Are textile artists born or bred?
Do you ever longingly admire the textile art of others, but have no idea how to start creating that yourself?
Do you put up barriers to starting and if so, where do you find that helping hand to get you off the ground?
‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step’, said Dao De Jing.
If you’ve lost confidence and haven’t picked up a needle or sat at a sewing machine for a while, taking that step can feel momentous.
But, even the most experienced artists had to start somewhere. No one was born with a needle and thread in their hand. Perhaps you grew up in a creative family, had encouraging teachers or felt a pull to attend art college? Or maybe you’re only finding the time or confidence to pursue your passion after parenthood or retirement?
Is creativity born or bred? Can anyone become a textile artist? We asked one of the most dedicated Stitch Club members to share her story in a quest to find out.
Heléne Forsberg: finding happiness in making
Despite having had a love of art since childhood and an interest in stitch since 2009, Heléne Forsberg, who lives in Stockholm, Sweden, would often find herself gripped by indecision. She would deliberate over her choice of fabric and threads and, in particular, which techniques to use to achieve the quality of textile art she aspired to.
In fact, though she had dabbled in textile art for a decade, she didn’t feel she had the skills to fully immerse herself in her practice and produce top quality textile art.
Heléne told us how she boosted her knowledge of techniques and was able to make art that satisfied her soul, and gave her the confidence to exhibit and enjoy a community of like-minded stitchers. All of which elevated her skills and happiness to new heights. She has seen her confidence and her stitch skills soar over the last two years. Here she shares her story with us.
Heléne Forsberg: ‘I spent over a decade working in an office with papers and numbers, and being very organised. When I turned 30, I started painting as a hobby and had my first small exhibition in 2001.
When I started stitching in 2009, I made a decision to challenge myself. I became really hooked on stitching from the start, and I can honestly say I have stitched almost every day since 2010, although I’m still making up my mind about which kind of textile art practice I would like to focus on.
Starting with TextileArtist.org
My first encounter with TextileArtist.org was at the start of 2019 when I started a one-year-long online course ‘Stitch your Story with Sue Stone’. This turned out to be the most fantastic experience!
A year later the pandemic had started and, at a time when many people were confined to their homes, TextileArtist.org offered seven free online Community Stitch Challenges on Facebook. I took part in those and loved the professionalism of the workshops and the contact with people from around the world. When they followed up with Stitch Club, I didn’t hesitate to sign up as one of their founding members.
Progressing with Stitch Club
As the pandemic continued, the members formed a happy community online. My other stitching groups in real life in Stockholm were, of course, cancelled.
The members in Stitch Club are like a modern kind of pen pal to me. But instead of writing letters to each other in the post, we have the immediacy of online communication, sharing photos of our work in the members area.
It’s such a generous and inspiring place. As it’s a global community, there’s always someone active when you’re sharing your own work or commenting on somebody else’s. I also love the sharing of things like culture and nature motifs with my global stitching friends. My English has improved greatly these past couple of years too.
Friendships and connection
For me, there are two great benefits to being a member of Stitch Club. I love the pen pal feeling – that camaraderie between the members. Right from the start, I decided that I wanted to contribute towards creating and maintaining this positive environment. In real life I like to inspire people to be creative, to enjoy life and find their true passion which, for many of us, is creating something of our own, working with our hands.
I find it extraordinarily special to have connected with others around the globe through our love of stitch, even though we live so far apart. I now have stitching friends in Australia, USA and all over Europe.
I first met Irene Curren from Scotland in April 2021 via Zoom. We are both founding members of Stitch Club and also meet in an online sub-group fortnightly with five others. We’d love to meet up in person and we’re all based in Europe so it might actually work!
We always discuss the current or previous workshop. But as we’ve got to know each other we talk about all kinds of things. We have become online friends.
We’ve shown each other our sketchbooks and Irene’s are fantastic. Made for Ali Ferguson´s workshop, they’re now filled with notes and examples of many Stitch Club workshops. Once, she held up a printed photo book of her textile art and I was inspired to develop one as a record of my Stitch Club pieces. I’ve made one for each workshop interpretation I did in 2020 and 2021, and plan to make one for 2022 at the end of the year. I’ve listed all the workshops by their name and the name of the workshop leader. The online versions can be viewed via my website.
I feel really happy about having documented my work this way. I’ve received lots of lovely compliments and it also helps me to take a step back and view all my pieces from a new perspective: I always learn more about myself and my textile journey whilst putting them together and then looking through them.
In real life they are sitting in my studio, some mounted and some still waiting. It would be nice to show them in an exhibition someday – perhaps together with other Club members? That would be so much fun!
Gaining self belief
One of the greatest transformations I’ve made is in my new-found ability to make quick decisions. Prior to Stitch Club, I was incredibly slow – very ambivalent – and I would agonise over this and that. I’d take so long to decide what to stitch or which one of the 100 ideas popping out of my head to follow through with.
Now, I nearly always go with the very first idea that pops into my head after seeing the new workshop video. That’s also helped me to refine my sketching habits.
Naturally, I’ve improved my stitching a great deal since starting Stitch Club too. It’s no wonder, with all the practice I get.
Becoming structured, consistent and no longer agonising over all the decisions (I literally spent hours deliberating before) has turned me into a person who believes in myself.
Let’s face it, there just isn’t the time to execute all the ideas in my head. So now I just go with the first one. It’s so much easier, and I can always adjust that idea while in the process of making the piece.
Gaining new skills from experts is phenomenal. I’ve learned so many new interesting techniques that, combined with the skills and knowledge I already had, I’ve now got the ability to work on my projects much more creatively. The experts inspire me and enable me to believe it’s possible to make such marvellous pieces of art. It’s definitely taken me to heights I hadn’t dreamed of before.
