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Crafting “slow” in the modern world

Hello Beautiful Stitchers! I am going to be completely honest today. I am struggling with a healthy dose of overwhelm. This has absolutely nothing to do with my embroidery and everything to do with all the other stuff that goes along with running a creative business in the 21st century.

Over the last couple of years I have researched all the things I should be doing in order to run a thriving creative business. I have taken classes to find out how to be a better blogger, how to put more of myself into my business, and how to use social media effectively. I have bought, borrowed and read countless books and magazines. And I have worked hard to implement what I am learning.

Learning to be a good web citizen!

Learning to be a good web citizen!

But I have a problem. Social media and modern technology just eat time – my very precious time that could be spent embroidering my latest design or writing up workshop notes. And sometimes that just doesn’t feel right.

Now don’t get me wrong – I have come to adore Instagram after only two months of using it. I am connecting with fabulous embroiderers and craftspeople from around the world, and I love seeing all the amazing things which they create. But in order to build a following, I am told that I need to post every day and spend time interacting with others by leaving thoughtful comments. I should also make sure that my posts have a look about them which is recognisably “Beautiful Stitches”. So I need to put time and effort into taking good quality photos that help to build the story of who I am and what makes my embroidery unique. And then I am told that I even need to think about what time of the day it is best for me to post, to maximise my visibility (heaven help me if that happens to clash with the school run, or making dinner, or getting a sick child to the doctor!).

Instagram Page

Facebook is also a must. I should be posting daily there too and building likes. And the branding between my website, Facebook, and Instagram should all be cohesive.

Facebook Page

Pinterest is the perfect place for creatives – I should be pinning regularly so that my followers are constantly updated on what is inspiring me this week.

Pinterest Page

And I am told that I really should be blogging once a week or once a fortnight – a target which you, my dear readers, know that I rarely manage to hit.

There are a host of other social media platforms that I could be using but I am choosing to ignore. To be perfectly frank I am having trouble keeping up with those where I already have a regular, albeit small, presence.

AARGH – stop the social media train, just for a day. It’s Easter Sunday and I want to get off!

So why does all this social media and online activity sometimes feel so overwhelming? Well, I think the answer might actually be very simple.

The kind of stitching I do is “slow stitching”.

It takes time for me to create and develop a new design – and by time I mean weeks or months, not just a few hours or days. I do a lot of rhythmic, repetitive stitching and this process is not easily captured in daily updates. I would completely understand if I showed you the same piece of work two days in a row, and you couldn’t see much of a difference. So social media is a constant challenge for me. A challenge to come up with something new or different or exciting for my feed. A challenge not to flood my feed with exactly the same colours for two months.

My latest design has taken two months to develop.

My latest design has taken two months to develop. I posted updates to Instagram just 7 times.

And you see I love “slow”. I love the feeling of continuity as a design gradually develops beneath my fingers. My design becomes a friend as we patiently work together towards a completed piece. I love thinking about an idea deeply – sometimes for days or weeks until it transforms into something new and interesting in my brain. I even love slow food. My favourite Christmas cake for example is Nigella Lawson’s Black Cake. You soak approximately 1kg of dried fruit for a minimum of two weeks in half a bottle of Madeira and half a bottle of rum. And let me tell you there is something indescribably luscious about the result. Nigella even recommends that you eat the cake in “a slow, meditative way”.

Thus, the modern media culture for daily updates and quick snapshots isn’t really a natural fit for me. I find myself almost weighed down by the obligation to sort through everyone else’s posts whilst also trying to make sure that I put out good quality content of my own. Some days, like today, it feels like more noise than I want to hear and I don’t feel like I am being a very good online citizen. And yet I know that if I don’t play by the rules, my faint voice will be completely drowned out by all the others who are playing the game a lot better than I am!

In an effort to manage my social media presence I am going to compromise my need for “slow” with the modern world’s demand for “fast”. My number one priority is to deliver you genuinely good quality content rather than to meet the social media rules for quantity. And yes it is a compromise, but I truly believe that I will be more authentically me if I bend the rules just a little bit. So here is the plan:

  1. Instagram is my daily port of call. In other words, I will post something nearly every day on my Instagram page. Mostly it will be related to Beautiful Stitches activity, but occasionally you will get a glimpse into other parts of my world.
  2. The Beautiful Stitches Facebook page will have posts a few times a week. Typically, the Facebook posts and the Instagram posts will be different because it drives me crazy when I am following somebody in both places and I get identical content in both feeds (perhaps this is just a personal quirk on my part, but nevertheless that is the way I tick).
  3. Pinterest is typically a weekend activity for me – a lazy half hour on a Sunday morning is my idea of creative bliss. So my Pinterest page will typically only have new content once a week.
  4. Finally, this blog is a place to share the longer stories and drill deeper into how I work. That will happen once or twice a month – more like a magazine that you purchase once a month than the daily newspaper.
  5. And most importantly, this plan will help to ensure that I have plenty of time to design, stitch and teach. After all, that is what this entire creative journey is all about.

