The fine art of patience (through embroidery)

7 04 2010

I decided at Samhain this year that I needed to learn more homemaking skills, and to incorporate my artistic expression into those skills.

One day, I was sitting with a friend while our children were playing and thought “here we are, just chatting, but our children are too young for us to be doing anything that useful.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we were just crafting something together?”

And so, through these two thoughts and intentions, my commitment to learning and expressing myself through embroidery came.

Now, I don’t generally relate to myself as a “crafty” person.  All through my childhood, crafting wasn’t a big skill set of mine.  Sewing has always been a challenge and I sometimes feel like my hands don’t really know how to communicate with my head properly.  However, I still feel like embroidery is well within my grasp.

Why?  Because I have centuries of female history behind me.  Women have been doing this sort of work for a long time, so there must be some sort of morphogenics happening somewhere right?  Also, my dear friend E embroiders, so there must be some sort of support I can gain from her.

Today, I took the top of one of my meditation cushions (still in pieces, because I want to sew it after I embroider it), and started the journey towards my first embroidery project.

For my meditation cushion I decided that I wanted an OM symbol.  Easy enough right? I just find a nice pattern, and draw it on the material.

I check into my Reader’s Digest Embroidery book from the 70s (recommended to me by E) and find that the stitch that I want to use is satin stitch.  This is described as an “simple” stitch.

It turns out that embroidery is not “simple” to me.  First of all, books seem to forget that the people reading them may actually have NO clue what they are doing.  It says, simply “when beginning, leave some thread at the back and stitch over it.” (paraphrasing here).

Nowhere does it tell you how much thread to use, how much to pull that thread through or anything else about the “pre-stitching” steps.  Maybe this is supposed to be obvious, but to me, it is not.  I start to feel like that scene from Zoolander where they are trying to get the files out of the computer by banging on it and hooting at it like monkeys.  *sigh*

I call E.  Our conversation goes something like this:

“I’m starting with satin stitch.”

“Don’t do that!”

“Well, I am.  How to I… start?”

She follows with an explanation of how to do the stitch, which is fine.  The beginning, I’m sure, seems pretty obvious.

“No, I mean, the really obvious part.  I mean, do you take the entire skein of thread and start with it?”

Blessings be! E actually understands how clueless I really am and informs me that I take a piece of thread the just over the length of my forearm and pull it all the way through, so that there’s a long part at the front of the fabric and a short end at the back.

This brings me to my first lesson in the fine art of Patience.  I am completely humbled by my inexperience, and decide that no matter what I make, it will be amazing, as I couldn’t even figure out how long to make the thread.  I have to be very patient with my learning curve (something that does not come easy for me).  Breathe.

It turns out that satin stitch is a very simple stitch, but not easy.  Semantics sometimes are lost.  It also turns out that the patience needed for even one stitch in satin stitch is incredible.

I didn’t realize this until I watched this video from an incredibly generous and talented woman named Mary Corbett.  Her satin stitch looks about 5000x better than mine, and I can tell this comes, not just from practice, but from the patience that she has in the placement of each stitch. It makes me truly appreciate every hand embroidered thing I’ve encountered for the patience that these women have to create such perfection.  It is such a meditation, and I am so glad to have found this fine art.  I feel like it is already teaching me so much about patience, presence, commitment and art.

After the day’s work, but before watching this video, my OM symbol looks like this:

I’m pretty impressed for my first attempt.  I also think that it’s super sloppy.  But, I am being patient with my process in this.  It is, after all, my first try.  Tomorrow, or maybe later tonight after my hot bath, I will try what Mary does in the video, and outline the rest first, so then I have a more distinct border to work with.  I will have photos soon!

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9 responses

7 04 2010
Elsa

yes! you’re doing so well! My satin stich looks crazy every time I do it too. It looks good though for your first time! yay embroidery!

I know what you mean about appreciating hand embroidery when you see it, it takes so much time to do even a little bit. But with practice/patience we’ll be great at it, just wait and see!

(this comment contains an obscene amount of “!” but it’s just because I’m so excited about embroidery right now)

7 04 2010
mamameme

thanks!
I’m excited to watch us progress too (!!!!!) 🙂

7 04 2010
Whitney

Embroidery is the best!
Definitely try outlining the rest first it helps a LOT!
It’s actually really easy once you get a bit of practice.
Beautiful OM Symbol!

8 04 2010
Janet Granger

Patience is one of the things that you need with embroidery, but practice, I think, is a more important one. And if you already do meditation (I presume you do, because you’re embroidering a meditation cushion!), then with a bit more practice you might find, as I do, that the act of stitching becomes very meditative in itself – very rhythmical and relaxing. It may not seem like that when you’re just beginning, though 🙂

Keep practicing, and don’t compare yourself to others, just your previous piece, and you’ll soon see improvements.

8 04 2010
mamameme

I do practice meditation and find that, already, the embroidery is a meditation. 🙂 Not so much the relaxing kind yet, but more of the beginning when the mind is quite restless and you keep having to bring it back to calm again and again. LOL!

8 04 2010
Janet Granger

Ha ha! Yes, I know that feeling.

I’ve been doing embroidery for over 40 years now, and I still find that sometimes I forget to breathe, just like with meditation….

8 04 2010
mamameme

Some days are easier than others eh? ;o)

Your embroidery is beautiful Janet! Just checked out your site! i’m so glad to hear that you can make a living at it. 🙂

8 04 2010
Janet Granger

Thank you!

As to ‘making a living’…it’s fine as long as you don’t have expensive taste in stuff, as it’s not going to make me rich 🙂

Still, I love doing it, and it’s better than having a proper job.

8 04 2010
mamameme

well, with the embroidery that you do, you can make things that look expensive ;o)
I think the finer things in life are free, so living on less makes sense. Too bad houses aren’t free though. ;o)

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