Connection through creativity: How stitch-based friendships blossom online
Since 2020, there’s been a sea change in the way that people around the world connect along with a revolution in how we learn.
When lockdowns confined us to our homes, so many of our normal sources of communication – through work, socialising, travel, hobbies and sports – were abruptly terminated and we were forced to rethink.
How did you cope during that uncertain time? The initial fear may have led to feelings of isolation, anxiety or even depression. Perhaps you felt a malaise, or a lack of inspiration?
Or perhaps you felt that there was a choice, and you asked yourself: what do I really want to do with my time? It was an opportunity to choose between the bright side or the dark side.
Textile artist and card designer Jean Rill-Alberto told us how online connections opened up a whole new world of opportunity for her. ‘When the pandemic began, I found a Stitch Meditation group on Facebook. I joined and tentatively stitched my first self portrait. The group was a wonderfully supportive community and a place to remain encouraged while keeping our hands busy doing what we love. And those connections and experiences have lasted and grown way beyond lockdown.’
Zoom literally zoomed in popularity and the upsurge in online tutorials opened doors that had been previously closed. Were you one of those who turned to yoga in your living room, or stitching at your dining table?
For many with a love of stitch like Jean, their stash became their best friend. Sewing cupboards were tidied, stashes were well and truly busted and new projects begun – even completed!
Feeling compelled to do our part in helping the textile art community combat feelings of isolation, in March 2020 TextileArtist.org responded to lockdown with seven free online Community Stitch Challenge workshops led by some of the world’s most inspiring and experienced textile artists.
The demand was so great during those seven free weeks that our private membership, the TextileArtist.org Stitch Club, was born and has continued to offer exciting creative learning opportunities for members way beyond lockdown.
Stitching together online
Anne Brooke of Brighouse in Yorkshire, UK has been a Stitch Club member since the very beginning and has found the regular practice invaluable in developing her own work.
‘I love having the opportunity to work alongside artists I would never have the opportunity to work with in person.’
Anne explains: ‘The Stitch Club community is so valuable and seeing the work others post in the workshops inspires me to pick up a needle and stitch. I think it’s also fab that everyone is so supportive of each other, chatting online and commenting on each other’s work. Even if you don’t have time to take part in every workshop, there’s a lot to take away in just watching and being inspired by a new technique that you may use or come back to later.’
‘Myself and a group of friends meet up to stitch together. Over lockdown we watched the Stitch Club workshop videos and worked together via Zoom, and now we do this in person. The last one we did was after Anne Kelly gave a talk to our group Fabricology (formally Halifax Embroiderers’ Guild), and that week Anne ran the Stitch Club workshop too, so my friends and I got together to watch her workshop and stitch.
During the lockdowns I developed some of my own online community projects, such as #52tagshannemade. Initially they were for my own mindfulness and I videoed them to share with others. As more and more people joined in, the project was stitched all over the world. The messages I have received have been overwhelming, thanking me for keeping people busy and inspired to stitch, which is what the Stitch Club did for me.’
‘Community is a really important part of stitching that has been passed down from generation to generation and has become a huge part of my life.’
Dedication to stitch
Heléne Forsberg of Stockholm, Sweden has taken part in every single Stitch Club workshop since the very beginning, not only sharing her work on the Facebook group but also producing a photobook of her beautiful mixed media work.
Heléne has been painting for over 20 years and has stitched virtually every day since 2010. In 2011 she became an artist and tutor and has never stopped learning, honing her skills and practising her craft.
In lockdown Heléne joined each of the seven Community Stitch Challenges: ‘When Stitch Club presented the opportunity to continue the regular workshops I didn’t hesitate to join. The other members have become like modern-day pen pals to me but, instead of writing letters to each other taking several days to arrive, we write online and share photos of our stitched pieces.’
‘It’s a fantastic way to share my love and engagement for stitching with like-minded people. Because it is a global community, there is always someone active in the members area. And I’ve improved my English so much too!’
‘I now have stitching friends in Australia, the United States and all over Europe and I connect with a few outside Stitch Club too.