To keep in touch with all my activities, please choose the online space or spaces that suit you best. I will be most happy if you feel that you are getting just enough information from me, rather than too much. And I would love to hear what you think? Do you also struggle with social media overwhelm? Or is that purely the domain of this 40-something woman who would much rather sit down and chat to you over a cup of tea?

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Why 2015 doesn’t need to be better than 2014

Hello all! It is so lovely to be chatting to you all again. I took a long break from my blog over the Christmas season because frankly “something had to give” – there was just too much else going on for me to keep track of everything. For those of you reading this in the northern hemisphere, it is hard to describe just how crazy December gets when Christmas coincides with the end of the school year. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love it, but it inevitably feels like I am keeping an awful lot of balls in the air πŸ™‚

This is what a Christmas celebration looked like with friends early in December.

This is what a Christmas celebration looked like with friends early in December.

And then Boxing Day arrives and a blissful sense of calm descends on our house. There is plenty of food in the fridge so no stress about cooking too much in the hot weather; everyone is on holidays and enjoying a rest – perhaps with book in hand and cricket on the television; the beach beckons early in the morning (just at the end of our street – we are so lucky); and after a nice swim and a walk I don’t feel one bit guilty about putting my feet up for the rest of the day.

The beach at the end of our street - only five minutes walk away.

The beach at the end of our street – only five minutes walk away.

This holiday bliss lasts for 2 or 3 days and then I start getting itchy fingers. My brain starts whirring again. The prospect of the New Year beckons. I wonder to myself, “What possibilities lie just over the horizon?”. And of course, “What do I want to achieve in 2015?”.

I have had a fantastic 2014. I am blessed with a beautiful family and a lovely home in a safe and prosperous part of the world. I am watching my children grow into citizens of the world as they discover their own unique talents and interests. I have wonderful friends and access to far more resources than I will ever need. And this little corner of the world that I call “Beautiful Stitches” is a joy every single day.

A friend posted a delightful cartoon on Facebook yesterday with this caption.

Lots of people will tell you how difficult it is to be an artist, but nobody tells you how difficult it is NOT to be an artist.

I have really come to appreciate this sentiment in 2014. During my mad November and December I went for days on end without working a single stitch and it was horrible. I missed the creative excitement I feel whenever I have needle and thread in my hand, and the grounded, centred feeling I get as colourful patterns develop beneath my fingers.

So I am not striving for 2015 to be “better” than 2014 – how could I possibly be so greedy? But I am looking forward to more of the same with some new challenges to spice things up. My number one priority is to just keep sewing – to do more designing, to embrace new teaching opportunities, and to get brave enough to sell some of my work online. And for you dear reader I will do a much better job of planning my posts and providing you with useful information about canvaswork embroidery. In the next few months we are going to explore

  • the tricks I use to make it really easy to choose your own thread colours for an embroidery design;
  • the method I use to create geometric canvaswork designs and how easy it is for you to do it too;
  • the books and websites that inspire my creativity, and hopefully yours too; and,
  • the myriad ways that canvaswork embroidery can be used to embellish useful and beautiful items for your home.

May you all have a wonderful 2015. I am so looking forward to sharing it with you!

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Why handmade?

HandmadeI first drafted this blog post a few weeks ago, and as I quickly re-read it today, I thought the first sentence read “I have been thinking with my hands for as long as I can remember..”. It actually read “..making things with my hands…” but it struck me that “thinking with my hands” was actually a much apter description of what I do! And that is a pretty big part of the story, but perhaps I should start at the beginning…

I have been making things (thinking πŸ™‚ ) with my hands for as long as I can remember. My childhood was punctuated with a succession of craft activities. My Mum introduced my sister and I to huck stitching, crochet, knitting, cross stitch, embroidery, making candles, macrame, making clothes (first for our dolls and then for ourselves), painting plaster moulds, making stuffed toys, collage and more. And these are just the ones I remember – there were almost certainly more!

I simply can’t imagine my world without making something with my hands. It was such an absolutely fundamental part of my childhood. So, why was it so important then?