The scope of the Stitch Club workshop leaders´ practices is huge. They all show that the possibilities for creativity are endless. Being creative is fun and we should all have a try at it!
Once you have learned the language of stitch it’s easier to speak and express what you truly feel or want.
Making and taking time
I’m also driven by my passion, enjoyment, curiosity and determination to learn and improve.
The motivation I get from interacting with the other members, seeing how they interpret the workshops and getting feedback and support for my own interpretations is truly inspiring.
The online community is so encouraging that I don’t find it at all difficult to make the time to do the workshops.
I have a routine that’s very clear to me and my family. Every Friday night, after having our traditional pizza, I watch the new video before going to bed. Then I sleep on it. In the morning I choose my material and generally go with the very first idea. If there is time I start stitching Saturday morning. If not, I do it at the beginning of the following week.
I go with the flow, and I feel no pressure. If it has to be a really small piece, so it is. That’s my way of giving myself a fun treat. I give myself the permission to spend a few hours on my number one hobby and it helps me with my daily routines.
Motivation to make – the why?
Mostly, what drives me is curiosity! I want to realise my ideas and make them work. I find it very satisfying to develop my own adaptation and altering of techniques and materials. I also like to surprise myself when I create and not be too repetitive with predictable outcomes.
Making is an adventure to me. I love to experiment and constantly develop my knowledge and skill through practice. Cross-referencing techniques, choosing the colour combinations for my new projects and exploring the possibilities of various materials – I love all of that.
I can be a neat stitcher and be super detailed, organised, thorough and patient. Or I can go in quickly, boldly and make crazy-looking things. Then I’ll finish by balancing the piece up at the end, adding that final stitch or piece of colour.
The reward is my satisfaction when I look at my new piece and think: ‘I made it, I could make it work!’ It’s like creating my own mini universe, making something that didn’t previously exist completely from scratch out of my materials, through my eyes and hands and my newly gained knowledge.
I love to create and see unique things emerge through my hands, not following ready made patterns. It’s a freedom I value immensely.
Creativity and flow
I have never had any troubles with my creativity. More trouble with discipline, motivation and energy. For 10 years I had experienced an increasing state of fatigue, which was finally diagnosed as hypothyroidism and low iron levels. I started on medication in 2019, so when Stitch Club started I had regained some of my energy, though I was still lacking a bit of that daily motivation.
The workshops have helped me to keep up the tempo, which I love because I’m back to my former level of motivation. Doing all the workshops and chatting with my Stitch Club friends has become a very comfortable habit, and it’s easy to do from home.
The variety and abundance of all the workshops has helped me to be able to say ‘you are ok’. I am not alone in being a creative and eccentric person!
I think I’d previously felt different and somewhat alone in spending time on creating textile art, not even being too bothered about selling any of it. Now I’m in a group of dedicated stitchers, and for that I’m truly grateful.
A new favourite technique
One textile technique I just LOVE and didn’t do much of before Stitch Club, is textile collage. I see myself making lots of those in the future! I am currently gathering and sorting my material for that, having fun combining various colours, fabric and threads just the way I like them.
As my local groups start up again in the autumn of 2022 I am looking forward to telling them about the huge leaps in my textile practice since 2020 and to show them my 2020 and 2021 Stitch Club photobooks.
And, last but not least, simply the fact that I’m being interviewed for TextileArtist.org about my experiences makes me feel honoured and happy. Who would have expected that two years ago? I appreciate this opportunity and hope people will be inspired and motivated to follow their passion like I have.
Embracing your curiosity, stepping forward
Whether you’re looking for success in your art or in your work, is there a common ingredient – perhaps one that Heléne has described – that can take you there? Many have studied the nature versus nurture question and the conclusion is – it’s commitment that works.
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell concludes that practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good: it’s the thing that makes you good. He gives as an example the years of long nights played in German clubs by the Beatles before their big break came along.
This article tells the story of Giorgio Armani, who abandoned his medical studies to pursue a fashion career, starting at the bottom as a window dresser. As he took opportunities to learn new skills and practise them, he developed what appeared to be a natural ability – another word for talent.
For some practical advice, creatives can take inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer who started by taking jobs in diners by day while writing by night, to reach international acclaim as an author with her book Eat Pray Love. Her book Big Magic encourages us to embrace our curiosity and move forward. It describes how to tackle what we most love, and how to confront what we most fear.
Heléne is driven by curiosity and has described her passion, enjoyment and determination to learn and improve. But it’s not all been plain sailing: she’s had some health problems and indecision – issues many of us share. Here’s a summary of what you can do to overcome those challenges.
- Heléne overcame her hurdles by learning to trust in her first idea and take that forward. At times she chose to make small pieces of work to ensure progress in the time she had available. This is how she built her confidence and skills and moved forward with her range of techniques.
- Enthusiasm is a word that Heléne epitomises. Because she loves to stitch, distractions like social media have to take a back seat. What is taking up your time – that could be redirected to your stitching practice?
- Find like-minded people. They can motivate, inspire and generally give you some fun. Whether in person or online, find your tribe. Heléne has made stitching friends online, and connections that she treasures.
- Online is easy. When Heléne found Stitch Club, it was a no-brainer – she knew it was going to work for her. She can now happily be creative and communicate from home with no guilt and no worry.
Heléne Forsberg lives in Stockholm, Sweden and has been a member of Skapande Broderi Stockholm (Creative Embroidery Stockholm) since 2012. She has been a painter for over 20 years and has worked with stitch since 2009. Heléne is a founding member of TextileArtist.org’s Stitch Club.