Navigating the stitcher’s journey - TextileArtist.org

Navigating the stitcher’s journey

Navigating the stitcher’s journey

The stitcher’s journey is special.

When you pick up that needle, you’re on an adventure that’s unique to you. No-one but you has trodden your path. Although your fellow stitchers are alongside you, your journey is your very own.

And that’s exciting.

Maybe your stitching journey is a quest. You’re seeking ways to find your own unique creative voice.

Maybe you’re an explorer, making mental maps as you make marks, searching for the techniques that express the real you best.

Maybe your stitching journey is fuelled by pure enjoyment and the satisfaction of making.

Whatever your motivation, being creative is joyful. But it’s not always easy.

Sometimes you might feel lost in the wilderness or stumbling about without a map. Other times, there are just too many paths to choose, or no path at all. You’ll face roadblocks, obstacles and setbacks.

When you’re new to stitching, you may mistake a lack of experience for a lack of creative talent – and that’s no good for confidence.

As you become more practised, you may find that, yes, you’ve a marvellous array of techniques under your belt, but how far can you go with them?

Or perhaps you feel that your voice has become stale, and that the work you’re producing doesn’t excite you anymore.

All this is ok.

It’s normal.

Roadblocks are just part of the journey, whatever stage you’re at. And by tackling what’s holding you back, you can make exponential progress.

After all, as famous Stoic Marcus Aurelius says, the obstacle IS the way. And where there’s an obstacle, there’s a way.

So, let’s find the way. Let’s explore the stages of the stitcher’s journey, discover where you are at this moment and how you might overcome some of the most common obstacles preventing you from making the most of your creativity.


Heidi Tyrvainen: In response to a workshop by Sue Stone
Heidi Tyrvainen: In response to a workshop by Sue Stone
Susan Lenz: Wall of Keys
Susan Lenz: Wall of Keys
Sue Stone at work
Sue Stone at work

Stage 1: Starting out

When you’re at the beginning of your creative journey, it’s a great joy (and very useful) to be inspired by others.

If it’s your not-so-guilty pleasure to spend hours browsing, collecting and curating awe-inspiring stitching, then you’ll know the draw of fiber and yarn.

Perhaps you become enraptured in yarn shops, hypnotised by the colours and textures and possibilities at your fingertips. Perhaps your bookshelves are overflowing with ALL the stitching books.

So, why is it so hard to start creating something of your own?

Maybe you feel there’s just not enough time. Maybe life gets in the way, and making space for yourself in your schedule feels selfish.

But now is the time to revel in the joy of the beginner’s mind. Creativity is life and here’s where you start your journey (although your bookshelves have made a start for you). It’s wonderful to be inspired by others, but it’s even better to be inspired by yourself.

You’re a blank slate and there’s everything to explore. Try:

Starting small

Keep in mind the wisdom of the Chinese proverb “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. Make that step tiny. Take baby steps. Start small and be proud of making anything at all.

Keep your work small, but so, too, your expectations. Ditch any ‘right first time’ attitude. Don’t expect a traditional ‘masterpiece’ but celebrate because you’ve taken the first step on your creative journey.

So what if what you make is wonky, weird or wacky? You can bet that it’s original.

Starting where you are

Making time for stitching doesn’t mean devoting a gazillion hours a week to it. It means keeping a promise to yourself to spend a manageable amount of time learning, creating and developing your creative voice regularly. Five minutes a week is better than zero minutes a week. Ten minutes is even better.

Ask Heidi. Because of a chronic illness, Heidi can only stitch for about ten minutes a day and not every day. She says:

“It’s amazing how even just ten minutes of stitching makes such a difference. It really is my favourite part of the day.”

This is your time, time for yourself to explore your own creative landscape. The power lies in starting where you are, with what you’ve got.

“ I can do handwork for no other reason than to just enjoy myself and have fun. I’ve rediscovered my excitement in something that I’ve always loved but had lost its way. The only limits are the ones I put on myself.”

Linda Page, TextileArtist.org Stitch Club member

Stage 2: Building confidence

So, you’ve started stitching and you’re enjoying it, but sometimes, just sometimes, you feel out of your depth.

Perhaps you feel disappointed in your work once too often. Maybe you feel that being naturally creative is for others, not for you. Perhaps you’ve never forgotten that one, cutting sentence uttered by a careless teacher or insensitive parent: “You’ll never be creative.”

