Yesterday I released a new YouTube Video: My Top Ten Favorite Threads For Hand Stitching.
As a follow up to that video, I’m adding my favorite materials to use, as well. Click on any highlighted text for more information.
- Pat Pauly’s gorgeous hand dyed linens. My absolute favorite thing to stitch on is 100% linen and Pat Pauly’s gorgeous hand dyed linens are the best, most unique and above and beyond anything else that’s out there on the market. Pat is almost always sold out of her linens as the demand has been fierce, however, if you want to learn how to hand paint, stencil and screen print your own, take one of her workshops and you can learn to create your own. As a quick aside, I have a brand new workshop that I’m offering in 2022, which features fabric kits made up of Pat’s linens that she is specifically making exclusively for my workshop. These linens are only available to those who sign up for the workshop! Very exciting.
“Flow” using Pat Pauly’s hand dyed linens.
2. Mulberry Bark. I love layering my linen with Stef Francis’ Mulberry Bark. I stitch directly onto it. Some people have said they soak it in water, but I don’t. I prefer to pull it, bunch it up, stitch it down and let it be.
Adding Mulberry Bark
3. Hand Dyed Cheesecloth. There are places to purchase already hand dyed cheesecloth, Stef Francis being one of them, but I like to paint my own, using Caran D’Ache Neocolor II Water Soluble Pastels.
Hand dyed Cheesecloth and Silk Throwsters
4. Stef Francis Silk Throwsters. I love this stuff. It’s a bit like wool roving, but it’s silk and has a beautiful hand and texture to it. I needle punch it and then stitch on top of it.
5. Stef Francis Sari Ribbon It comes in a huge hank! I couch it, ruch it, scrunch it, twist it, use it to wrap other things in it and then stitch on it. There is no end to the things one can do with it.
Wrapping with Silk Sari Ribbon
6. Old T-shirt. I love hand dyeing an old t-shirt and then cutting it up. I did a video on how to do this. See below.
7. Silk Velvet It’s fun to hand dye your own, but Stef Francis also carries some beautiful silk velvet in gorgeous colors. If you want to get really creative, you can emboss your silk velvet, as I did in the photograph below. I like using wooden stamps, like these.
Embossed Silk Velvet
To see my Top Ten Favorite Threads to hand stitch with, go over to my video and be sure to scroll down to see the links I’ve provided for everything I discuss and demonstrate.
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So here’s the thing… I feel a whole lot better when I show up even when I feel awful, even when I feel things are rough and I’m tired, even when I don’t want to. I’ve also learned that showing up anyway is the single best remedy for not continuing to feel that way. Except that it’s also really hard to do. That’s the thing. It’s really, really hard and sometimes… sometimes it feels impossible. I know it technically isn’t, but it sure feels that way.
Marcus Aurelius wrote about pain a great deal. And in his writings about it he consistently focusses on choice and responding, rather than reacting. I’m a huge fan of Marcus Aurelius, not just because he was wise, but because this guy was one of the most powerful men in the world and yet he continued to do his best to remain humble, to avoid arrogance, to nurture self awareness and to treat others with respect and kindness.
So yeah, showing up anyway. Easier said than done, so I have found ways to do so that aren’t quite so laden, that make it a tiny bit easier. I call it setting myself up to succeed.
Here’s what I do:
- Thread up a whole bunch of needles with different types and weights of thread. I use both Chenille needles and Milliners Needles.
- Grab a needle, any needle, it doesn’t matter which one, and begin stitching. I have a couple of mindless go-to stitches that don’t require any thought. They are the meditative stitches like french knots, bullion knots, colonial knots, seed stitch, chain stitch, fly stitch, straight stitch and then I riff on them, which means I start exploring every aspect of that stitch. How many wraps can I make on a french knot before the whole thing begins to fall apart? (It turns out a lot more than you might think!). What ways can I stitch a straight stitch to create different patterns?
- And before you know it, I’m playing!
Stitching, more than anything, changes everything, even grief, even pain.
If you’re curious to know how I did this, I made a video about it and you can watch it here:
Stitch, put on the design wall, evaluate, consider, take down, add a new element, stitch, put back up on the design wall, take a photograph, consider, have an idea, take down, thread up a new color, take a chance, take a risk, take a breath, stitch and then the tears arrive. Not a few drops at a time, but a torrent soaking the fabric and the thread I’ve just stitched. In the midst of this I briefly wonder whether the thread colors will bleed. They say grief comes in waves. The threads don’t bleed, I’ve learned. At least not yet. Stitch anyway. Stitch through the grief.
