Stitch Club: The story so far
Creative lessons from workshop leaders & members
Imagine for a moment you’re writing the book of your creative life.
What tale will the chapter entitled ‘2020’ tell?
It wouldn’t be much of a story if our protagonist didn’t face some adversity.
You probably won’t have to dig too deep for source material where that’s concerned.
After all, most of the channels you’ve come to rely on to feed your creativity have been blocked at every turn this year.
Textile art workshops have been cancelled, embroidery groups put on hold and exhibitions delayed.
But the really compelling part of the narrative comes from how you’re negotiating those challenges. How you’re adapting. And how those adaptations have the potential to make a long lasting, positive impact on your life as a stitcher.
Linda’s stitch story
Linda had felt creatively stifled for a long time.
Living in a remote rural area, textile art workshops weren’t easily accessible under normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic.
And even when opportunities to connect with other stitchers and learn from respected tutors did come up, the cost of travel and accommodation made them prohibitive.
With little to spark her imagination, Linda felt her work had become stale.
Perhaps you can relate? Especially if kindred spirits are few and far between and you have no idea where to turn for inspiration and guidance?
For Linda, nothing was going to change unless she did something she felt extremely nervous about…
She took the leap and signed up to online workshops for the very first time via the TextileArtist.org Stitch Club.
“I had never done any online classes and was anxious about it but quickly discovered that everyone is there to help me.
Virtual learning has opened up an exciting new world for me that I didn’t know existed. I’m being exposed to teaching and learning that I could never access otherwise.
Stitch Club has given me a more experimental way of thinking and expressing myself. I have learned that the only limits are the ones I put on myself. I can be brave and try something simply for the experience.”Linda Page, Stitch Club member
The birth of Stitch Club
Here at TextileArtist.org we’re always asking ourselves how we can better fulfil our mission to help stitchers like you (and Linda) feed your love of making art with fabric and thread.
This question came into even sharper focus in 2020, when being connected to like minded people felt more crucial than ever and creativity became a vital means of escape and comfort.
Our answer was the TextileArtist.org Stitch Club, a creative safe space where you can share your journey with a community of stitchers from all over the world and learn from some of the most inspiring artists working with textile techniques.
Mieke’s stitch story
Mieke admired stitched artwork but had never plucked up the courage to make anything herself.
“I joined Stitch Club to push myself and to my delight, I am fascinated by working with textiles.
I’m blown away by how inspired I feel and how much I’ve learned about backgrounds, using colour, analysing what works and what doesn’t.
This is much more than just a hobby for me now.”Mieke Lockefeer, Stitch Club member
What Mieke is discovering is that creativity and community aren’t just for lockdown!
And that’s why Stitch Club is here to stay.
After almost 6 months of inspiring workshops, this feels like the perfect moment to celebrate and reflect on the creative lessons you can take away from the Stitch Club experience so far (even if you’re not a member!)
Working towards ‘originality’
Debbie Lyddon workshop: The story of objects
Stitch Club launched in May 2020 with a workshop from UK textile artist and current Chair of the renowned 62 Group Debbie Lyddon.
Debbie invited members to create beautiful unique vessels with fabric and thread.
Jane Cook came into Stitch Club with a lot of technical skill, but struggled to think outside the box or push the boundaries of her techniques. She longed to express herself creatively but felt like she’d never been shown how to develop a more personal or inventive approach.
Finally, after stitching for about 60 years, Jane has discovered that experimenting through play ignites her 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?
Stitch Club has transformed how I feel about what I do. When I completed Debbie’s workshop I looked at what I had done and thought ‘did I really make that?’
I can feel my confidence increase and my skills improve with each new workshop as I experiment and stretch my ability to make decisions.”Jane Cook (Stitch Club founding member)
Clarissa Callesen workshop: Sculpting with stitches
Perhaps, like Jane, you’ve struggled to use your textile techniques in an inventive, personal way?
The inspiring US artist Clarissa Callesen, best known for her textural sculptures made with recycled materials, has some valuable advice about ‘originality’, which she shared with Stitch Club members in a recent Q&A.
Check out the short video below!
In response to Clarissa’s fascinating workshop, members created a range of forms, then embellished and stitched them together into their own unique sculptures. The range of individual interpretations was breathtaking!
Gregory T. Wilkins workshop: Ordinary to extraordinary
Have you ever felt like you’re so focused on the end result that you forget to enjoy the journey? Or that you become overly concerned with being neat and tidy?
Perhaps what you need is the permission to play!
US artist Gregory T Wilkins inspired stitchers to go wild with mark making as a starting point for a mixed media stitched piece.