If you feel that you’re not naturally creative and that you’ll never be a Picasso, well, Picasso will never be a you. And that’s a good thing.

You were born with a unique blend of natural strengths and since then you’ve lived a lifetime of experiences. You have a will to discover what you’re made of and what you’re capable of. That’s a powerful creative motor.

Not all of us have the potential to be a natural creative genius, but all of us have the potential to be naturally creative.

Look back on your life. Were you ever given the opportunity to be creative? Were you ever encouraged, nurtured, taught? Have you ever been shown how to flourish?

Now’s the time to say goodbye to that unhelpful “I’m not naturally creative” mindset and start discovering where your creativity lies.

Use it or lose it

Just as your body gets stronger when you exercise, your creativity strengthens when you take it for a metaphorical run. It needs regular exercise. Creativity develops with regular practice.

Don’t wait until you’re motivated to start your practice because, some days, motivation doesn’t come. Borrow from James Clear’s ideas on habit:

  • Make it obvious: keep your stuff out, ready to go.
  • Make it easy: limit your practice time, to start with.
  • Make it attractive: create rituals around your practice – prepare a good coffee or sit yourself down in your favourite chair.

Your habit of creative practice will gather momentum. You’ll start making discoveries about what you want to create and explore further, leading to more exploration and more creativity.

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Gustave Flaubert

Multi-award winning textile artist Susan Lenz used to work a day job. Instead of using her limited spare time to stitch, she wasted energy feeling resentful. It wasn’t until she set aside time to explore her practice that she started to feel happier and more fulfilled.

Don’t go it alone

Solitude and time can be important for your creative process, but sometimes, when your creative energy slows or you feel stuck, a community is just what you need. The energy and support from other stitchers on a similar path can invigorate you.

“Seeing how other artists work and the techniques they use gets me thinking outside of what I would normally do.”

Pamela Bristow, TextileArtist.org Stitch Club member.

Borrowing an idea that attracts you is a great starting point – it’s not copying, because whatever you create can never be the same as the original, and chances are you’ll go off on your own creative adventure from that starting point.

An artist is but a collector of great ideas and a master of remixing.”

Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist  

Find a sense of belonging in an online community or in your local community.


Rachael Margeson: In response to a workshop by Gregory Wilkins
Rachael Margeson: In response to a workshop by Gregory Wilkins
Rachael Margeson: In response to a workshop by Julie B Booth
Rachael Margeson: In response to a workshop by Julie B Booth
Rachael Margeson: In response to a workshop by Merril Comeau
Rachael Margeson: In response to a workshop by Merril Comeau

Stage 3: Expanding your creative horizons

Perhaps you’ve been stitching regularly for a while (maybe years!) and you can see where you want to go, but you have no idea how to get there.

Maybe you feel that you need to spread your creative wings but feel constrained.

Perhaps you have a feeling that you’re so near to finding a personal and unique style, but as you reach for it, it pulls further away.

It’s time to expand your horizons. Try:

Filling your toolbox

Finding your authentic voice means playing a lot of songs on a lot of different instruments. And this means building a wide base of core techniques, skills and textile art forms that will give you the artistic vocabulary to experiment confidently.

Does your voice sound more authentic with collage rather or weaving? Which hand stitch techniques sing to you? Do you prefer the whisper of black and white, or a whole carnival of noisy colour?

Pushing outside of your comfort zone and embracing techniques and processes that might not immediately appeal can offer answers. Continuous learning informs and expands your practice, and guides you to your true creative core.

Taking a different path

Sometimes changing things up can galvanise your practice. Do you usually veer towards landscapes? Try portraiture in stitch.

Is your normal work tiny, careful and measured? Go large, loud and free.

Embrace the influence of teachers and stitch artists whose work you admire – and examine work you don’t.

Stage 4: Going within

When you can confidently use a wide range of basic skills, you’ll definitely be nearer identifying your own unique voice. Many travellers on the stitcher’s journey are happy to stay at this point and play, but if you want to go deeper, it’s time to try out deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is a system that’s purposeful, focussed and reflective.

Professional musicians do it to improve their performance. World-renowned artists do it to hone their responses to the world.

Deliberate practice will deepen your process. You’ll make choices and test them, break rules in a considered way and reflect on the result.

Deliberate practice asks “What if?” and then answers that question fully. It’s important to keep track of your ideas and reflections and there are so many tools that can help you. Try:

  • Sketchbooking
  • Sampling
  • Mindmapping

One way to kick off the process is to schedule time to watch, learn and reflect from workshops and videos. Reflect on what you discover from them, and what you’d do differently.


