How to embroider without relying on patience.
I get it. You’re impatient. You sit there with your embroidery and you’re watching as your needle goes in and out making tiny half centimetre stitches. You look at the design drawn on your fabric, it looks 100 times bigger than what you’ve embroidered so far. To stitch a few centimetres takes what seems like FOR EVER. Your thread has become tangled, you’ve just realised that some fabric got caught under your hoop and you’ve stitched it together with the stretched fabric. You untangle the thread, drop your needle on the carpet, can’t find it. It’s so frustrating! Who the heck said that embroidery was relaxing and joyful!? That’s not joy!
If you’ve experienced this then you could easily be led to believe that patience is the number one requirement for embroidery. So you throw your arms up and say “I’m too impatient for embroidery!” But let’s hold on a moment, do you know the definition of being patient? It means:
“HAVING THE CAPACITY TO ACCEPT OR TOLERATE PROBLEMS OR SUFFERING WITHOUT BECOMING ANNOYED OR ANXIOUS.”
What kind of problems and anxiety are we experiencing while embroidering?! Agonising pain and inner turmoil? Gnashing of teeth and eternal suffering? No; tangled threads, dropped needles, running out of materials, not knowing how to do a stitch and taking on a massive project when you don’t have a year to devote to it. Those are pretty much the biggest “problems” for embroiderers. And each one has an easy solution.
- Tangled threads: stitch slower. When you pull your thread through, pull it out slowly. Especially if it’s very long. It’s only the long threads that have a tendency to get tangled. Tangles are frustrating but stitching slower will eliminate that for you. When you pull your threads through too quickly you are trying to save time but end up in a mess and then waste more time. So this is counterproductive. Like in other areas of life, when we rush we create problems.
- Dropped needles: prepare. If you’re going to embroider in a park, bring spare needles. Don’t waste your time looking for a needle in the grass. If you’re sat at a table have a pincushion ready and always use it. And I recommend getting a magnetic pin finder from the haberdashery shop and if you drop a needle on the carpet it’s so much easier to wave a magnet around than it is trying to use your eyes.
- Running out of materials: again, preparation. Running out of thread should not interfere with your project. Spend a few minutes thinking about how much thread and in what colours you will need and buy just a little more. Maybe just one extra skein in each colour. The extra minutes you spend planning your thread usage will save you oodles of time later. And it will save you from this: “I’ve run out of thread, I’ll just put this project aside until the next time I’m at the embroidery shop…” (one year later…)
- Not knowing a stitch: this CAN be frustrating, if you let it. There are many videos available online showing you how to do a stitch and I always direct my students to this absolute gem of an embroidery encyclopaedia www.needlenthread.com. Check it out, Mary Corbett is amazing at giving detailed instructions. I would keep this site as the only one you’ll ever need when it comes to technical skills in needlework. Worst case scenario, if you truly are having trouble with a stitch, swap for something else. Do not allow a silly stitch to ruin your piece of art. It’s a stitch! It’s not your boss, YOU are the boss! If you just can’t master the leaf stitch but have a leaf shape to fill in, by all means have a look at other stitches on www.needlenthread.com or fill it in with a satin stitch or even tight running stitches. There are no rules.
- Project is too big: your eyes are bigger than your belly. If you’ve taken on a reproduction of a 17th century 3m x 4m French tapestry, chances are you will indeed become ‘impatient’ (pain and suffering included). But even if your project isn’t THAT big, if it’s not suited to how much time you have on your hands or your skill level then it may as well be a 17th century French tapestry. Several years ago I started a world map. It was going to be a wall hanging above my bed. I finished Africa and Madagascar before I thought: “Why do I want a world map?” And I had no answer. So, choose projects according to your available time, interest and skill level. Seriously. Be brutal and question your inner excited crafter that’s shouting: “This fully embroidered bed canopy is going to be sooo amazing!!!
The conclusions here are simple. Get real! Do less but better (this is in our manifesto here). Choose small but doable projects, you will get so much more satisfaction from finishing something small than from starting something you can’t do. Prepare, prepare, prepare. It only takes a few minutes to think about your materials, or where you’ll be sitting or looking up a stitch and practising it on your sampler. Or just ditching it and using your own invented stitch. Our main aim is to make something beautiful with our hands and see it finished because this brings joy. So drop the idea that you need patience for embroidery. Follow your own flow, skill level and time and you will hear people say to you: “Wow, you are so patient to be able to do that.”
Do you consider yourself impatient when it comes to embroidery? Have you quit projects in the past because you became “impatient”?
I’d love to hear from you about your own frustrations with impatience in embroidery. Please leave a comment below!
With love and creative freedom.