Why you need a stitch tribe
And how community can be a catalyst to your creativity
“I want to spend time being creative. It’s an important part of my life. But it’s very easy to say and not so easy to do.”
Jess Richardson – Member of Stitch Club and Gathering Threads
Like a baby bird madly flapping its wings and barely leaving the ground, at the beginning of your creative journey you’re likely to stumble and fall. You have the will, but lack the basic tools to express yourself confidently with fabric and thread.
But slowly, as you begin to connect (or reconnect) with your imagination and ingenuity, the more joyful the process becomes and eventually you take flight.
As you uncover your own personal way of making textile art through regular practice, the higher you soar!
But what if you’re flying solo?
When even the people you’re closest to don’t understand that creativity is an integral part of who you are, momentum can be tough to sustain.
Your wings may feel slightly heavier after a well-meaning but dismissive remark from a partner or family member about ‘tinkering with textiles’. Comments about ‘wasting time and money’ on a ‘little hobby’ can see you nose diving. Add to that the distant memory of a harsh critique from an embroidery teacher (“Wonky, uneven stitches!”) and you’re coming in for an emergency landing!
Finding the people who do understand can be transformative for your creativity, your self esteem and your life.
Take it from Jess, Yvonne, Marie, Joan, Sarah, Becca, Sharon, Erica, Vicki, Karen and Linda, collectively known as Gathering Threads.
Covid, Christmas & creativity
It was the 19th of December 2020. Coronavirus cases were out of control here in the UK, new unknowable variants were emerging and Christmas had effectively been cancelled.
But amongst all of that dark came a ray of hope and positivity: an email from a TextileArtist.org Stitch Club member called Jess Richardson.
Here’s what she had to say.
Hi Joe, Sam and everyone at TextileArtist.org Central,
As we approach the end of the year on a day full of more grim news we just wanted to let you know how much we have loved being part of Stitch Club this year.
We are a group of ladies from four different countries. Most of us didn’t know each other before joining and probably never would have met but we’ve gravitated together.
We started meeting online at the same time each week to discuss our progress with the Stitch Club workshops, offer advice and encouragement and share our love of textile practice.
We’re also in regular contact via our WhatsApp group where we chat about fab things, sad things and other news from our lives. We have swapped bits from our textile stash and been generous with our friendship.
In the run up to Christmas we organised a Tree Decoration and Card Swap and made something for one of the others in our group. Today we held an online meeting to open up these parcels. Attached is a screenshot of this happy occasion.
Without doubt these new friends and Stitch Club have become one of the most important things in our lives. Thank you very much for all the effort you put into making it a great experience for us all.
From Jess, Yvonne, Marie, Joan, Sarah, Becca, Sharon, Erica, Vicki, Karen and Linda
We were so thrilled that we arranged to gatecrash one of the Gathering Threads online meet-ups.
The passion, positivity, mutual respect and warmth in that Zoom call was palpable. This is a group of ladies whose creativity has been fuelled and whose practice has been enhanced by a sense of belonging.
Let’s meet the woman who started it all… Sharon Eynon.
All the gear, no idea!
As a child Sharon was always more comfortable resetting spark plugs with her dad than threading a needle with her mum. So when she inherited her mum’s extensive textile stash in 2014 she had absolutely no idea what to do with it.
It wasn’t until four years later, when Sharon started exploring the creative possibilities of fabric and thread in an online course with Sue Stone, that she began to understand her late mum’s love of embroidery. Finally, a way to put all her beautiful “bits and pieces” to good use!
As a founding member of Stitch Club, Sharon’s enthusiasm for making textile art continued to grow.
After feeling particularly inspired by a workshop from artist and bestselling textile author Mandy Pattullo, Sharon found herself eager to share ideas and investigate the possibilities of the process more deeply.
Sharon posted in the members area asking if any of her fellow stitchers were interested in getting together online.
Yvonne Schlaepfer-Parle was the first to answer the call…
Party of two
Yvonne is a long-time knitter and woman of the world; born in Ireland, she’s lived in London, New York, Australia and now Switzerland.
Back in March 2020, her burgeoning knitting business was about to host its first in-person retreat…and then Covid happened!
“So that whole thing crashed and burned. But then a friend of mine, who knew I was feeling pretty sad got in touch to say she’d seen the TextileArtist.org Community Stitch Challenge on Facebook and encouraged me to give it a go.”
But stitching had been ruined for Yvonne years ago when she’d been berated at school for sewing outside the lines.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be interested again. But when I watched that first free workshop with Sue Stone and she said ‘Embrace the wonky’, it changed my life! I’m not being pithy or trite—it really did. It gave me permission to go outside those lines and sometimes even plan to go outside those lines.”
Cut forward a few months. Having joined Stitch Club off the back of the free workshops in the TextileArtist.org Community Stitch Challenge, here are Sharon (in Wales) and Yvonne (in Switzerland) meeting on Zoom each week to nurture their newfound passion. A passion for something they’d both long since decided was not for them!
Week on week, stitchers from different backgrounds and at various stages of their creative journey started to join Sharon and Yvonne’s regular meetups. And as the group grew, the more inspired and excited the individual members became.