Well, we moved a lot when I was a child. My Dad worked in the mining industry and thirty years ago there was no such thing as fly-in/fly-out. When Dad changed mines, we all went with him. In retrospect this was an amazing experience. But at the time every new move meant farewell to one group of friends and all the hard work of carving out our niche in a new home. Making things with my family provided a continuous thread through all these changes (did you notice my unintended pun there?). No matter what happened, there was always the excitement of pursuing a new handmade activity. And the satisfaction of creating something with our own hands. Our moves took us a long way from family, but every year our relations were treated to a new range of Christmas gifts from our home workshop. I’m not sure what they thought – but we loved it :). Every piece we made was imbued with an extra sense of purpose when it was destined for a treasured grandparent.

As an adult, wife and mother, my life has continued to be punctuated by a series of moves around Australia and the world. Wherever I am living, making things with my hands (especially sewing as it turned out), brings exactly the same sense of satisfaction that I had as a child. I feel that same joy of disappearing into my own creative world for a few hours.

So, why is handmade so important to me now? I think it is because I know that wherever I am, I can find a measure of peace and security when I sit down to create. And then when a project is completed, I experience such a wonderful sense of satisfaction and joy. It really doesn’t matter whether anyone else likes my creation, because the process has already brought so much pleasure into my life.

But perhaps more importantly, I have come to realise that I do a lot of thinking when I am creating. Working with my hands is such a peaceful and secure place for me, so I relax and think more clearly. And as much as I love modern technology – playing games on my iPad; catching up with friends on Facebook; browsing on Pinterest; or learning from TED – it is not a place where I can free my mind to think clearly. My creative time provides a real sanctuary in which to relax, think, and emerge refreshed.

So go ahead and make some creative time for yourself. It might be something you have been doing for years or a brand new hobby that you have only just discovered. I guarantee that making time to “think with your hands” will bring an extra measure of pleasure to your life.

 

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Some tropical inspiration

Well my little blog has been taking an unexpected holiday again. As school holidays approached my daughter went down with a nasty bout of pneumonia and all my efforts seemed to be concentrated on keeping her comfortable. And then my son had a school trip snowboarding at Mt Hotham so my daughter and I headed to Cairns and Brisbane for a week. We had a really lovely time and I thought I would share some of the inspiration I found there.

We were staying in a holiday apartment with my parents. We were on the 5th floor of our building, right on the Cairns foreshore. The views were stunning!

The view from our apartment balcony on the first morning - even the clouds were beautiful :)

The view from our apartment balcony on the first morning – even the clouds were beautiful πŸ™‚

In the evening we would generally take a walk along the boardwalk to buy an ice-cream. It was so much fun to pass people of all ages and nationalities, just sharing the simple pleasure of an evening stroll.

Muddy's Playground on the baordwalk in Cairns. At night, it took on an almost fairy-like quality.

Muddy’s Playground on the baordwalk in Cairns. At night, it took on an almost fairy-like quality.

Sunset in Cairns - bliss :)

Sunset in Cairns – bliss πŸ™‚

But the real surprise was the apartment itself. In this complex, each apartment is privately owned and decorated. We just happened to be in the apartment that had beautiful ethnic embroideries hanging on the walls, and splashes of colour and artwork everywhere. It was simply perfect for us because Mum and I are both passionate about embroidery. I felt surrounded and immersed in inspiration!

An ethnic cross-stitch hanging on the wall of our apartment (behind glass so please excuse the reflections).

An ethnic cross-stitch hanging on the wall of our apartment (behind glass so please excuse the reflections).

Another beautiful embroidery - this time in metallic threads and sequins.

Another beautiful embroidery – this time in metallic threads and sequins (again behind glass – sorry).

On Tuesday we took a trip on the world famous Kuranda railway. I love that spectacular hue of green you find in tropical rainforests. And we visited the Butterfly Sanctuary, which was simply enchanting.

Our train disappearing into the tropical greenery on the Kuranda railway.

Our train disappearing into the tropical greenery on the Kuranda railway.

This beauitful butterfly landed on my brother-in-law's arm - AND stayed there long enough for us to get a photograph.

This beauitful butterfly landed on my brother-in-law’s arm – AND stayed there long enough for us to get a photograph.

Wednesday found us on a boat to Fitzroy Island. We had such a lovely day just snorkelling and lazing on the beach.

The idyllic beach at Fitsroy Island.

The idyllic beach at Fitzroy Island.

The patterns in this old coral are wonderful.

The patterns in this old coral are wonderful.