Jane Cook: In response to a workshop by Gregory Wilkins
Jane Cook: In response to a workshop by Gregory Wilkins
Jane Cook: In response to a workshop by Anne Kelly
Jane Cook: In response to a workshop by Anne Kelly
Jane Cook: In response to a workshop by Gregory Wilkins
Jane Cook: In response to a workshop by Gregory Wilkins

Stage 5: Making it personal

The more you practice, the more you’ll feel at ease with your techniques, and more confident about your direction.

Your personal voice will grow stronger and surer. You’ll realise that you don’t need anyone’s permission to experiment. You’re happy to incorporate multiple techniques and forms into your work.

It’s at this stage that you may feel a pull from one particular technique, or from a mix of techniques and art forms that you’ve blended from your creative toolbox.

Now is the time to push the boundaries of what feels right to you, paring down your choices and deep diving into your chosen techniques.

Maybe you want to stitch in 3D, or create multi-media collages, or, like textile artist Sue Stone, use just a handful of simple stitches to express yourself. You may discover that your unique voice sings most purely through traditional folk embroidery, or digital print, or slicing and re-sewing thrift shop tea-towels.

“I discovered I do have a unique voice, that I do have a vision, even a (somewhat fuzzy) goal, and that I can self-identify as a textile artist.

Christine Peterson, TextileArtist.org Stitch Club member

Rachael lives in an isolated community in the UK and felt that she was technically skilled at embroidery but hadn’t developed her unique voice. She says:

“When I was exposed to a range of teaching and learning online, I discovered that I have a voice and a distinctive stitch footprint.”

It’s an exciting time. But it takes a lot of energy to make your work personal. Take the time to keep connected to play and experimentation (even alongside a more focused approach), stay open to inspiration from other stitchers and teachers. And continue to sculpt what you learn to articulate what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Stage 6: Returning to play

If you’re an established maker and you’ve put in the time and practice to create a body of work that sings with your own authentic voice, you’ve come a very long way on your journey. That’s an amazing achievement.

But every so often even the most experienced textile artists get stuck in a creative rut. Perhaps your process is beginning to stagnate and what you’re creating no longer excites you.

If your work is starting to feel repetitive, it’s time to shake it up and wake it up. It’s time to return to the beginner’s mind. To a place where you can give yourself permission to play, to loosen up, to explore abandoned techniques, to fail big and better, to make a mess. A place to ignore your inner critic, and be led by your inner child.

Jane was an experienced stitcher with extensive training and had even taught embroidery – however there was something lacking:

“I was technically skilled but I didn’t know how to express myself. But a free stitch experiment was the start of me spreading my wings. It reignited my creative flame. I’m not a risk taker but now I tell myself what’s the worst thing that will happen if I use that fabric or this thread? 

I’m now playing with materials I bought 30 years ago! I should like to spend more time being expressive – perhaps dancing round the garden with a paintbrush!”

You may find that, by playing, you’re drawn to a change in creative direction, or to new combinations of your established style, that sings a different song.

Start here. Start now.

So where are you on your stitcher’s journey? It’s not always a linear path. Perhaps you recognise a combination of the joys and challenges we’ve explored?

But figuring out what you’re enjoying and what’s holding you back no matter what stage you’re at can help you decide on your next steps.

Good luck!

Monday 19th, October 2020 / 21:57

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23 comments on “Navigating the stitcher’s journey”

  1. Linda foley says:

    Wonderful article, so inspiring and reaffirming of my love to create with textiles.

    Thank you.

  2. Teresa Shotter says:

    That was just so perfect to get me putting needle to fabric, and enjoy.
    Thank you so much for the support and inspiration in your newsletters.
    Wonderful stuff!!
    Teresa

  3. Linda O’Kane says:

    Thank you for this very helpful article. I am really enjoying learning through Stitch Club but am sometimes hampered by self doubt . The timing of this message was just right for me.

  4. Margaret Gethin says:

    this article resonated with me in many ways and encouraged me to keep going on my creative journey.

  5. Katie Farrell says:

    Is it possible to join the Stitch Club? I seem to remember a “teaser” a few weeks back about opening the membership up, but I haven’t heard anything lately.