It catches you off guard. That’s the thing. That’s what makes it hard. It’s unpredictable. Erratic. The violence of it when it arrives, unannounced, suddenly, swiftly; how do you prepare for that?
“How are you?” people ask. I’m surprised because I’m just fine. I’m busy, I’m working, I’m teaching, my old energy levels are returning, they aren’t back to what they were, but really, I’m just fine!
“I know you had a strong bond with her” or “I know how close you two were” or “I know…” And the pain slams into me, taking my breath away. No, I’m just fine, I think, but I’m not. I’m not fine. I’m grieving.
In 2015 or was it 2016(?) things were in flux. I was re-evaluating what I was doing, where I was headed, what I wanted… There were a number of things going on that led to this, but it was one of those moments that didn’t seem particularly extraordinary or even interesting, but in hindsight I see that it was a pivotal moment. A moment when I re-found hand stitching.
My mother taught me to embroider with crewel and a hoop at an early age. This is the Christmas creche we made together. It was while making one of those sheep that I came to truly appreciate the diversity and beauty of the simple French Knot done hundreds of times.
Christmas Creche embroidered with my mother
Since then I have gone down many paths, but the hand stitching path is perhaps the most surprising, to me. While at Parsons School of Design I would do anything I could to avoid hand stitching. And then I discovered draping and for a time it was my new love. Draping is a whole art in and of itself. Cutting fabric on the bias and then draping it onto a form and manipulating it so the fabric falls in specific ways was something I loved, but it was also time consuming and I was young and impatient and so my love for draping was set aside.
Funnily enough when I moved to Los Angeles straight out of high school and before I went to Parsons my first job was in a tailor’s shop in Beverly Hills. My favorite thing to do was to sit in the back room with the master tailor, an Armenian man who tried to teach me the fine art of tailoring. Hand stitching hemlines and buttonholes was something I never quite mastered during my time there, but I loved it never-the-less.
Hand stitching can be slow and arduous and very, very time consuming, and it can also be meditative, serene, calming and restorative, depending on one’s perspective. These days I find hand stitching to be all of the latter and none of the former.
A detail of my most recent work hand stitching on Pat Pauly hand dyed linen using Stef Francis threads, Painter’s Threads, House Of Embroidery Threads, Mulberry Bark from Stef Francis, Sari Cording from Stef Francis and wool roving.
When I began hand stitching again I followed other people’s patterns and instructions and while that was interesting and I learned a great deal, it wasn’t completely fulfilling. I have always gone off script and the farther I go, the happier I am. So when I began doing what I call “Improvisational Stitching” I knew I’d fallen into something important. Not only was I creating original pieces that didn’t look like other things I was seeing out in the hand stitching world, but it was an expression of my moods, my thoughts, the things that were going on in my life. Hand stitching is the way I express myself.
A few things I’ve learned through hand stitching, which can be applied to the piece I’m working on, but also to life:
- Any emotion is fair game and can be expressed through stitching.
- Any emotion is okay and when expressed through stitching creates a vibrant, interesting piece.
- Impatience is a frame of mind and a choice.
- When I don’t know what to do, stand back, take a photo and get a new perspective on the situation.
- Compare and despair.
- Everything has its own timeline.
- Divas can be fun, but they also can silence everyone else.
- Diversity makes anything and everything better.
- Rules are helpful, until they’re not, in which case, break them or ignore them.
- Be curious!
- Engage and show up for the work.
- Don’t squelch what makes you unique.
- Be courageous!
“We are what we repeatedly do, therefore, excellence is not an act but a habit.”
I always think about repetition when I’m stitching. Stitching a few french knots? How about a few hundred? And what about some bullion circles? A whole cluster of them is even better!
In nature repetition is a constant and often what is most striking is in the sheer repetition.
The tail of a chameleon
Or look at one of my cacti…
While in Africa I was amazed at the patterns and repetition in the Zebra
Patterns on the giraffe
If I love a particular stitch, I’ll stitch a few hundred and over time I will have mastered it. It’s like anything. If I want to be a kind person, then I need to practice being kind. Even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I’m in a hurry. Even when it means taking a breath, stepping back from the situation, and remembering that I’ve never regretted being kind. Never.