And then on Thursday we went shopping. My Mum had found Vivienne Francine, a Cairns based designer on their last trip and she knew that I would love her clothes. Well I confess I had a ball! I tried on eight or so dresses and I could easily have bought aboutΒ  six of them. But I had to get it down to two πŸ™‚ Vivienne was lovely too. She has an amazing eye for colour – her fabrics are just stunning. I had sooooo much fun choosing – which is unusual for me because it is rare to find a shop where everything fits me so well and feels so right. In the end, Mum and Dad bought me one dress as an early birthday present and I bought one for myself. Now I just need the weather to get warmer in Perth so I can start wearing them!

The funniest thing about this trip was that as usual, I had carefully packed a supply of sewing to keep idle hands busy…..and I didn’t work a stitch all week! I also took my knitting, and I think I managed about three rows πŸ™‚ But sometimes it is good to give your hands and eyes a break, and this week I am full of enthusiasm and motivation again.

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Why do I blog?

Starting a blog is a pretty daunting thing. I find myself wondering, will anyone ever read this and why? Am I making it interesting enough? What could I be doing to make a better job of it? And on bad days, why am I even doing this – no one will ever read it.

Why blogIf like me you have a tendency to Pollyanna-ism (the eternal optimism of Eleanor H. Porter’s delightful character), a bad day is usually followed by a day where you take yourself in hand and start searching for people who can help. People who have “been there, done that” and can pass on the wisdom of their experience. And then, if you are a lucky, a flash of insight follows and you add yet another little piece to the beautiful jigsaw that is your life.

I have been writing my blog for almost five months now, and I went in pretty raw. I didn’t want to “follow a formula” or write according to “somebody else’s ideas”. I just wanted to write for myself about the things that inspire me. As it turns out, my inspiration comes from a pretty diverse range of sources: a tidy sewing room, gorgeous ethnic textiles, thoughts on philosophy, or just a sunny autumn day. I have only written blog posts about things I really wanted to write about. But even then, I have held myself on a pretty tight rein – writing “carefully” and taking care to write “right” (it is hard to shake off the habits of a former life as editor of a science magazine).

Last year I found April Bowles-Olin of Blacksburg Belle and I have been following her ever since. April’s mission in life is “to help creative entrepeneurs build successful businesses around the lives they truly want to live”.Β The thing that stands out about April is that she writes with her heart – you feel like what she is saying is real and meaningful to her, and thus it rings true for you, the reader. In fact, often as I read her posts I feel like she could be writing just for me!

Last month, April ran a fabulous course called Build A Successful Creative Blog on CreativeLive. I don’t think it is overstating the case to say that her course came at the absolute perfect time for me. I had been writing my blog for a few months and was ready to find out all the things I could be doing so much better! Two things really stood out for me.

First, I am not writing this blog for me,

I AM WRITING IT FOR YOU.

Sorry – I shouted that bit, but it is pretty important! Why? Because I believe passionately that every single one of you has the capacity to be creative. I want you to read my posts and think to yourself, “I can do that”. If I had a dollar for every person who has told me “I can’t create my own embroidery designs”, I wouldn’t need to run this creative business at all – the money would be rolling in.

But I am here to tell you that you can create your own embroidery designs (or whatever else takes your fancy). And the purpose of this blog is to show you how I do it, where I find inspiration, and why I absolutely know from the deepest part of my heart and soul that

YOU ARE CREATIVE TOO.

(I wasn’t shouting that bit – just singing it out loud so that you will start singing with me πŸ™‚ )

The second lesson from April’s course is that blogging is quite different to writing for print media. Blogging is all about community. When I shared this insight with my 14 year old son, he thought it was hilarious – “Yeah Mum – of course”. As a digital native it is absolutely obvious to him that the Internet is all about connections. But I was raised on a diet of books and hours spent in libraries, and it just hadn’t sunk in before that writing for a blog is quite different.

Henry Mosler (American genre artist, 1841-1920)  Quilting Bee. Women have been working together creatively for centuries.

Quilting Bee by Henry Mosler (American genre artist, 1841-1920) . Women have been working together creatively for centuries. It just so happens that our kitchen table now extends around the globe.

So whilst I sit here every week, writing about embroidery and creativity, I really want you to join me on the journey. A blog grows just one reader at time, into a thriving creative community sharing ideas and passions. So please, leave a comment to say “hello” and tell me what lights your creative fire. If you have friends who might be interested, then please share this post so that they can come and say “Hi” too. And if you haven’t done so already, subscribe to my blog using the form in the sidebar.

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