Like a lot of people in the world, I’ve spent the last three weeks watching people perform higher, faster, stronger. All while I sit on my couch, drinking a glass of wine. Occasionally it made me feel guilty enough to go and do some sit-ups, but usually it didn’t. So I sat and watched and tried to work out just what these amazing athletes have in drive, discipline and dedication that I don’t.
Then I realised that I do. It’s just of a more sedate, less physical, variety. I can raise a glass to that. Okay, so it might be a bit (A BIT?!) of a stretch to compare my lazy self to the world’s top athletes, but I’m going to ask you to suspend your disbelief and go with me here for a moment.
Creating a beautiful piece of embroidery takes time, dedication and patience. It takes the discipline not yo do shoddy stitches when tired, frustrated or bored and the drive to work at improving each stitch. It’s not the 100 metre sprint, it’s more like rhythmic gymnastics. Every placement must be perfect; flow, beauty and execution are the evaluation criteria. Not speed.
I find I have to remind myself of that a lot. Embroidery takes time and eventually we reach a point where we cut corners just to get it done faster. The end result is never what it should be. And unlike a two minute ribbon routine which is over and gone, that poor quality work will stare accusingly at us from our walls for years to come.
Which brings us to the next point – the strive for perfection. I’m sure that a young girl learning rhythmic gymnastics is over the moon the first time she catches the ball on the back of the neck. And she should be, because that’s pretty awesome. But if she decided that having achieved that she could now sit back and chill, she’d never get to even her first regionals. Because catching a ball on the back of the neck doesn’t mean she can reliably do it and, importantly, it doesn’t mean she was actually doing it well.
We’re all thrilled when we finish our first embroidery, as well we should be. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we executed it well. Not a problem- beginner pieces should be like that. It is a problem if our tenth piece looks like that, and a much bigger problem if our fiftieth does. Not all split stitch is created equal, and if you can’t look at one of your first pieces and see a significant improvement to what you’re doing now, you need to work on the execution. We can always do better, no one is ever a perfect ten.
If you don’t know what your standard is, or can’t work out how to improve it, think about finding a coach. Ask someone who seems to know their stitching shit for honest critical feedback to the technique. Not the image or idea, but the execution – and know that if they say “it’s awesome, I can’t see how to improve it” then either they themselves aren’t quite as good as you think, or they’re just being nice to you. That sounds harsh, but to improve you have to first learn where you suck (and we all suck in some way, to greater or lesser extents) and a good coach can help you get there.
You may not be given a gold medal at the end, but get good enough and you could stitch one for yourself.
Jacinta Lodge is the embroiderer behind Stitchalicious, and purveyor of graffiti cross stitch patterns via StitchaliciousDesign. Her embroidered artworks have been shown in exhibitions in Germany, the UK and Canada and published in The Anticraft and Indie Craft. Jacinta is Australian, but lives in Berlin, Germany, where she does roller derby and listens to her husband hark on and on about VW buses.