This blog is a reminder of my mother. She was my biggest supporter and commented over the years more than anyone else. It was through this blog that I often kept in touch with her and towards the end it was the one full proof way I knew I could reach her, especially when my emails would go unanswered and my phone calls went to voicemail. I knew she would read whatever I was posting. Over the last few years when she could no longer speak, she would send me things that she knew I’d post here, much to everyone’s delight, because the things she sent were such fun.
Like this video:
And then there was this one that I loved:
Mostly I’m missing my mom and while I know this will ease over time, it’s still causing me to wake up many days feeling listless and kind of “blah”. I know from other periods in my life when I’ve felt down and a loss of energy that doing the things that I don’t feel like doing are the things that often make me feel better. It’s funny how that works. It’s counterintuitive, but if I can remind myself to do those things anyway, I’m halfway there.
It reminds me of when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had organized to have Michael Crichton speak to kick off the conference. During his talk he was spoke of a work ethic. He was speaking of what artists, specifically writers, but it applied to anyone in the arts, often do. He said, imagine if you were an airplane pilot working for a major airline and got up in the morning and thought – you know I don’t really feel like flying today, I think I’ll sleep a few more hours. – You’d expect to be fired immediately or at the very least given a stern warning and if you tried that again, you’d be out of a job. He then went on to ask, why do artists treat their work any less seriously? If you’re a writer get up and write. If you’re a painter, paint and so on. The point was, our feelings don’t really matter when it comes to getting the work done. If we think of ourselves as an artist then put in the hours and create the art, regardless of the feelings.
With that in mind I keep showing up for the work, regardless of how I’m feeling, because I create. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. Today is no different than any other in that way. Yesterday I taped a video on this idea, and some of the things I do when I’m feeling low energy, which almost always comes hand in hand with doubt.
Here’s to having feelings and showing up anyway.
Today’s morning reading excerpt:
“While you don’t control external events, you retain the ability to decide how you respond to those events. You control what every external event means to you personally.”
The Daily Stoic
When we returned from Africa, I had a livestream scheduled for the next day and a Zoom meeting that couldn’t be rescheduled shortly after that. As my computer had crashed and then been wiped out while in Africa, I really, really needed to get it working again or get a new computer, which is no small undertaking, especially if you’re someone like me who is basically computer illiterate and the very idea of migrating information leaves me in a cold sweat. So I went to the nearest Apple store only to be told that basically I should hold on to the computer I had and try to migrate from my time machine. Only my time machine hadn’t backed up since last April. WHAT???? I know, I know. Evidently time machines need to be periodically checked to be sure they’ve backed up and do not always do so automatically. News to me.
So I went home and backed it up and then had endless problems resulting in tons of phone calls with various tech people, as well as realizing how much information I had lost, and then in the midst of all of this I was overcome with a combination panic attack, grief (my mother had just died) and despair; I went into our bathroom and sobbed. To say I “cried” wouldn’t do it justice. It was more a cross between a howl and uncontrollable sobbing.
“While you don’t control external events, you retain the ability to decide how you respond to those events. You control what every external event means to you personally.”
And that was the thing. I was taking all of this personally. The computer, my mother, jet lag, grief, panic… All of it felt like an assault on me. But it wasn’t personal. It was life. So I’m trying hard to remember that. It’s easy to remember when things are going along as I expect them to or when things happen that are unexpected, but are welcome events. It’s much more challenging to remember when things happen that I don’t like or want.
And yet, here I am writing this post on my new laptop, which has taken some adjustments and came with it’s own set of challenges, typing away!
I’m teaching my last workshop, Improvisational Stitching, of the year and am making new Youtube stitching videos and am getting back to creating and incorporating my travels into my latest piece. I can feel my energy returning little by little.
As long as I don’t take things personally, I’ve got this.
Oh, and look!!! Remember I said I so regretted not purchasing some Kuba bark cloth while in Africa, but that I remembered there was a guy who sells African fabrics on the street? Well over the weekend, I found him and here are the pieces I got from him. This first was badly damaged, but I was able to repair it and even figured out and copied the stitch originally used to stitch the seams together.
Bark Cloth From The Democratic Republic of Congo
And look at this one!! I just love the colors, all natural dyes, made in The DRC.
And finally this one, which is by far the most typical, from what I’ve seen.
