Slow Stitching to Express Myself as an Artist
by Kelly Martinez
I am not a pattern follower. There’s nothing wrong with being one! My husband is a pattern follower. I am not one, though. It’s not that following patterns isn’t good enough for me, just that it isn’t right for me. I think of the crafting world as being divided into “creators” and “makers”. Creators create one-of-a-kind pieces, design patterns, write tutorials. Makers make all kinds of wonderful things from patterns created by creators. Each depends on the other, and one type of crafter isn’t any “better” than the other type. We each have our own work to do.
What I do is learn skills and techniques, then use them to create original pieces. In fact, I hate the idea of making the same thing more than once! I don’t like duplicating someone else’s work, either, unless I’m following their pattern in order to learn a skill or technique. I imagine I often sound cranky about my work when I talk to other people, but it’s mostly because I often find we aren’t really talking about the same thing. They are talking about making items. I am talking about creating art.
“How do you decide on a theme for a piece of hoop art?” I get this question often and I still don’t have a good answer for it. The problem is that my process doesn’t work that way. I don’t decide to make hoop art and then ask myself what to put in the hoop. I decide to stitch something, and if it would be displayed well in a hoop… hoop art it becomes!
I did fine art and illustration before my husband and I started our handmade business. When I’m not stitching, I’m often hand drawing
something like this.
Embroidery is, for me, drawing with thread. When I decided to try my hand at stitching a mandala instead of drawing one, it was simply easiest to display it as a piece of hoop art because mandalas are round.
I’ve been asked if I would be interested in an embroidery machine, but it’s not the same to me. I like to embroider by hand. I know I could digitize a drawing and let the machine do the stitching, but slow stitching by hand means the piece grows as I work. Slow stitching allows me to create one-of-a-kind pieces.
“You should make what So-and-So makes!” No, I really shouldn’t. So-and-So is already doing that work, and I have a list of ideas for work I want to do that is so long I probably won’t finish it in my lifetime. The most frustrating version of this is when people come to me with ideas that aren’t even a pattern. They show me a picture of someone else’s work, knowing I could figure out how to copy it just from looking at the picture, and think I should do that. I am often inspired by someone else’s work, but that doesn’t mean I want to do exactly what they do. I have my own ways of showing that I’ve been inspired.
The biggest difference I have consistently noticed between myself and creative people who don’t do original work is that I don’t let not knowing how to create something stop me. And that really is a much bigger difference than it sounds like! It isn’t just about fear. It’s also about what process one enjoys. If you enjoy sitting down to work and knowing you’ll have exactly what you wanted when you finish, you are probably a pattern follower. A maker. If you enjoy tinkering with things, figuring out why something didn’t work and what you could change to make it work, creating something because you want it to exist even if no one else sees a point to it, you are probably not a pattern follower. You are probably a creator. A maker could force themself to create something from scratch, but probably wouldn’t enjoy the process. A creator often sees someone else’s patterns and directions as a necessary evil at best, and a boring waste of time at worst.
“Slow stitching means setting aside time to find myself
somewhere in the thread and spread myself out on a piece of fabric.“
I don’t like talking about my process, and I know that contributes to a lot of people not really understanding why I create. Explaining art just feels awkward and weird to me. It’s like explaining breathing or eating. I don’t mind letting someone else watch me work, though, so I share a lot of work-in-progress pictures on Instagram. The response has been terrific! Many people have said how much they enjoy watching pieces my husband and I make come into being. Since I’ve started designing patterns for him to stitch, I hope this gives some people a better idea of how much work goes into creating a piece.
I enjoy finding out if I can do something or not. I mess things up over and over again, but I learn something about myself in the process. Slow stitching allows me to see the places where something doesn’t work almost immediately, turning the process into a fluid evolution. I also create myself this way. Sometimes I’m just stuck and cannot figure out how to do what I wanted to do. Most of the time, though, I’m teaching myself along the way. Taking stitches out, cutting new pieces of fabric, moving lines… these are all ways I change myself. I start as someone who cannot make a specific thing, and I turn myself into someone who can make that thing. Art is a piece of the artist.
A lot of people would probably say stitching characters from My Neighbor Totoro onto small hexies is more trouble than it’s worth. I like to stitch small things. I like to stitch a lot of details on larger projects. I love to finish a project and show it off, yes, but that’s not really what it’s about for me. I’m much more interested in what I am doing than what I have done.
In some ways, quick projects are just there to cleanse the palate between larger slow and intentional projects. It’s the slow work on larger projects that I enjoy most. There’s something meditative about it. Slow stitching means setting aside time to find myself somewhere in the thread and spread myself out on a piece of fabric. It’s healing for me. It gives me time and space to process things and recharge.
Create what you want to create. Make what you want to make. Your process is your own and other people’s expectations aren’t what it’s about. If you like sitting down with a pattern and knowing your time and effort will pay off with a finished piece for you or someone else to enjoy, pattern designers love you! But , if you’re like me, you’re not “doing it wrong” because you don’t want to stitch or sew whatever the popular things to be stitching or sewing are. You’re not a bad crafter for not doing the social Craft-A-Long projects. No matter how many people tell you that, “You HAVE to make these!” it’s not true. You don’t have to take on projects that don’t create joy in your life. And you aren’t really the only person who works that way. You just might be the only person in your immediate circle of friends. Maybe you’re weird, but weird people create things that are remembered.
About Kelly Martinez
Kelly is one half of the Craftypodes. (http://craftypodes.com/ ) She is awesomely weird and overly enthusiastic about things like bears, astrobiology, and Cthulhu. Her favorite color is rainbows. If you’re going to force her to choose just one color, it’s purple. She is very stubborn and opinionated, and very few people forget her.
You can see work-in-progress pictures from Craftypodes at : http://instagram.com/craftypodes
If you’re on Twitter, the Craftypodes are full of stitching and geekery: https://twitter.com/craftypodes
Have you checked out The Slow Stitching Movement’s PODCAST page.
Meet author, teacher, and embroiderer, Gail Pan.