Virtually in every Jane Austen film or BBC period drama, you’ll inevitably find a group of semi-bored women sitting with backs straight and eyes down doing some sort of needlepoint, cross stitching or embroidery. Women must know these things, right? The truth is that not only did their handiwork make for some beautiful, functional art, stitching is also a powerful coping tool against the pounding boredom they must have felt at having to dress up for every meal and engage in the unnatural act of curtseying a million times a day. I’m just guessing.

I’m, of course, a totally modern woman, but I feel a special connection with women of the past. I began writing more lately—poems, ideas, outlines for bigger projects, etc. And with this wonderful creative activity, I felt my anxiety rising a little bit and I was feeling a little guilty about binge watching so much on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video. Actually, if you ever need some very educated TV or movie recommendations (especially if you like British mysteries and anything about the end of the world) just message me. So just as I was about to dive into State of Affairs for the first time, I decided that I could do something to both keep myself sane AND be productive at the same time… stitching.

Let me back up and say that I am absolutely the least visually creative person you will ever meet. As most non- visual artists say, “ I can’t draw a straight line.” And every time I’ve tried to draw anything—a dog, a landscape, a piece of fruit—it all just comes out like some sort of disturbing cry for help. So there’s that. That’s why I always felt comfortable in my writing zone. Thinking. Contemplating. Writing. Ta da!

But with stitching, I had a chance. There were patterns and tons of examples on Pinterest. I could even stitch out words and write out messages. I couldn’t make many mistakes because, you know, art. Also, it gives me a chance to stop the chatter in my head while stabbing something over and over again. Maybe it’s a tiny bit therapeutic. Some stitching patterns, of course, were not my taste. Others, really good.

So what does all of this have to do with design, advertising, and creative services? Pretty much everything. Before I started cross-stitching, I thought it was a medium reserved for my mother’s and my grandmother’s generations. I remember my mother making quilts when I was a kid and I thought, “Man, that’s such a Mom thing to do.” She’d sit there drinking Tab and watching the latest political scandal unfold on TV while piecing together a new quilt. That’s why the Iran-Contra Affair was so important in my life. I got a new a new quilt out of it for my freshman dorm room.

Now that I’m a Mom, I totally get my mother’s fascination with stitching. It’s relaxing, personal and productive all at the same time. So for my inaugural project, I just went with literally the first thing that popped into my head as I stared at that blank, white piece of material just begging to be brightened up with embroidery flosses. DON’T FREAK OUT. That’s when I knew that I didn’t have to go with any inspirational sayings, or lots of flowers and butterflies. I could work out my ideas with colors and images that I could just make up as I go. I didn’t absolutely need a pattern after all. Stitching would be a way to let ideas emerge, flow and evolve. Not only could I focus on the piece itself, new creative ideas would have fertile ground to take root.

As a writer, I had to challenge myself to throw away the story I had written about how I could not express myself visually. I had to approach this medium in a completely modern and personal way which reflected my own inner landscape and my generational experiences. I had to reinvent how to express an idea through a medium for which I had a lot of pre-conceived notions about being passive and feminine and its ability to be more “arts” than “crafts” (as though one is more relevant than the other). Of course, I thought of Marshall McLuhan and The Medium is the Massage and believed that stitching itself could be the innovation I needed in a time when I can put out a thought or an idea in seconds around the world. In stitching, nothing happens in seconds. Nothing. And that was fine by me.

So what are some of the takeaways to this new creative experiment?

  • As a creative, figure out what you think you’re not “good at” and find a way to go there anyway
  • Experiment with mediums and ideas that might seem old-fashioned and challenge yourself to turn that medium into something fresh and modern
  • Don’t be afraid to infuse your own sensibilities into a project—even if it’s designed for someone else. You are the only one with your unique perspective. And that’s valuable.
  • It’s OK if your new medium produces something that is completely horrible… at first. Like anything else, don’t give up if you don’t see something interesting happening right away– like Ira Glass’ famous quote about the importance of not giving up your creative work even when it really sucks.
  • Your new medium may wake up your old one! It’s been amazing how many ideas I’ve generated while cross-stitching. The very act of it seems to unlock places in my brain that have been a little undernourished.

And you know what? Like all great ideas, you begin to find that there are others out there who want to embrace an old medium differently in order to make sense of, celebrate and share the wonders of our contemporary experience.

I’m almost done now. And I can’t wait to start the new message…

Photo: Free Form Embroidery on Recycled Silk by Jacque Davis: License: