Perhaps you’re floundering in creative indecision. Maybe you’re missing that precious interaction with others that sparks your inspiration and your energy.

You won’t be the first to feel that way.

Because creative people need a community.

Without connection, they get stuck.

We know this.

We know this because in March we started the Community Stitch Challenge, a free seven-week challenge to combat the creative isolation of our COVID-19 world.

Each week, a different celebrated textile artist delivered a hand stitch challenge for people to play with. And the response has been overwhelming. The challenge has connected nearly 20,000 passionate and inventive people from around the globe.

And we’ve learned a lot.

A lot about community, and why it matters.

A lot about creativity, and what makes it sing.

And a heck of a lot about confidence, and what makes it fly.

The Community Stitch Challenge is living proof we can all make amazing creative journeys without leaving home.

Journeys in technique, in inspiration and in confidence. The Challenge has proved that our creative horizons are broad and that we can be together, apart.


Wendy Burgess's response to Richard McVetis's stitch challenge (week 4)
Wendy Burgess’s response to Richard McVetis’s stitch challenge (week 4)
Helena Stenmark's response to Christine Chester's stitch challenge (week 7)
Helena Stenmark’s response to Christine Chester’s stitch challenge (week 7)

What the Community Stitch Challenge taught us

1. Community matters

“My idea behind the piece is that no matter where you are currently in the world – be it desert, mountain, ocean, forest – we are all in this together.”

Rosie Driscoll

Our Challenge community practised the best of humanity: we saw kindness, encouragement, acceptance, support, guidance and, yes, even love.

Sometimes it felt like a tribe, with more experienced people supporting the less experienced, giving their confidence wings.

Sometimes it felt we were following in the footsteps of ancient creative circles, each challenge giving a rhythm to the week, as we worked steadily on our next piece, chatting and connecting.

And sometimes it felt like a movement, making the world brighter and more meaningful, one stitch at a time.

“I so felt the togetherness of stitchers all over the world.”

Joan Abet

Our community was a safe space, a place to be brave, a place to watch and to learn.

For individuals, it gave courage, ideas, connection and a feeling that they belonged. It calmed a sense of sadness at the state of the world, and dissolved feelings of loneliness and isolation.

“The community you have created is an incubator for bringing out the best in everyone. My heart is full!”

Diane Baker

Being part of a community binds you to your practice, and to a wonderful creative odyssey with friends you’ve never met.


Jill Wilson's resposne to Christine Chester's stitch challenge (week 7)
Jill Wilson’s resposne to Christine Chester’s stitch challenge (week 7)
Heidi Tyrvainen's response to Sue Stone's stitch challenge (week 1)
Heidi Tyrvainen’s response to Sue Stone’s stitch challenge (week 1)

2. The right pace is your own pace

Each week a new challenge. Each week a new project to work on. But a small project. Something manageable. Something doable. And with just one expectation. Not an expectation of a result, of a finished piece, of a ‘success’. But an expectation that each one of the 20,000 people in the community could work at their own pace. Fast or slow didn’t exist. What mattered was the work itself.

“Because of a chronic illness, I can only stitch for about 10 minutes a day, and not necessarily every day. But it’s amazing how even just 10 minutes of stitching makes such a difference. It really is my favourite part of the day.”

Heidi Tyrvainen‎

The Community Stitch Challenge taught us that starting small, working regularly and at your own pace will build up your creative confidence and artistic momentum.


Tamsin Petty's response to Sue Stone's stitch challenge (week 1)
Tamsin Petty’s response to Sue Stone’s stitch challenge (week 1)
Cathy Spivey Mendola's response to Sue Stone's stitch challenge (week 1)
Cathy Spivey Mendola’s response to Sue Stone’s stitch challenge (week 1)

3. Necessity gives birth to creativity

If you’ve often thought, “I would make something, but I just don’t have the right equipment/material/space” then we have news for you. Creativity doesn’t need a ton of equipment, of material or of space. Creativity works beautifully almost on fresh air.

Cathey Spivey Mendola didn’t have any fabric for our Week 1 Challenge, so she used paper instead. All Prue Lewis had was a calico bag – so she used that. Tamzin Petty created using a London A-Z.

“I used 25-year old bits of fat quarter scraps from old projects on a 60-year old piece of Irish bed linen.”

Jennifer Richardson

Too much choice can be overwhelming, and you’ll know this if your stash is bursting out of a cupboard (or room). Very often, having next to nothing skyrockets your inventiveness. If you’ve no fabric, you’ll ask, “What works like fabric? What surface can I use?”

The Community Stitch Challenge taught us that the less you have, the more inventive you need to be. Necessity is creativity in action.


