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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.