Archive | Transforming my passion into a business

My wish for you? Go make some mistakes!

Hello Beautiful Stitchers! It is an utterly beautiful autumn day here in Perth and my fingers are itching to be stitching. But before I allow myself that luxury, I wanted to share an idea that has been making my brain buzz with excitement all day 🙂

As an embroidery designer I have worked hard over the last few years to find my own style – to bring together my favourite colours, stitches, fabrics, patterns and ideas to create something which is truly my own. The most wonderful comment came through on my Instagram feed yesterday which helped me to feel like I might finally be achieving that creative goal.

I always know which posts are yours, even before I see your profile name. I love your work!

I was doing the biggest happy dance, I can tell you. I was so excited!!! All the time and effort I had put into learning my craft, challenging myself to create my own designs, finding those creative intersections that really made my heart sing – it had all been worth it! And a really big part of that has been and continues to be making A LOT of mistakes.

Why mistakes I hear you ask? Well the mistakes have helped me to learn, they sometimes throw open unexpected doors, and they always stretch me to try something new – “Okay, so that didn’t work. But I still really want to create this vision I have in my head, so what can I do differently?”

Let me share with you an example that is challenging me right now. I really want to work out a beautiful and simple way to mount small pieces of canvaswork embroidery as jewellery. One of my goals is to use this as a teaching project, so it is particularly important that the mounting process needs to be easily reproduced in a classroom situation.

Step 1 – Creating the embroidery was fairly straighforward. I decided to work on Chinese silk gauze fabric using some divine flat silk threads. So far, so good.

A 30mm x 30mm piece of embroidery ready for life as an embroidered pendant.

A 30mm x 30mm piece of embroidery ready for life as an embroidered pendant.

Step 2 – With no jewellery experience at all I needed to find out how people were mounting embroidered pendants and brooches. There are lots of different examples and supplies available, but I decided that my first step would be to try a pendant tray – either square or rectangular. A lovely afternoon spent browsing options on Etsy found me ordering a mixed selection from an Australian supplier, Little Red Raspberry.

A selection of square and rectangular pendant trays.

A selection of square and rectangular pendant trays.

Step 3 – Now I needed to mount the embroidery in the tray. I laced the embroidery onto an acid free card base with a layer of pure wool felt for padding. The silk gauze is a very thin fabric so this worked quite well – there was no unruly bulk on the back of my work. But once I mounted it in the tray it was sitting too proud – and there was a line of unsightly white fabric showing at the edges. It really wasn’t matching the vision in my head just yet! But nevertheless, it was my first attempt and I knew I could easily fix the problem by lacing onto a thinner base next time around.

The edge of my pendant wasn't looking great on the first attempt - but I knew this would be easy to fix next time.

The edge of my pendant wasn’t looking great on the first attempt.

Step 4 – I figure that it is no good having an embroidered pendant or brooch if it is too fragile to wear, so it was time to wear it – yay! Ahhhhh – Houston we have a problem. After only a couple of hours, one of the threads had pulled loose.

Can you see the pulled thread? This is just not sturdy enough....yet!

Can you see the pulled thread? This is just not sturdy enough….yet!

And that is where I am up to at the moment. The short stitch lengths have survived the wearing test quite well whereas the long ones clearly have not. Perhaps I just need to change my stitch design? But I love the look of those long flat silk threads – the light plays so beautifully off them. Can I find a jewellery mount where the whole embroidery would sit behind glass? Or is there a spray sealant I can use to protect the embroidery? Or could you put the embroidered piece into the bottom of the tray and cover it with a glass cabochon? Or perhaps even fill it with resin? (The embroidery purists are gasping in horror at this point!).

I suspect that there are going to be many more mistakes and dead ends before I get this to work just the way I want. But that really is the point of today’s post. You have to keep making mistakes until the outcome matches the creative vision in your head. And will it be worth it? Absolutely!

In case you need some extra convincing, take the time to watch this wonderful video of Neil Gaiman’s address to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts Class of 2012.

In one of those moments of serendipity, this video turned up via my Facebook feed this morning. I was interested because I am currently reading Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking (Amanda and Neil are married). I hesitate to admit that until I read Amanda’s book, I had never heard of Neil Gaiman at all. But I confess that I have rapidly become a huge fan of them both – mostly because there is a wonderful honesty about their creative process. I could quote whole tracts of Neil’s speech verbatim, because the whole thing is so inspiring. But here are the snippets that are important for you today.

If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that. ….I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. ….And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.

Wonderful advice from Neil Gaiman

Wonderful advice from Neil Gaiman

So, this is what I wish for you too. If you want to create your own embroidery designs and feel that you don’t have the talent or skill to do it, then please think again. The fact that you want to create your own designs means that you are already halfway there. Now you just need to give it time, do lots of creating, make lots of mistakes and learn from them. I guarantee that it will be worth it!


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?