    • charlotte says:

      Hi Katie,

      We are planning on opening up registration for the Stitch Club in a few weeks time, so do keep an eye out in the newsletter, you will be the first to hear here. All the best, Charlotte from the TextileArtist.org team

  6. Marta Drozdova says:

    Bylo to velice zajimave,ale vse zacina v nasi hlave a tak musime poslouchat,co nam to rika a nechat se vest myslenkou stale dopredu a neprestat.Dekuji

    • charlotte says:

      Translation from Czech:
      It was very interesting, but it all starts in our head, so we have to listen to what it tells us and let the thought keep us moving forward and not stop. Thank you

  7. Anne says:

    Brilliant article, very inspiring. Waiting for Stitch Club to open up again for new members as I would love to join.

  8. Helen Ruddy says:

    Stitch Club is a great idea – I’m glad it is helping so many find their textile voice. Now that Textile Artists.org has had some success with it, have you thought about offering 1 or 2 free 1year subscriptions, to be allocated by random ballot. Surface Design Assoc does this, and others.

  9. Pat Hayes says:

    Thank you for the site and for this article! I’m finding this Covid-19 world—and chaos in politics—are combining to leave me flat and disconnected to my work/life. Formerly a quilter, I find myself drawn more to stitch lately. ArtistTextile Club sounds like just what I need right now. Thank you.

  10. Ruth N. says:

    The push and inspiration to be more creative again is all I have needed. Needle and threads are on the table. I’ll keep an eye on the upcoming registration for the Stitch Club.

  11. GRACIELA says:

    HERMOSO MENSAJE,LEVANTA EL ANIMO AHORA QUE POR LA CUARENTENA NOS VEMOS OBLIGADOS A AISLARNOS ESAS PALABRAS NOS HACEN REACCIONAR Y ACTIVAR NUESTRA IMAGINACION, ,GRACIAS POR LOS CONSEJOS A VECES UNO PIENSA QUE SOLO LE PASA A UNO PERO SIRVE DE MUCHO SABER QUE LES PASA A OTROS Y QUE SALEN ADELANTE CON ESFUERZO Y TESON,GRACIAS GRACIAS

    • charlotte says:

      Translation from Spanish: BEAUTIFUL MESSAGE, RAISE YOUR CHEER NOW THAT THROUGH THE QUARANTINE WE ARE FORCED TO ISOLATE OURSELVES THOSE WORDS MAKE US REACT AND ACTIVATE OUR IMAGINATION, THANK YOU FOR THE ADVICE SOMETIMES ONE THINKS THAT IT ONLY HAPPENS TO ONE, BUT IT HAPPENS TO A LOT. OTHERS AND THAT GO FORWARD WITH EFFORT AND TESON, THANK YOU THANK YOU

  12. Shirley Paske says:

    Can you tell me a little bit more about what Stitch Club is and how it works

    • charlotte says:

      Hi Shirley, Thanks for your message.
      The Stitch Club is a monthly online subscription club and community where members explore a workshop with a new artist every two weeks. The Stitch Club is currently closed for registration, however, we will be opening up the doors again for a few days in a few weeks time, so do make sure you’re signed up to our newsletter as you will be the first to hear about it there.
      All the best,
      Charlotte from the TextileArtist.org team.

  13. Gina Dingwell says:

    This was a timely article for me. I appreciate the reminder of a mindful process in stitching. It was also enjoyable to read quotes from the experiences of others and resonate with them! Thanks.

  14. Leslie says:

    This article resonated! I thought I was the only one who feels like this. Thank you!

  15. Linda says:

    Gosh as I read through this article I found myself saying “Yes! That’s me!” Technically ok and able to copy, but convinced that I’m in no way ‘creative’
    Thank you so much for this article!

  16. Mabel says:

    Este articulo fue de gran ayuda. Agradezco de corazón todo lo que comparten….
    Soy artista plástica y apasionada por el dibujo…..quiero trasladar mis dibujos a la obra textil y me esta costando ….esto fue de gran ayuda …..son muy generosos en compartir……desde Argentina les envío mis saludo….espero pronto lograr mi cometido.
    Mabel

    • charlotte says:

      Translated from Spanish: This article was very helpful. I heartily appreciate everything you share….
      I am a plastic artist and passionate about drawing… ..I want to transfer my drawings to textile work and it is costing me… .this was a great help… ..they are very generous in sharing …… from Argentina I send my greetings…. I hope soon achieve my mission.
      Mabel

  17. Raven Collins says:

    Very nice!

    I tried to drop a photo in here but guess that won’t work. Just looking at Chiharu Shiota and her threads!!

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