Jennifer Richardson's response to Sue Stone's stitch challenge (week 1)
Jennifer Richardson’s response to Sue Stone’s stitch challenge (week 1)
Toya Walker's response to Richard McVetis's stitch challenge (week 4)
Toya Walker’s response to Richard McVetis’s stitch challenge (week 4)

4. Process over product

It’s difficult to start a piece if you’re worried how it’ll turn out. If you feel you have to get it “right” first time or that others will judge it harshly, that’s a heavy load to bear.

But if you focus on the making and not on the result, what happens? You feel a sudden freedom. You feel that a weight of expectations has lifted, and that your making starts to feel like play, rather than work.

This is exactly what our community of stitchers found: that a focus on process rather than product, on the making rather than the result, gave them the creative bandwidth to try something new, to stay curious, and to learn. Some stitchers did several versions of the exercise – asking continually, “What if? What if?”.

“Your challenges have meant that I want now to make pieces that I like, irrespective of what others might think. This is very liberating.”

Jan Booth

“The end product was not so important to me. I just learnt so much just doing it. In the past, I have bought books on textiles and embroidery stitches and then felt overwhelmed. This was perfect to start.”

Sandra Templar

We learned that you don’t have to love everything you make. The end product isn’t as important as experimentation, play and reflection.

“I almost scrapped it and started over because it wasn’t “beautiful”. But decided to show it, warts and all, because it is just a sample and I am just playing. I learned a lot and was surprised how far I could push a simple straight line.”

Cheryl Henry Hewitt

Cheryl Henry Hewitt's response to Cas Holmes's stitch challenge (week 2)
Cheryl Henry Hewitt’s response to Cas Holmes’s stitch challenge (week 2)
Gregory Todd Wilkins's response to Cas Holmes's stitch challenge (week 2)
Gregory Todd Wilkins’s response to Cas Holmes’s stitch challenge (week 2)

5. Embrace the wonky

Japanese culture has a word for it: wabi sabi.

Wabi sabi is the rough, the not-quite-right, the imperfect, the transient. And it’s something that our community embraced: the accidents, the weird stitching, the unexpected thing that the fabric did, the “wrong” choice of thread, the mistake in measurement.

Perhaps your mum told you, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” Perhaps a teacher told you not to bother, as you’re not cut out for it.

They were wrong.

Perfection is dull.

True creativity means embracing the wonky.

“Putting an emphasis on perfect techniques and results could also mean that you’re playing it safe, limiting your opportunities to develop your artistic voice.”

Sue Stone

When Sue Stone was 10 years old in sewing class, she had to make a gingham skirt. She remembers, “My needlework teacher made us count up the number of stitches per inch on the hem of the skirts we were making. My stitches, of course, were haphazard and uneven and so there’s no way I could get the correct amount of stitches per inch. I spent all my time in lesson unpicking and redoing it. In the end I asked my Mum to finish the skirt for me or I’d still be sat there stitching to this day.”

The experience nearly put Sue off stitching for life. She says, “I still don’t like sewing. But stitching I like, as it doesn’t have to be neat and tidy.”

So, why not aim for imperfection?

“The best ideas seem to come from mistakes.”

Penny Henderson

It was only when Sue Stone gave up pursuing perfect technique and embraced her wonky stitches that she felt her work gained character. She says,“It was enormously freeing knowing that my style could be enhanced by imperfection. I started to ask questions about how I could use the oddness and irregularity of my stitching in my work.”

We learned that creative thinking is more important than perfect technique. Get in tune with the part of you that’s wabi sabi.


Penny Henderson's response to Emily Tull's stitch challenge (week 3)
Penny Henderson’s response to Emily Tull’s stitch challenge (week 3)
Agnes Keilloh's response to Anne Kelly's stitch challenge (week 6)
Agnes Keilloh’s response to Anne Kelly’s stitch challenge (week 6)

6. Rebels need rules

It’s tempting to want to be that creative free spirit, unregulated and unburdened by convention. After all, isn’t creativity about throwing out the rule book? Isn’t innovation about breaking up what’s gone before, so that new, wonderful things can emerge?

Yes. And also no.

You can’t break the rules if rules don’t exist. And you can’t break the rules if you don’t know what they are. Otherwise, it’s just beginner’s luck.

Experimentation thrives with structure. Magic happens when you follow the rules. Real creative free spirits, follow a structured process. Boundaries matter.

You’ll know this when you see children at play. They thrive with boundaries – and often you’re in awe of just how spontaneous and creative they are.

In the Community Stitch Challenge, each weekly project laid out a set of rules, building on the week before. Stitchers found that having a set of rules to follow allowed them to spend their time and energy on the making process, and not flailing around looking for a pathway forward.

