Tag Archives | motivation

I am an embroidery teacher …. but I don’t really teach embroidery

Well, that’s not strictly accurate. Of course I teach embroidery, but it’s not the most important part of my job description. What I actually teach is confidence.

I have been running Beautiful Stitches for over 6 years and during that time I have taught workshops that run for just one day through to classes that have been running weekly for four years. With time and experience it has become very clear that the two most important gifts I can give my students are inspiration and confidence.

You see, at its most fundamental, embroidery is simply “needle up, needle down, repeat”. Of course there are a myriad of ways that this simple process can be varied to create a lovely range of textures and patterns. But in the modern world, you can find almost limitless tutorials online showing you how to stitch all these wonderful effects. There are countless books to inform and inspire. In fact, the choice and range of possibilities can almost be overwhelming.

And that’s where I come in. If you come to one of my classes, I will absolutely show you how to work a range of different embroidery stitches. And we will often look at all sorts of interesting techniques to complement those embroidery fundamentals – painting or colouring the base fabric first, manipulating layers of fabric, playing with colour choices and thread textures, adding embellishments, etc. But my main job is to make sure that the voice inside your head is saying “I’ve got this!”.
When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things. Joe Namath

Free stitching over silk paper layered on painted Congress canvas (by Helen)


In my classes, there is no “right” or “wrong” – rather there is learning, exploring, playfulness, and creativity. I want you to come away from my classes feeling confident to keep working on your own. I want you to be inspired to keep learning more. I want you to find a new idea in a book or online and say to yourself “I can stitch that!”

“It’s All About the Pants” includes surface embroidery, applique and beading (by Julie)


Last year I taught a workshop that ran over 5 mornings at the Albany Summer School. At the start of Day 2, one of my students said to me that she was finding the class almost too challenging. She didn’t have much experience in embroidery and the class was feeling like a very steep learning curve. I encouraged her to stick with it and give herself a chance to develop her skills so that she could start feeling more confident. At the end of Day 5 she gave me a lovely card with the following message:
Thankyou Ann-Marie for an enjoyable week of colour, beauty and challenge. Though not your best student, I have enjoyed the start of my journey into embroidery. You have been so patient with me. I now find myself counting more. The stitches make more sense as I find my rhythm. It will take me a long time to finish, but I will. You have given all of us the joy of colour, texture and creativity.

I cannot tell you how happy this made me. Because for me this is what it is all about. This is why I started Beautiful Stitches in the first place, and this is why I am excited to keep working on it every single day.

And I promise you that there is just a little bit of magic in this process. When you start to develop confidence, it has a tendency to grow. And the more it grows, the harder it is for external forces to dent it. And then you discover that it is contagious. What started out as confidence in your creative pursuits, finds its way into other parts of your life. Before you know it, you are scaling Mt Everest (figuratively speaking at least!) 😊

Through my education, I didn’t just develop skills, I didn’t just develop the ability to learn, but I developed confidence. Michelle Obama


In a few weeks time, I will be starting a new year of classes at Tresillian Arts Centre in Nedlands. If what I have written here feels like a good fit for you, I would love you to join us. In Term 1, I am offering two options:

Creative Embroidery in Colour, Friday mornings from 9.30am to 12.30pm, 7 sessions starting February 15: This class is for anyone who wants to play with embroidery. If you are a beginner, I will absolutely get you started with some basic techniques and simple projects. The “Creative” part can be as simple as taking an existing embroidery design that you like but making it your own by working it in different colours. For those with more experience, you can work on projects of your own choice. We will explore together a range of resources and ideas that will give you the confidence to start creating your own embroidery designs.

Introduction to Embroidery, Wednesday mornings from 9.30am to 12.30pm, 4 sessions starting March 13: This class is for anyone who wants to learn or refresh their knowledge of basic embroidery stitches. We will work on both evenweave and surface stitches so that you have some experience in these two main branches of embroidery. By the end of the four week programme you will be armed with the knowledge and confidence to tackle your next embroidery project.

You can find further details and how to book here.

If you want to find out where else I will be teaching this year, then you can find all the details on my Classes page. And if you would like me to come and teach a workshop to your group, then send me an email and I’ll be very happy to see what we can organise.

What makes you happy?

I recently bought Issue #3 of “New Philosopher”, a relatively new magazine in the Australian market (click here to visit their website). This quarterly magazine is Australian made, advertising free, and full of fantastic, well-written, thought provoking articles. Issue #3 is focussed on the question, “Are we happy yet?” and it makes for fascinating reading.