Hand Stitched Kuba Cloth made from raffia, hand dyed and sewn from the Democratic Republic of Congo
And here is my improvisational stitching piece where I’ve begun incorporating some of the things I saw and loved while in Africa using Pat Pauly hand dyed linen.
Every now and then it hits me. She’s gone. I will never see her again. I will never hold her hand with those arthritic knuckles that made them resemble gnarled tree branches, misshapen and yet beautiful. I will never get another email from her containing silly videos or stories or photos and it is during these times that I feel both overwhelming gratitude that I had a mother whom I loved deeply, and unspeakable pain that grips my throat and clenches my stomach. That she went quickly and did not suffer is something I constantly remind myself. Still it’s tough. She was my mom. It is a loss unlike any other that I’ve experienced.
One of the most difficult things I’ve had to learn in life is to hold two seemingly opposing ideas and/or feelings and allow both to be true and valid. I miss her and am grateful she went quickly, yet there are times when I am overwhelmed by the pain of losing her.
Mom and Richard at her birthday party
Over the years this idea of two opposing forces has taken shape; a person I love has views I hate, yet I can still love them. Someone does something hurtful, yet I can forgive them. I do something hurtful and so I must make amends and then do the painstaking work of learning to forgive myself. And on it goes. Two seemingly opposing things held in each hand, both are true, even though upon first look they seem to cancel each other out, they do not. They co-exist and in that co-existence there is peace.
This is what I’ve learned.
First things first… Pat Pauly! I just posted my interview with Pat Pauly on my YouTube channel. For those of you who may not be familiar with Pat, she is a brilliant, multi-talented artist, who also hand paints and dyes fabrics that she sells on her website, is a sought after teacher and does the most beautiful art quilts.
Pat’s hand dyed linens are what I’ve been using exclusively for my latest improvisational stitching pieces. They are unlike, and far superior to anything I’ve found anywhere else and are endlessly inspiring.
My improvisational stitching using Pat Pauly’s hand dyed linens.
Improvisational Stitching piece using Pat Pauly’s hand dyed linens and inspired by my Africa trip.
If these pieces are interesting to you, you should consider enrolling in my Improvisational Stitching Class, which meets for 5 consecutive Saturdays beginning Saturday, September 25th. In this workshop I cover the elements of design, use of color, incorporating other elements into the background, using things that inspire us and making them apart of our work, creating abstract as well as representational elements into a piece, finding which threads and stitches to use to create different effects and so much more.
I just finished editing the final video of our Africa trip. If you’re interested in following along I created a playlist: African Adventures and you can subscribe to get email notifications whenever a new video is posted. The last video of that trip will post on Saturday.
A couple of fun things are in the works. First I’m interviewing my friend Pat Pauly this Wednesday and should have that interview posted on my Youtube Channel by Thursday. And speaking of Pat, she hand dyed the most exquisite pieces of linen and has them up on her site. You can go and purchase by clicking ‘here‘. Pat’s linen is my favorite linen to use because each piece is utterly unique as she stencils and hand paints each one and also because she uses an excellent quality 100% linen. I love the hand of it and how easy it is to stitch through. A word of warning though, last time Pat put a number of these on her site she sold out in less than 24 hours, so if you want one, you better hurry!
I was so inspired by my trip to Africa. It wasn’t just the animals, but the crafts, the baskets, the textiles, the masks, sculpture, art, all of it was just thrilling to see. As a result I’ve been incorporating some of these elements in my improvisational stitching piece that I started a while ago.
Improvisational Piece inspired by African motifs
Obviously I have a LOT more to do on this piece, but I’m liking where this is going. I may even be able to work in a livestream in the next few days if my migraines will cooperate! And if you haven’t already done so, my Improvisational Stitching Workshop is coming up and there are still some spaces left. This is the workshop where we discuss design, design elements, free form hand stitching, improvisational stitching, color, techniques, and I will also be talking about how to incorporate things that inspire you into a piece. We will use either a plain linen background or pieced, and will discuss the different ways to piece and appliqué onto the background before we begin hand stitching. This workshop runs on Saturday and is 5 consecutive Saturdays in a row, giving each person plenty of time to work on their piece before we meet again. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in branching out and doing your own thing.
in other news, I’m doing my best to take it easy, get used to this new malaise that seems to be part of my life now and not get too upset that my energy level is so much less than what I’m used to.
“This too shall pass” they say and so I remind myself of this all the time.