“I had a big artistic block and, as Sue recommended, the stitching of the sampler cleared my mind, made me relax and opened up new ideas.”

Julie Park

Perhaps you’ve felt the same, wanting to start a project but being bedazzled by the choices, or stuck for an idea. Having guidelines frees you to start. Rules release the headspace that would otherwise be taken up with trying to choose, or hopping from one project to another. Rules help you navigate.

Having a structure to work within gives you permission to break the rules. As you work within the guidelines, you feel a sense of evolution. You try different takes on the rules. You – shock horror! – break the rules. Perhaps you try squares instead of circles.

“ I love the freedom sampling gives one. I started off with a fixed idea and inevitably ended up somewhere else!”

Penny Henderson

“I just went from stitch to stitch and the design came alive. That’s probably how creativity works in the human mind.”

Jan ter Heide

And we learned that you can break your own rules:

“I chose blanket stitch because it’s my absolute favourite to do, but usually I exclusively use it for edging. I was interested in discovering new uses for the blanket stitch. I used a scrap piece of calico and various threads of different colours, fibres and thickness. I’ve discovered that blanket stitch can have a very illustrative quality. I can’t wait to take this into my work, and I look forward to doing this exercise again to learn more about other stitches.”

Lara Symes

Julie Oxley's response to Emily Tull's stitch challenge (week 3)
Julie Oxley’s response to Emily Tull’s stitch challenge (week 3)
Ginny Rockwood's response to Emily Jo Gibbs's stitch challenge (week 5)
Ginny Rockwood’s response to Emily Jo Gibbs’s stitch challenge (week 5)

7. It’s never too late

“I haven’t embroidered in over 25 years and wasn’t sure if I still could. I am so glad I found this group. It has greatly challenged my concept of creativity with textiles and has opened up my creative outlet in ways I couldn’t possibly imagine.”

Susan Evans

Susan is just one member of our Challenge community that had been away from textile art for a long time. What many people like Susan found wasn’t just a rediscovery of something they loved in the past, but a re-imagining of the creative possibilities for the future.


Cee VanderAa's response to Richard McVetis's stitch challenge (Week 4)
Cee VanderAa’s response to Richard McVetis’s stitch challenge (Week 4)
Lynne Hargreaves's response to Emily Jo Gibbs's stitch challenge (week 5)
Lynne Hargreaves’s response to Emily Jo Gibbs’s stitch challenge (week 5)
Charlotte Welch's response to Anne Kelly's stitch challenge (week 6)
Charlotte Welch’s response to Anne Kelly’s stitch challenge (week 6)

A journey that’s not over

We’ve been overwhelmed by the support that members of the Stitch Challenge community have given each other, and blown away by the creativity and work that’s been produced. We’ve read accounts of artistic progression, of creative freedom, of new ways with old techniques and old ways with new techniques. We’re moved by the personal stories of creative bravery, self-care and new-found confidence, and we’re excited to keep this stitching family together and strong.

There is always more to learn and to make. The journey’s never over.

Wednesday 08th, July 2020 / 00:55

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33 comments on “Community Stitch Challenge: It’s just the start of your creative adventure”

  1. Gosh that’s an inspiring read plus inspiring work. I’ve just finished week 2 !!! but I’ve stopped worrying because everything is here online & I,m enjoying bumbling along & although I’m technically challenged I really do ( to my surprise ) feel part of a community& it’s lovely. Thanks again Margaret ( aka David Heywood !!! my brother by the way)

    • Robin Hill says:

      You have articulated my feelings perfectly. What a wonderfully inspiring article and so good to know it’s not over! My imagination has been stirred and prodded continually during my time in this community, extending to my appreciation for the natural suburban surroundings I encounter every day on my walks. Thank you!

  2. Christine Cetrulo says:

    I love you two guys, and your Mum. Tragedy has threaded its way throughout my life; however, now some of those “stitches” are loosening due to your Challenge. I cannot thank you enough. Please, please continue to help us all.