I first met Irene Curren, who is based in Scotland, in April 2021. Seven of us have formed a group which meets via Zoom every couple of weeks. We are all in Europe and would like to meet up in person one day.
We always talk about the current or previous workshop and share ideas and our own pieces and projects we are working on. We show each other our sketchbooks – Irene has fantastic, thick sketchbooks! She inspired me to print my own Stitch Club photobook after holding her printed books up to the camera in one of our Zoom meetings!
My photo book ‘Heléne Forsberg – Stitch Club 2020’ has been printed and can be viewed online, the 2021 version is in the making and I’ll follow that with one for 2022. It would be nice to show them in an exhibition some day – perhaps together with the work of other Stitch Club members? That would be so much fun!’
Irene adds: ‘Our group has developed into a friendly supportive group with members from Sweden, Belgium, Germany, England, Scotland and Wales. We all share our ideas and learn a lot.’
‘Heléne’s been particularly generous in explaining techniques and how she produces her work, and that’s really helpful and inspiring. Her working sketch books have given me ideas, and after chatting with her and Mieke, I’ve developed the sketchbooks I made in the Ali Ferguson Stitch Club workshop into something more interesting and artistic.’
‘To me the group has been a lifeline. I’ve enjoyed chatting with people from other countries about their traditions, skills, techniques – and having a laugh!’
Alongside Stitch Club, TextileArtist.org has continued to offer the occasional free workshop for the wider community.
The Community Stitch Challenge was revived in 2021 and then in 2022, we developed a free five-day workshop led by artist and author of the bestselling book Drawn to Stitch. We called it Stitch Camp.
Under Gwen’s clear and gentle guidance there was an unprecedented blossoming of creativity, connection, encouragement and gratitude in the 12,000 strong Facebook group where work was shared.
When artist Caryla Chambers of Sioux Hill, South Dakota, USA took part, she hadn’t touched her materials for a long time and she didn’t sew.
She told us how she began from scratch, rediscovering her energy and making new friends: ‘Oh, Stitch Camp started it all for me! I decided I wanted to do something new. The idea of painting and marking on fabric appealed to me so I jumped in head first. I didn’t have any fabric, so I used an old linen blouse. I didn’t even have embroidery floss or needles. My weaver friend Joan donated needles, a pin cushion, small scissors and floss to get me started!’
From little acorns…
After Stitch Camp, Kim Saxe in the US (a founding member of Stitch Club) and Sharon Hope in Scotland formed the Stitch Camp social group on Facebook to help participants stay connected beyond the free workshop.
Kim has voluntarily organised projects like ‘work-in-progress Wednesdays’, local meet-ups for coffee, cake and project sharing and a stitched postcard swap connecting over 270 of the group’s members across the world.
Taking the first step
As lockdowns hopefully disappear into the annals of the history books, online textile art workshops continue to thrive, offering a more convenient and cost effective way to develop your practice in your own time at home with all of your tools and materials on hand.
But perhaps even more powerful are the connections that are springing up through online groups right across the world, breaking down cultural and national barriers. We are becoming one world.
One thing’s for sure, if you can stitch, you’re never very far away from a new friend.
Take-aways for developing friendship and connection online:
Know yourself. Ask yourself what you’re interested in doing. Is it a desire you’ve been harbouring since childhood? Or a hobby you’ve not found much time for before? Something new you’d like to try?
Find your tribe. Find online training that includes a community where you can not only develop your skills, you can do it alongside supportive people who understand and share your passion.
Reach out. Chat to those people, share your experience, ask questions and advice.
Keep in touch. If you feel like making a closer connection within an online learning community, start a smaller group or offer to exchange contact information. If that feels scary, put that to the back of your mind and take a risk. Trust in the fact that people really are kind and want to join with others.
Stay tuned to TextileArtist.org. We’ll be opening up registration for Stitch Club (which we only do twice a year) very soon.
If you’ve found new friends through textile art, or if you’re already a member of Stitch Club, we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below. How have you found friendship and connection with likeminded people, and how has it affected your own creative practice?