Improving Your Stitch: The Suck-Awesome Ratio

Stitchalicious' flaming heart

A Stitchalicious In Time from Mr X Stitch!
I’m clearly not alone (because you’re here reading this) in thinking that this new embroidery movement, typified by the works that are showcased on this site, is awesome. I learnt embroidery way back in the dark ages: the mid eighties, when neon was king (in everything but stitching) and all was staid and proper and creativity was limited to the few designers who’d been picked up by big companies or magazines. Now, since an event that I’d like to dub the SSS (or Sublime Stitching Singularity), the stitch world has opened up with neo-Stitchers expressing whatever they feel like.

The motifs, subjects and ideas portrayed in stitch have exploded but one thing which I’ve found slightly disappointing is that the methods haven’t been challenged in the same way. It’s fantastic to produce cross stitch that make people think, or use a simple stitch to outline images that make people feel, but what I’m hoping to see soon happen is these neo-Stitchers pushing the actual techniques. To revitalize the art of the craft itself and make sure the details, the precision and the beauty that can be attained with thread don’t die out.

The aim of this monthly column is to help us all head a little in this direction, with ideas towards improving our technique. The only people who possibly don’t need any extra work in this regard  are graduates of the Royal School of Needlework (although I suspect they may admit to certain individual areas they consider themselves not as strong in. You know, if you ask them quietly and promise not to tell). We all have things we’re good at and things we suck at and, generally speaking, we should be working to reduce the suck. A large amount of my personal suck has wound up in the bin, so I’m hoping to gradually improve my suck:awesome ratio.

The easy answer is that becoming better at the craft will make you better at the art. I visited the Picasso museum in Barcelona last year and the old adage is true – he was a master craftsmen who learnt all the ropes before he could begin working out which ones to cut through.  Perfecting your stitching means that the next time you are aiming for a particular result you’ll know exactly how to get it and to be able do it reliably and quickly. Secondly, already knowing a variety of techniques means you have to tools on hand to get the ideas for interesting pieces. Had I not known the couching techniques of goldwork, I never would have come up with the idea of the string nue portrait below.

There are a couple of levels we’ll be looking at – the meta level of techniques such as cross stitch, crewel, blackwork etc that Penny Nickels covers in her Needle Exchange posts; and the micro level of the stitch itself. At this level there are so many small things that can be done which dramatically improve the quality of your work. I’ll be getting into specifics in coming posts, but if you just start out being a bit more exact in each stitch placement and getting the threads to lie untwisted and you’ll see instant improvement.

This is probably the simplest thing of all and can be summarized into Read Shit, Ask People and Do It. Books, blogs and chat forums are all sources of information. Let’s face it, embroidery isn’t rocket science and even THAT can be learnt from books. If things are still unclear you can ask – YouTube videos abound – or find a more advanced stitcher. There’s some form of Embroiderers Guild in many countries (eg. UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Germany), so check out yours. Or (one of my favourites) sign up to do a a short course locally, either with a stitcher, a shop or at a needlework show.

See Also
Arteries - exploring embroidered expressions with Arlee Barr

Finally, none of this works unless you do it. The smallest things lead to big improvements in the quality of your work and I hope that over the coming year we can see just how good we can get.


Stitchalicious' Flaming Heart StumpworkJacinta 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.

View Comments (7)
  • so glad you brought this up and so agree as I have been feeling the need to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself and even signed up for a workshop with the wonderful victoria crowder payne 🙂 and just started a doodle stitch panel with a wee beastie stitched very differently from my normal style.

  • welcome to mr. x stitch! congrats on a great first post.
    I just want to say that I took an RSN certificate course last year (for just the reasons you’re discussing), here in California, and I was very disappointed. they’re just as close minded in their way, and are almost completely uninterested in stitchers doing things in new ways. perhaps this was just the american class, but i found it very closed-minded and disappointing.
    i’d say everyone, including the RSN, has stuff to learn.
    let’s all do so in 2012!

  • Great post. Even as a newby in the needlework world, this is something that I’ve been thinking about. I know that I still have a lot of learning to do, and part of that learning to is find out where the boundaries are now and what’s been done that pushes the envelop and that I could use for inspiration.

    Also, for any fellow Canadians, we have our own guild, too: Embroiderers’ Association of Canada (

  • Thanks for the welcome! I’m really glad to see such a positive response to the post. Jafabrit, getting out of your comfort zone is the perfect way to put it and, Beachedlibrarian, thanks for the Canadian link.
    Ellen, sorry you were disappointed by the certificate course. I’ve been considering doing a similar degree myself, although I’m mainly worried that, having to do it as a distance degree, I just wouldn’t finish my homework on time ;).

  • @Stitchalicious – i’d carefully consider before you spend the money. it’s very pricy. and i wrote them a very nice letter regarding my issues and concerns, which they never even bothered to respond to.

  • This is fantastic! I am always excited to learn more cross stitch and needlework techniques to include in my pieces. When my mother taught me as a child she sort of just gave me a few basics: keep the top stitch going the same direction; keep your thread and fabric clean; and “a neat back is supposed to mean you are a very skilled stitcher.” Years later when I picked up cross stitching again, I pretty much winged it and started developing my own style while trying to hold together what little I knew or could teach myself about formal cross stitching. I haven’t learned quite as much as I would like to though. But I have to say that I’m partially grateful for that because it helped me create the style I use for my pieces.

    I look forward to more posts!