For years, I’ve played at the edge of hand-stitching without ever fully indulging in it. As a teenager I loved cross-stitch and made plenty of Christmas gifts for years using a variety of patterns. The first quilt I made was from a pattern using cross-stitch to make the focal clowns.
But then I sort of let the hobby go. I made a few store samples when Alison Glass’ Appliqué: The Essential Guide to Modern Appliqué (Lucky Spool, 2014) came out. I fawned over the Alabama Chanin patterns and books online. I bought, and actually stitched, a couple of kits from the Brooklyn Craft Company. I’ve been hand quilting my great-grandmother’s quilt for nearly a decade. I brought along embroidery hoops and the few floss colors I had with me in the RV. I signed up for Badass Cross Stitch’s Year Of Stitch on Patreon, then never visited the site again.
I’ve dabbled in hand stitching and needlework for decades.
But during my recent visit to Alabama Chanin’s factory in Florence, AL I realized that it was time that I actually do it. Give it a real try and see if I like it. I bought both the Alabama Studio Sewing & Design and The Geometry of Hand Sewing books and a spool of black floss, then set to work.
The funny thing about trying a new craft is that you’re not very good at it to start. Some things come more easily than others (and embroidery is way easier for me than, say, oil painting), but I’m not starting with stellar work. Some things are fairly simply because I’ve done them before or a variation of them: running stitch, stem stitch, back stitch. These turned out pretty darn good from the beginning. Then I tried to nail down the French knot.
I’ve tried to tackle the French knot before and I’ve never been able to get it right, let alone consistent. The thread pulled through or made just a tiny knot. I followed the instructions in the book (or at least thought I did) and still couldn’t get it. I finally remembered the videos that are part of the Badass Cross Stitch Patreon and —bam— I got it! Crazy how helpful it is to watch someone do it and hear the explanation at the same time.
Now that I feel like I can do French knots, I’m working on a small embroidery that is inspired by a piece of tall grass I picked at a campsite along the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.
My stitches aren’t great, but they are there. I’m trying to get consistent stitch lengths, then adding consistent French knots. So far I’m not too disappointed, but I am reminded every time I pick it up that I’m just learning and I don’t really know what I’m doing.
It’s hard to be unskilled at something (hand-stitching) so tangential to what I’m really good at (machine sewing).
That realization that learning doesn’t always come easily and muscle memory is developed over time has been uncomfortable for me, but I’m gonna keep trying. As a teacher I’m always asking people to step outside their comfort zone to learn something new, so it’s time that I do the same.
Here’s to new hobbies, developing different skills and getting into your discomfort zone.