Encouraged to use whatever she had to hand (whether that was paint, ink, marker pens or crayon), the abandonment of this approach was out of Stitch Club member Jo Eds’ comfort zone.
“I have always struggled with trying to be too precise but I really enjoyed experimenting with different mark making tools. Adding stitches and beads tied it all together.
For the first time I managed to really focus on the process rather than the outcome, which was very freeing.“Jo Eds, Stitch Club member
Now Jo has embraced her newfound inner rebel.
“I wasn’t sure how I’d find Stitch Club as my disability leaves me with little energy, but I am really glad I joined. I am loving playing with new techniques and I like that I can put my own spin on the pieces I make.”Jo Eds, Stitch Club member
Julie B Booth workshop: Exploring blanket stitch
Not every stitcher struggles to break free and get inventive with the rules.
But ‘free spirit syndrome’ comes with its own challenges. Total creative liberation can lead to total creative confusion.
Ever thrown out the rule book only to find what you’re making lacks purpose or identity? Without any limitations at all, ingenuity becomes almost impossible.
After all you can only break the rules of the game, if you know what they are to begin with.
A fact that textile artist, teacher and author of Fabric Printing at Home Julie B Booth knows only too well.
In her workshop for Stitch Club, Julie introduced members to the Stitch Play Game, in which they randomly selected words from a list to determine a design layout and character for a piece.
The challenge? To use only buttonhole or blanket stitch in the composition of that piece. And nothing else!
“I initially struggled with the concept of just using one colour and one stitch, and buttonhole stitch at that!
But Julie is very persuasive, and after I started to see some pieces by other members appear in the Stitch Club I thought I’d give it a go and soon I was gripped by the infinite possibilities!”Yvonne Schlapfer-Parle, Stitch Club founding member
“I found Stitch Club to be brimming with inspiration and creativity! I think this workshop challenged stitchers to really experiment and come up with something completely original.
Having the random element forced them to think outside the box. Having some structure/limits took away the anxiety of having too many choices.
There was such an incredible variety of results including a focus on texture and mark-making, patterning, nature-inspired, landscape and even a couple of portraits. One piece even came completely off the surface! Bravo Stitch Club members for your courage, tenacity and willingness to “play” the game!”Julie B Booth, Stitch Club workshop leader
Sue Stone workshop: The power of three
Former Chair of the 62 Group of Textile Artists and a Fellow of the UK Society of Designer Craftsmen Sue Stone has long been a cheerleader for the huge potential of simple, traditional embroidery stitches.
Sue encouraged members to ask ‘What if?’ and push the boundaries of just three simple stitch techniques, three fabrics and three threads to embellish a strip-woven background.
By embracing and gently pushing the boundaries of this type of exercise, stitchers like Marie are becoming more inventive.
“After just a few months of working with the Stitch Club my approach to material and techniques has become freer.
In retrospect, it feels like my love of textiles was lying dormant in a corner of my being, and since joining the Stitch Club, it has bloomed. I am finally delving deep into the amazing world of textiles and threads.”Marie Haas, Stitch Club founding member
So if you’ve ever struggled to get started when faced with the prospect of a ‘blank canvas’, try setting yourself some simple rules from the beginning. You can veer away from them once you find your flow, but at least you’ll be empowered to make the first mark!
Mandy Pattullo workshop: Fabric concertina
Joy had always resisted this kind of structured approach to making textile art.
“Normally I find it nearly impossible to create a set plan. Until recently I viewed this aspect of my working process as a bad habit that I needed to break.”
But when Mandy Pattullo (author of the best selling book Textile Collage) encouraged Stitch Club members to construct tactile concertina books collaged with leftover scraps and recycled fabric, Joy had a revelation.
“I began to more fully appreciate that the actual act of stitching is for me a most joyous affair. I began to really trust in my intuitive process.
The workshop helped me appreciate that we each have our own way of working and that it’s important that we embrace rather than fight it.”Joy Scott, Stitch Club founding member
Stitching your stories
Anne Kelly workshop: Mapping your journey
How do you look beyond techniques for ways to make your work unique and personal?
Finding ways to honour precious memories was the theme of Anne Kelly’s workshop.
Taking inspiration from her forthcoming book Textile Travels, Anne inspired stitchers to trap old photos, receipts and other collected items within their work to capture a sense of themselves and their journeys.
Ailish Henderson workshop: Stitched collage portraits
In sharing her unusual and inspiring approach to creating self portraits, young artist, researcher and educator Ailish Henderson demonstrated a method for transferring sketch to stitch.
Similarly to Anne, Ailish was keen for members to incorporate special items such as receipts, tickets and photographs into their work. But the results couldn’t have been more different!
