What is it that makes someone choose between stitching by hand and stitching by machine?
I spent a good hour or two this morning flitting on Flickr and it seems there are loads more quilters and sewers out there than hand embroiderers. I’m not claiming to have done any quantifiable research; it’s merely an observation based on the groups that are out there, the number of people belonging to each group, the vast difference between the number of views and comments about my own quilts and those of my embroideries, and the general interaction between Flickr folk via comments.
Knitting and crochet is a different story. I could find only a handful of tiny groups for machine knitters, but thousands belong to hand knitting groups. And I haven’t heard of a crocheting machine…
Either way, it made me wonder why you’d choose one over the other. And why if you enjoy knitting or crochet, you aren’t into hand embroidery, for example.
This then got me thinking about what it is that I enjoy about each of the fibre crafts I indulge in. And, as there’s a flipside to everything in life, what I don’t enjoy about them.
Hand embroidery is, without a doubt, the most rewarding. It takes an immense amount of time to finish a relatively small area and each stitch has to be made carefully in order for the whole to look good. The time factor can also be a deterrent, but it's easy enough to switch to a less demanding project (I normally have a few on the go at the same time). And no one can resist a neatly wound, colour-coded floss box. There is, however, a lack of “modern” designs out there, which can be frustrating. Although stitching your own designs brings a whole new level of satisfaction to the craft.
There’s a certain joie de vivre to quilting that you don’t really get from other fibre crafts. Pulling out yards of fabrics with gay abandon and arranging them in different combinations is a heady pastime. Then there’s the instant gratification factor, as you can piece a quilt top in a day. And if you’re a hand quilter, you get the best of both worlds: hand and machine. But stitching the same block 20 times can get a bit repetitive, which can be problematic if – like me – you love geometric quilts but don’t particularly enjoy sewing the same thing over and over again. I find using different fabrics for the same blocks helps alleviate this.
Crocheting is my craft of choice when I’m run down, stressed out or a bit on the tired side. It’s a soothing craft that doesn’t need your full attention and you can switch off and allow your mind to unwind while keeping your hands busy. Off course, this depends on how complicated an item you’re crocheting. I tend to stick to fairly simple items – probably because I’m drawn more to the action than the challenge of creating masterpieces out of wool. Crochet does, however, have the tendency to look a bit ou vrou (old-fashioned) or cheesy, so you have to be quite careful not to cross that line when selecting pattern, wool and stitch.
But the one thing that is universal – and I can only speak for the fibre crafts here, although I’m sure it’s the same for any creative endeavour – is that feeling you get when you finish something, knowing you made it with your own hands. From the original idea to picking out materials to slaving over your creation to standing back to admire your handiwork once the final stitch has been made. It’s a feeling I’d wish on everyone.
Sunday, 18 May 2008
I haven’t stitched all week. Not a chain, nor a half treble crochet.
I started working full-time again on Monday after almost five months of freedom. And even though those months were busy – packing up a lifetime and moving to another country entails a lot of decision-making, paperwork and general streamlining – I had a lot more time to stitch.
And so it’s back to time management. No more sleeping until I’m done, eating when I’m hungry and stitching in my pyjamas until two in the afternoon. It’s back to an alarm clock and juggling life, meals and my share of the housework during the minimal week hours that are mine to do with as I please.
So I’ve decided to set my alarm an hour earlier and make a concerted effort to spend sixty minutes every morning stitching. I’m in the process of setting up the spare room to accommodate a dedicated stitching area so I can simply pick up where I left off the previous day.
I’ll have to be quite strict on myself, because I’m not naturally a clock-watcher. But I’m hoping that, this way, every day is a good day – work or no. And how could it not be when it starts with stitching and ends in quality time with my husband? I’ll let you how it goes…
Sunday, 11 May 2008
It still amazes me that the vast majority have no idea how to take up a hem, let alone stitch for pleasure. Even though I only started stitching seriously about four or five years ago, I grew up surrounded by embroidery threads and wooden hoops, knitting needles, crochet hooks and balls of wool, bolts of fabric and sewing machines.
When I think of my great-gran – whom I was fortunate to have around until my mid-teens – she always has a ball of wool and a crochet hook in her hands. My gran’s sewing room was in the attic (the hottest room in the farmhouse) and as a child I’d spend hours “tidying” her cupboards, emptying out glass jars of buttons, winding lace on to cards and sewing little bits and pieces on her treadle machine. She was never one to say no and I had the run of the place as well as someone to finish all the projects I started with such enthusiasm.
My mom is probably the most avid stitcher of her lineage. She spends hours a day in her studio creating the most beautiful embroideries, quilts, cushions, bags and more. Her bullions are always perfect and there are no machine-quilted quilts in her house. My wedding dress was simple in style, but had the most exquisite embroidered white-on-white designs on the bodice – and 100% made by Mom. Yes, she’s a pretty good dressmaker, too. It’s no wonder most of my thoughts are about stitching. It’s in my blood.
And yet there are some embroidery stitches that really frustrate me. Bullions, for one. Mine usually come out fat at one end and thin at the other, or I wind the thread too tightly around the needle and can’t pull it through. They are looking better these days, but I still approach them with trepidation.
Palestrina, on the other hand, is the most beautiful stitch to work. It has a flow to it and leaves me feeling as though I’m conducting an orchestra. And it’s one of the stitches that come to me naturally, so I don’t have to concentrate too hard while doing it.
We recently received the boxes we shipped from South Africa when we moved to the UK almost three months ago and, while unpacking my sewing paraphernalia, I found the sampler I’d started to reacquaint myself with the embroidery stitches of my childhood: a simple calico rectangle with brightly coloured rows of stitches that wasn’t quite complete.
A few more 2B lines and my new A-Z of Embroidery Stitches 2 (Country Bumpkin Publications) later and I was lost in the joy of stitching simply for stitching’s sake. Just flicking through a book, picking a colour at random and stitching in a straight line instead of creating an intricate image or attempting to bring the picture in my head to fruition. It brought back the pleasure of the action itself, which I suddenly realised had been waylaid in my determination to achieve an end result of astounding visual impact (to my eyes, that is).
So I’ve decided to make a holdall for my needles out of the sampler that started me on this wonderfully fulfilling journey; to remind me every time I pull out a new needle to take pleasure in the act of stitching and accept the end result for what it is: a work of art, no matter how small or simple, made up of hours spent in a most pleasurable way.
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Green is my favourite colour – when it’s not red, yellow, blue, orange, brown, black, white or some shade in between. But it’s also often my most frustrating colour to work with; there are just so many shades of green out there.
A year or two ago, I crocheted two cushion fronts out of Rowan’s Ivy Cotton Glace. I thought I’d easily find matching fabric to make up the covers. I didn’t – and not for lack of searching. I ended up stitching the crocheted fronts to dupion silk covers, which looked good through the crochet but not too good when viewed from the side.
I’ve also made the mistake of using too many different shades of green in one piece of embroidery, ending up with a headache-inducing mash of colour instead of the subtle hues and gradations that occur in nature.
One of the first pieces of quilting fabric I ever bought is (what I refer to as) Creme Soda green, because of its similarity to the tin of the much-loved South African soft drink. It sits in my stash drawer, the spinster on the shelf.
I could go on about my adventures with green, but all this talk is making my fingers itch. I’m off to make something. I’m thinking… green?