  3. Joe, Sam, Ruth and the TextileArtist Team

    I am inspired by your wonderful support for the Challenges over the past weeks. I did finish all of the pieces and enjoyed looking at the creativity of so many people around the world. It has kept me looking for new ideas and to remember we need each other especially in this ‘self isolation’ time of our lives.
    I will show my ‘folder’ with all my work to the group in my ACT Textile Arts Association Group when we are back to enjoying our meetings.
    Thank you so much
    Gillian

  4. Wow!! What inspiring and impressive stitch work!! Great read too!!

  5. Gilly says:

    I am so enjoying doing this challenge, although I have fallen behind due to other unexpected events, I have the ideas outlined, printed the workbooks and will get there. Thank you all so much for creating this challenge. Keep safe

  6. Valletta Hudson says:

    Dear Joe and Sam,
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating this weekly challenge. The work that you have put into this is outstanding. Every Monday morning I looked forward to seeing what the challenge was for the week. I love my sewing machine but the past seven weeks, I’ve learned to love hand work. It has been my meditation, my quiet time, a calm in the storm.
    Thank you!
    I look forward to seeing where all of this will lead!
    Valletta Hudson

  7. Margot says:

    Fabulous article that captures the community experience and beauty of stitching creatively . Thanks to the sharers of all sorts .

  8. Thanks so much for your generosity of spirit in presenting these challenges. I have several half finished, but I will continue to use the wonderful workbooks to enhance larger projects I’m working on.

  9. Jane Potter says:

    The Community Stitch Challenge has brought together an amazing community of like minded people via Facebook. Well done everyone at textileartist.org, for creating this amazing challenge.The above article is a fascinating read about the joys, benefits and adventures the challenge created..Thank You.

  10. Barbara Scott says:

    Thanks for the challenge. I have enjoyed your weekly articles as well. I used to “hate” hand stitching but because of you, I now enjoy making my stitch mark. I am working on stitching my eyes and incorporating it into a masked portrait on an art quilt. Am enthused about this (these) new techniques to add to my tool box. The creative on line community is wonderful. Great fun!

  11. Jean Hess says:

    Whether I end up with a painting, collage, assemblage, jewelry, or stitching, your wonderful site always gets my creative synapses connecting and flowing. Thank you so very much for being there, reliably, with such genuine passion and extensive kowledge of what’s happening in the world!

  12. Penny Henderson says:

    What a treat and an honour to be mentioned amongst so many talented people! It has come at such a special and sad time for me, as my mother is fading away rapidly. She has had a long and rich life and is ready to go, but here in Buenos Aires we are still in strict lockdown, so impossible to be with her. Your challenges have been so interesting and so much fun! And now this! You’ve made my day Sam Joe and Sue! Thank you!!

  13. Sandra Coe says:

    I used to be a member of a group where perfection of stitching was much more important than ideas or personal interpretation which was very off putting. I have really enjoyed reading each week’s challenge and looking at other people’s work and although I have only finished one challenge I now feel inspired to try the rest!

  14. Lúcia Melo says:

    I loved all the challenges you give us. I love this group, it’s so inspiring. Thank you very much for all I’ve learned in these heavy months, which became much more soft and light. 💐🌼⭐

  15. Terri Bryson says:

    The Stitch Along has been Fabulous!! I haven’t stitched in a long time. I found myself enjoying every episode. Now I want to try them all again. Talk about “eye candy”—the Facebook page, website, and weekly newsletter are full of eye candy. All of you are so generous and have given so many of us so much!!
    Many, many thanks!!

  16. Jennifer Richardson says:

    Valletta Hudson says it all for me. Sincere thanks to the TextileArtist team and the seven amazing artist tutors. This generosity both on your part and from the many, many talented and professional participants has been a delight.

    Please forgive me if I commented previously! I’m at this age!!!!

  17. CaLynn says:

    I stand with the others to applaud all the efforts of the people behind this site and the artists who came together to offer the community a /sense/ of community. I am still working on week 6, but I wanted to say that I really enjoyed this experience (and I am a new follower of your site!) and so needed something to look forward to each week. I have much gratitude for everyone, fellow participants included! 😀

  18. Anita Gercāne says:

    I am a beginner in embroidery, but now I have a lot of luggage to work with. I have already started several tasks and will definitely finish them.
    I would like to thank the creators of the idea and thank all the artists for revealing the secrets of their private kitchen !!!
    I’ve seen so many handwritings and identities!

  19. Annette Cawthan says:

    Being part of this group and completing/attempting the challenges each week has given me structure and purpose to the days in iso. I looked forward to the challenges, took a deep breathe after viewing them (especially the eye), thought about it for a couple of days, felt the fear then dived in. Love my new tribe. Thank you everyone.

  20. Your Team are just THE BEST! From
    All the collaborative skills you have together you have created and even bigger Family of Textile artists from all around the world. We have shared stitching and politics, health and support, kindness and companionship. I am equally inspired by folk embracing these challenges for the first time, those overcoming personal ‘blocks‘ as well as those beautifully executed pieces.
    We share many languages, Life experiences, creative skills …reminds me of the story ‘How to make an American Quilt’.
    This exercise could be renamed
    ‘ Global Soothing Stitching Experience.
    Sooo many thanks from NZ ( even if I did have to set the alarm half way through the night for the Artists’ presentations!!