Let’s explore the creative lessons you can learn from the Gathering Threads group and how you might benefit from finding your very own stitch tribe.
How finding your stitch tribe can catalyse your creativity
1. A breadth of knowledge and experience
Imagine how regular access to a rich and diverse source of knowledge and experience could propel your own textile art practice.
Some members of Gathering Threads have a very broad skill base. Like Sarah Bond, who taught Art and Design for over 40 years, has a degree in Art History and has encouraged pupils of all ages to apply art textile techniques to fashion, stage and ecclesiastical projects.
“After I retired I sort of found myself in no man’s land deciding what to do next and, having recently moved from Hampshire to Wiltshire, I felt like I was in between communities.”
Since finding Stitch Club, and in turn Gathering Threads, Sarah has generously shared her expertise with the group, offering advice, recommendations and encouragement to the less experienced stitchers, like Yvonne:
“As a rank beginner with no artistic training, I don’t have any preconceptions. It’s been revelatory to hear others in the group who do have a background in art discussing the tips and rules they’ve learned along the way.”
2. The motivation to make
“I don’t have enough time” can often be code for “this isn’t important enough to me right now.”
If, like self-confessed butterfly Joan Noble, you do find yourself ‘easily distracted by 101 different things’, the commitment to regular meetups with like minded creative people can help you develop a more disciplined practice.
“These ladies keep me on my toes. It’s helping me be more focused and encouraging me to drop other things in favour of doing the Stitch Club workshops.”
And Karen Hughes, who had been put off sewing by the words of a childhood teacher who told her, “You’re much better at theory, than you are practical”, has also benefited from the gentle nudge being part of the group has given her.
“It’s like going to a digital cafe or college and you just turn up and we all exchange ideas and stuff. It’s a great motivator.”
The group’s weekly meetups in conjunction with the fortnightly workshop in Stitch Club have also helped Jess find direction.
“I used to beat myself up if I wasn’t doing something creative, but the regularity of being presented with a well-explained and inspiring challenge, along with all the other brilliantly organised materials, means there’s no barrier to getting started.”
3. Uncovering possibilities and breaking rules
At the start of any creative adventure, the cushion that comes from step by step rules and guidelines can be a great comfort. It’s how you get started.
More experienced stitchers, like Sarah, are ready to break those rules and steer away from the guidelines.
“I love that the tutors in Stitch Club encourage us to find freedom to explore the projects in our own way and there’s no judgement or expectation to create a duplicate of any kind. I think that’s a really progressive teaching method.”
And that ethos has been embraced by other members of the group.
Like Erica Staxenius, who was introduced to embroidery by her step-grandmother at the age of seven.
“Sewing is something I’ve delved into from time to time. After school, I started to make my own clothes from my mother’s old stash. My efforts were self-taught and I had a few disasters along the way!”
But Erica has always been what she describes as a “practical sewer” and thinking creatively to make works of art in her own voice through the Stitch Club workshops has not always been easy.
“Over the years I’ve often looked at textile art and wondered how and if I could do something similar. And I think with the help of all these wonderful inspirational workshop leaders and my friends in this group, it’s starting to feel achievable. I’ve still got a way to go, but looking back on everything I’ve done in the last year of Stitch Club it’s mind blowing how far I’ve come.”
“It’s interesting to me how I’ve never been one to follow the rules of life, but with sewing and art I have. The encouragement in this group means I’m starting to feel brave enough to break a few of those rules. I’m finally starting to become less restrictive and more inventive in my sewing.”
4. Discovering your personal visual vocabulary
The digital age has given us access to an abundance of inspiration. It’s impossible to incorporate every idea you stumble upon whilst browsing social media into your textile art. But it can be tempting to try!
Not only can this lead to an overwhelming and confused process, it might mean the work you’re making doesn’t feel distinctly ‘you’.
Through the focus of group meetings and the conscious discussion of your personal process, you can begin to hone your ideas and develop your own personal style. As Gathering Threads member Becca Allen discovered.
As a child, Becca learned to draw from her dad, created collages with her mum and made toy mice to sell to her friends.
Years later, when Becca was seeking a way to bring fabric and thread into her artwork, she took a course with the in-demand workshop leader Cas Holmes (who has since taught a popular Stitch Club class using the Japanese artform Momigami to create art). A love of all things textile was born.
Becca has been particularly inspired by the members of the group developing their own unique ways of interpreting the workshops.
“It’s amazing to see how we’re all doing the same projects, following the same set of instructions, using the same equipment, but the ways in which we translate the techniques and processes are so diverse.”
5. The confidence to create and share
Have you ever felt a little self-conscious about your lack of art training? Maybe you love being creative and have always been drawn to making things, but you’ve been reluctant to show other people what you’ve made for fear it’s not good enough?
Vicki Briggs doesn’t come from an ‘arty’ background and has struggled at times with feeling inhibited, but being part of Gathering Threads has given her the confidence to dive in and give anything a go!
“I was quite shy about posting images of my work in the members area to start off with, but with the support, advice and encouragement of our little group and the wider Stitch Club community, I’ve become braver. Now I think to myself, ‘Does it really matter? It’s a learning curve!’ The whole experience has given me a real boost in self esteem.”