“I was taken aback and actually felt quite emotional by the response to the workshop. I walk away inspired by the students and I feel I want to keep reflecting back on their work!”Ailish Henderson, Stitch Club workshop leader
Haf Weighton workshop: Textile typography
Has your stitch practice ever become a cathartic experience?
In her Stitch Club workshop, Welsh speaking artist Haf Weighton shared a technique for transferring typography onto fabric in a project that gave members a chance to reflect on their experiences of the pandemic.
The stories conveyed in a wide range of responses took Haf on what she describes as an “emotional rollercoaster”.
“In describing their work, people talk about their families and ancestors, their health concerns, the beauty of the natural environment where they reside or somewhere they have visited, their hopes, and their fears.
Often, what people have to say is so personal and moving it makes me cry.
I think this is amazing. Stitch Club has created an environment that is so warm and welcoming, so supportive and kind and non-judgemental, that people feel safe in pouring their hearts out. What a strange and wonderful phenomenon!”Christine Peterson, Stitch Club founding member
Getting outside of your comfort zone
Emily Tull workshop: Getting lippy!
Ever told yourself, ‘That technique doesn’t appeal’ or ‘That’s not my type of thing?’ You could be missing out on something that surprises you and takes your work in entirely new and exciting directions.
Stitch Club member Linda Florio was initially intimidated by the challenge of stitching faces and she wasn’t alone.
But like so many other members, Linda found Emily Tull’s tuition in observation addictive and is planning on exploring figurative stitch in more detail.
“Being introduced to so many different artists and materials has broadened the scope of what is possible and inspired me to really look around and explore and to think more about the direction I am most interested in.
The Stitch Club has become a wonderful and fulfilling part of my creative life.”Linda Florio, Stitch Club founding member
Susie Vickery workshop: Treasure from trash
Australian artist Susie Vickery’s workshop merged a traditional technique with modern-day themes of waste.
Susie prompted members to repurpose plastic bags which otherwise would end up as landfill and use them to create a piece based on Jacobean crewel work.
“I was very unsure about this workshop but once I got started I was amazed at how the plastic changed in appearance opening up my mind to all sorts of possibilities.”Linda Okane, Stitch Club member
The lesson? Stay open-minded! Initial resistance could be a sign you’re about to make a truly wonderful creative breakthrough.
“I loved seeing everyone’s work and the zeal with which people appreciated being pushed out of their comfort zone.”Susie Vickery, Stitch Club workshop leader
Going at your own pace
Cas Holmes workshop: Momigami landscapes
Have you ever done an online course and found yourself playing catch up, only to fall so far behind that there’s almost no point in trying?
What makes Stitch Club unique is that it’s not a course. It’s a club. And that means there are no deadlines.
Stitch Club member Aine Nic Giolla Choille discovered through a Momigami workshop (in which she learned the Japanese technique of transforming found papers into flexible cloth-like form) that when it comes to creativity, the only right pace is her pace.
“My achievement this week has simply been to thoroughly enjoy SLOW momigami… spending quiet time kneading, squeezing, unrolling and stroking papers. I luxuriated in this tactile experience, handling paper both with strength and gentleness, delighted to discover and reveal the fibres within.”Aine Nic Giolla Choille, Stitch Club founding member
Words that were echoed by the workshop leader herself, Cas Holmes (one of the very first textile artists we ever featured on TextileArtist.org).
“What impressed me most was the way you Stitch Club members shared and supported each other.
I also want to stress that it is OK to take time over these wonderful workshop exercises from such a diverse and skilled range of practitioners! Over time, through reflection, we each build new skills and a textile language of our own.”Cas Holmes, Stitch Club workshop leader
Merill Comeau workshop: Expressive stitch
Jane Branney learned the power of reflection and repetition from US artist Merill Comeau. Rather than rushing on before she was ready Jane chose to make multiple pieces in response to the Expressive Stitch workshop.
Merril encouraged members to use imagery from nature and salvaged fabrics to create beautiful, unique collages.
With each new piece Jane made, she tailored the process and began to incorporate other techniques like machine embroidery to mould the guidelines to her own practice. And with each new piece her interpretation developed and strengthened.
Maybe you’ve found it challenging to find the motivation to stitch at all in this most challenging of years? That’s ok (and entirely understandable). Sometimes the only way to cope with a crisis is to hunker down and look after yourself.
Maybe you’ve felt creatively ‘stuck’. Without the focus of specific projects, guidance from inspiring teachers or interaction with your fellow stitchers, generating new and exciting ideas for your textile art can feel like an impossibility.
Our hope is that the creative lessons in this article can help you reconnect with your creativity and make stitching part of your self care. That the insights from Stitch Club members can help you discover what you want to make and how you want to make it.
Because there’s still time to change the way your ‘2020’ chapter ends!