  21. Cornelia Payne says:

    Thank you so much for the mammoth effort you all made to create such a wonderful challenge.It was inspiring to participate and see all the results from around the world. I’m sure it made all of us participants feel happier. Cheers from Queensland, Australia

  22. Fiona Evans says:

    I have loved doing the challenges and this article really says everything I feel about it. The work on the group has been inspiring, but fundamentally my attitude to my own practise has changed. I have found a new course that my art can take. Stitching always figured somewhere in my ideas. Now I can definitely move forward and make those ideas a reality. Thank you for opening my tightly shut creative vault.

  23. I’m such a big fan of the textile artist team and all the wonderful things you put out there. This is such a reassuring and inspiring and joy filled read. I’m currently half way through the Richard Mcvetis challenge, and have just completed my second sample of the Exploring Texture and pattern course by Sue ( its a brilliant course)
    I have been battling with the perfectionist and worrying over my wonky stitches, so this is a great reminder how to handle it.
    Mistakes do lead to happy accidents and beautiful unexpected effects. Much as I strive for perfection personally I am always more attracted aesthetically to quick, energetic sketchbook pages by artists, and not always the final piece.
    Thank you for this generous challenge and all the encouragement you bring to artists

  24. I have signed up for the newsletter and the video of the 7 challenges and have not
    received either. I’m sure I have done something wrong as I am not cummputer
    savvy. I also cannot get the challenges for 1, 2 and 3 . Can someone help me.
    I have so enjoyed these challenges and want to maintain a connections to this
    group.
    Thank you greatly for your hard work in putting this together.

    Carolyn Davis

    • charlotte charlotte says:

      Hello Carolyn,

      Thank you for reaching out, I can see that you are all signed up for our newsletter and you received our email this morning, have a look in your junk inbox if you can’t find it in your main inbox. You can find all past videos from our Free Stitch Challenge in each challenge blog on our website here: https://www.textileartist.org/category/stitch-challenge

      I hope you enjoy!

      All the best,
      Charlotte

  25. Joan Millard says:

    Your weekly stitch challenge has been so welcome in the weeks of lockdown. Normally I spend my time painting and drawing but seemed to have hit a block in inspiration. It was great to move out of my comfort zone into something new. At times in my life, I have been passionate about sewing and have also been interested in many forms of art and craft work but these last few weeks have opened my eyes to textile art and I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Now I will be looking to combine all my interests into one glorious art form. As I do not take part in Facebook, I have not been able to interact with others but I have tackled all the challenges and enjoyed all the comments from everyone involved. Thank you so much for this wonderful resource.

  26. Sheila Laurens says:

    When I chanced upon TextileArtist.org last year, and then joined Exploring Textile and Pattern, I had never been interested in stitching or ever really tried before.
    I still may not be very good at it but intend to keep trying and continue to be inspired and so I have extended my course.
    Then you came to the rescue for us all at this terrible and uncertain time by selflessly creating Stitch Challenge 2020 and I expect even you could not have imagined what a great success it would be and how many people it would touch.
    You have always been very accessible, friendly and helpful. I would like to say “Thank You” for everything that you’ve done to keep me focused, allowing me to escape and to think about something else other than what is ‘out there’.
    And you still keep on giving! Bless you all. Thank you

  27. Celia Anderson says:

    I loved all the pieces I have done and look forward to doing those I did not get to. Thank you for being a community of sharing and caring makers! I am grateful for Textileartist.org. Still working on Stitching my Story, because the story does go on! Thank you.

  28. Sue says:

    Thank you Stitch Challenge Team for such an inspiring project. After 30+ years I’m hand stitching again and with more ideas for my other art work. A great way to break the artistic block! I don’t do Facebook, but still feel part of a lovely community. Thanks again.
    Sue

  29. Gill Tyson says:

    I loved this article which beautifully summarises the creative journey we have all been through (and are still going through) with the community stitch challenges. Before discovering this wonderful site I was rather stuck, knowing I wanted to experiment with fabric, needle and thread but not sure where or how to start. Thank you so much to the textileartist team and creative artists for helping to liberate me and make me feel more confident to continue and even to push the boundaries beyond my safe zone. The support and encouragement received from this community of stitchers is heartwarming, generous and uplifting; people from all around the world sharing their stories in stitch, both happy and sad. I feel privileged to be part of this amazing experience – thank you.

  30. Carol Shuttleworth says:

    Is it too late to have a go at the stitch challenge I obviously missed it first time and my friend is also very interested .

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