And Yvonne agrees…even when the responses to what she makes are mixed.
“Since joining Stitch Club, I’ve had the confidence to venture into other groups and I’ve had very different reactions to what I’m presenting. A piece I made in a Stitch Club workshop on eco-printing was compared to mouldy pepperoni pizza by someone. I would have been horrified in the past. These days, I don’t care. Experimentation and collaboration are more important to me.”
“I now call myself a textile artist. I would never have done that before. I would have felt I was pretending to be something I was not, but now I realise I am, and I’m in the company of textile artists in this wonderful group every week. It’s been transformative.”
6 Finding solutions and fulfilling ambitions
When you hit a wall in your creative process, it can be doubly frustrating when you don’t have anyone to help you figure out how to knock it down (or at least rearrange the bricks!)
Linda Langley started stitching to pass the time when she was a young radiographer on night duty but prior to joining Stitch Club hadn’t picked up embroidery for a good few years.
“I’ve re-learned an awful lot in terms of techniques and being part of this group has meant I’ve found ways of dealing with my particular challenges. I don’t have a workspace, which can be difficult and means I’m much slower than some of the other girls, but they’re helping me realise that’s not a problem. The great thing about Stitch Club is I can go at my own pace. I don’t feel any pressure to do every workshop, but I’ve been inspired by this group to try things I wouldn’t have done if I was left entirely to my own devices.”
Marie Audéon, who lives in France, has a longstanding association with textiles, having been inspired by her mother.
“As a child I would collect and organise fabrics by colour and type, cut them up and reassemble them into something new. In adulthood I continued to sew, making a large array of decorative and useful things for the home”
Marie had always felt drawn to using the techniques she learned as a child to do something more personal and expressive and since joining the group, this dream has become a reality.
“When I discovered TextileArtist.org I thought to myself, ‘This is my chance. It’s now!’ I am learning to mix materials like paint and thread to express a personal story and through the connection with this group my process has really evolved. In the past few months I’ve been using a sketchbook to develop ideas and documenting the various stages of the creative process through photography.”
7. Nurturing an open mind and daring to experiment
Have you ever watched an online stitch tutorial or considered a particular way of making art and immediately said to yourself “That’s not my type of thing”?
Developing a sense of what you want to make and how you want to make it is an important step in your journey towards developing a personal voice for your textile art. But often the techniques and processes you feel resistance to can be surprisingly rewarding when you let go of preconceptions and give them a go.
Being part of a group with eclectic tastes can help you stay open to new experiences. Embracing alternative approaches to creativity can uncover inventive ways of interpreting projects that may have initially felt prescriptive or simple.
Jess told me:
“Even with the Stitch Club workshops that I don’t think I’ll do, when everyone in this group starts talking through their ideas and pictures of work start popping up in the members area, the enthusiasm for the project becomes infectious. You don’t want to be left out. And you end up surprising yourself with how inventive you can be with something you didn’t think was your sort of thing”.
And the collaboration within the group has also encouraged its members to join the dots, workshop to workshop, taking a technique they learned from one into the next.
Yvonne has used an exercise set by Julie B Booth in her workshop, that seemed deceptively simple, to create a whole series of work.
“I’ve gone and done several more pieces and taken that whole thing in a completely new direction.”
Create, connect, thrive
When you’re feeling creatively isolated, where do you turn for support? The most obvious place isn’t always the best fit.
Perhaps the local embroidery group has a focus on traditional needlework that doesn’t appeal…they meet on a Wednesday morning when you’re working or have childcare duties…the in-person workshops they organise run into hundreds of pounds that you can’t afford…or they just don’t get you!
The good news is you’re no longer restricted by location. You can share your creative journey with like minded creative people living on the other side of the world if that’s what it takes.
And when you find the people who understand and care, the people who push you to be more inventive and experimental, the people who make you feel safe and brave, not only will your creativity blossom, you may make meaningful and long lasting connections.
The Gathering Threads group meets on Zoom every week to work through ideas, talk about creative challenges and share their thoughts on the latest Stitch Club workshop. They share online resources and support one another via the Stitch Club members area and WhatsApp. They swap tools and materials via snail mail (when Sharon couldn’t find leaves for eco-printing, Sarah sent her some of her stash.)
But something deeper and more significant has emerged…friendship.
“We are connected by our love of art. That includes textile art but a range of other arts as well including pottery, painting, photography, quilting, knitting, crochet and felting. We also share cooking recipes and book recommendations and send birthday cards. This has developed from a group of strangers into a special group of friends.”Yvonne Schlaepfer-Parle, Stitch Club and Gathering Threads member
And some of these friends have now met in real life too. “It’s so strange”, Jess said to Erica recently, “I feel like I’ve always known you even though it’s been less than a year.” The group are now dreaming of a time, hopefully in the not too distant future, when they can all meet up for a weekend and do one of the Stitch Club workshops together in person.
If you’re part of a textile art group, why not tell us about your experience in the comments below. How did you find your stitch tribe and what impact has it had on your creative practice? What advice do you have for anyone struggling to connect with likeminded creative people?