New Philosopher MagazineI love this kind of writing: ideas that are simply and clearly presented leading to a pleasurable few hours where you turn the thoughts over in your mind. But this writing has really got inside my head – for days now. Why?

Reading the magazine follows hard on the heels of studying a book called “The Desire Map” by Danielle LaPorte with my women’s group. I confess that I haven’t enjoyed the latter at all. For whatever reason, answering a series of questions about things that I want, crave, need etc makes me very uncomfortable. I have everything I could possibly want and so much more in my life. How self-centred it seems to ask for more when I already have a wonderful family, good health, safety, security and much more material comfort than I will ever need.

So, what makes me happy? Well it turns out that the writers in “New Philosopher” magazine have put it rather well. For me, it is all about something called “flow”.  Damon Young discusses this in his article, “Happiness is hard to find”.

A more helpful idea from Aristotle’s eudaimonia is that of so-called autotelic activity: things we do for their own sake, and not for the sake of something else….we are measurably happier when we are involved in skilful, challenging pursuits….the experience is what we seek.

And then further along in the same article…

If happiness is an activity, and often an autotelic one, then it is developed by doing. Anxiously stopping to ask ‘Am I happy yet?’ is a fine way to stop the flow.

Another contributor, Antonia Case, discusses a similar idea in “3 Ways to Happiness”.

Meaningful work involves doing something that you personally enjoy, where you can exercise and develop your skills and capabilities, and where the end result of your toil is to produce something useful and worthwhile (regardless of what others may think). One person’s meaningful work is not another’s, and with good reason – we can’t all be nurses and teachers.

I don’t need a Desire Map to identify my “meaningful work” – I know already – I love to sew. I loved it when I was a little girl, a teenager, a young woman backpacking around the world, a professional woman, a wife and a mother. And now I am so privileged because I am able to pursue my passion full-time. Rare is the day when I don’t experience a little bit of “flow”, even if it is only thinking about sewing whilst I wash up or drive Mum’s taxi.

So please excuse me – I have had enough of writing about “flow” and I am off to experience it – to spend a blissful afternoon with fabric, needle and thread 🙂

Sewing (the artist's wife) by Hans Heysen, 1913. This painting captures beautifully how I will be feeling this afternoon.

Sewing (the artist’s wife) by Hans Heysen, 1913. This painting captures beautifully how I will be feeling this afternoon.


A Year of Finishing

Some years ago we were living in Melbourne and I was a member of the Embroiderer’s Guild of Victoria. The monthly magazine, Threadlines, had an article entitled “A Year of Finishing”. The idea was that if you were feeling overwhelmed by the number of UFOs in your cupboard that you make a commitment to a full year of finishing projects. And you weren’t allowed to start any new projects!

At the time my children were still very young and I often felt like I couldn’t sew as much as I liked – and I had a cupboardful of unfinished projects! So the article really struck a chord with me and I decided to do it.

In fact, I had never been a good finisher. One year in high school (early eighties) I made cross-stitch bookmarks as a Christmas gift for all my teachers. My Art teacher immediately pointed out that my crosses were not all going the same way and somehow in my head this translated into a fear of not finishing things “properly”. So I had a cupboardful of cross-stitch projects with large swathes of crosses all completed (with all the crosses in the same direction) but no half-crosses, no back-stitch outlines, and no isolated single crosses – in case I somehow didn’t do it “right”.

A completed cross-stitch from the "Country Companions" series by DMC.

A completed cross-stitch from the “Country Companions” series by DMC.

Another completed cross-stitch from the "Country Companions" series by DMC.

Another completed cross-stitch from the “Country Companions” series by DMC.

Detail of stitching in "Catch the Wind" by Butternut Road - one of my all-time favourite designs.

Detail of stitching in “Catch the Wind” by Butternut Road – one of my all-time favourite designs.

My year of finishing was a revelation. It turned out that I could (of course) do all the fiddly finishing bits. The sense of satisfaction in finishing a piece and seeing it framed was wonderful. But having finished all those cross-stitch projects I realised that I wanted to do a lot more than just cross-stitch!

My sewing journey irrevocably changed from that year onwards. Most importantly I found confidence in my own ability. Finishing something meant that I could really say to myself “I can do that”. So now my embroidery life has blossomed into something rich and wonderful, and so fulfilling. All because I spent a year finishing projects instead of starting them…..

What helps motivate you to finish projects? Or have you done something that changed your sewing journey too? I would love to hear your stories.