Saturday, December 11, 2021

Fiber Talk Episode - Should we be "Perfect" or "Enjoy our Embroidery"?

Teaching such large projects and having students who I converse with for about a decade over a series of projects, it is easy to note trends among stitchers that keep us from doing what we state we want to do.  I have been having a long running conversation about this with Gary Parr from Fiber Talk and we decided to just 'go for it' and have the conversation as a podcast.

Listen to the Podcast

Brining Joy Back into Your Stitching by Banishing the Stitching Police

You know the comments.  They are the self-defeating things we dig out of some dark place reflecting someone else's twisted idea of what should be.  They range from the following:

  • My embroidery isn't good enough yet
  • I might ruin the expensive (insert here - threads, linen, casket)
  • It's not perfect
  • It has to be (insert here - historically accurate, professionally designed, super creative, match the teachers vision, etc)
  • I don't have long stretches of time to work on it
  • I am saving it for retirement
  • My (eyes/hands) aren't as good as they used to be
  • I already have so many projects and my husband reminds me
  • I have to finish this first
  • I need to finish a master craftsman/royal school certificate first
It is a dark place these come from and often if you dig at the roots it comes from ideas rooted in the image that a woman has to be 'perfect' to be worth anything.   Men's work is valued, women's is not.  The devaluing of our own accomplishments because of this general cultural ethos.  We can't enjoy something for ourselves because to do so is selfish.  It all comes back to someone telling you that you aren't worth it.

Truthfully it was very enlightening to have this conversation with a male stitcher as one immediately finds out they don't have any of these hang-ups.  I have a number of men stitching caskets at the moment and boy do they live in the "damn it - I am worth it and this is what I am going to do" mindset.  They are chugging away in fact.  

So Gary, Beth and I had a wide ranging conversation about the stitching police, our internal fears of not being good enough, and why has the joy been ripped out of our embroidery.  

A major theme is how girls are asked if they 'did it right' the first time and boys are encouraged to try and fail to learn and everyone around them accepts this skinned knee way of learning but scolds a girl who tries to do it that way.  I live this in teaching STEM and it boils my blood (as you will hear).  It is a major reason women are held back in careers - the weight of this culture pulls us down.  

Another theme discussed is how one of the major drivers of embroidery 'community' for the pre-internet set of stitchers are organizations which are dedicated to perfection.  For many of them that is due to a business interest regarding professionalism which should be understood to be distinct from personal embroidery but has become intermixed to really devastating effect on the confidence and willingness of people to move ahead with either doing anything or stretching themselves.  I hear it all the time with people who want to stitch a casket and will contact me with an honest-to-god resume of embroidery experience.  (Yes, a listing of Royal School Classes, the year of Master Craftsman this and that, etc. etc).  I take a deep breath before writing back as I really want to respond with either a 12-step program to get her out of the cult or a flip response that my requirement to take the course is if their check clears.  But instead I embark on what is usually a dozen emails cajoling them into taking a course they really want to by combating their fears that after a decade of preparation they might not be 'good enough'.  Yes - they often send me photos to prove themselves as well.  My god - the originals were done by 12-year olds!!!!!!!  And if you have ever been in front of some - you will note that the majority of them sucked at embroidery.  

But those 12-year olds had fun - which is why we like their caskets, it exudes out of the oversized caterpillar about to eat the lady.  I really like it when I get a new student who is in her 20s or 30s.  She is of the internet-teach-myself-just-try-it generation.  Gone are the shackles of the gatekeepers to knowledge and embroidery police.  They are fun to work with - they soak up information and try things and experiment.  We need to learn from their example and I hope we, the older generation, don't impose our rigid thinking on them.  

I was once given a birthday card (in my 20's) from a close friend.  It looked like the image below.  Inside she said that this is how she envisioned me in my 80's.  I take that as a point of pride.  I wish stitchers saw themselves this way - then I wouldn't get anymore resume-emails asking permission to take a class to make a casket.  They would just DO IT.   


  1. Very well said! The related phenomenon, that really bugs me, are those students (they are a tiny, bur rather present, minority) who react with glee when they find a mistake in my course material. "How can a former RSN-teacher with a Dr in front of her name make this mistake? I, the non-academic, who is complety self-taught, would never have made such a stupid mistake!" When men treat women like this, I believe it is called misogeny.

  2. Jessica - I have come to a nirvana with people like that. I refund their money and ask them to never take a class again and don't accept registrations from them. You don't need to teach them if they want access to insult you. I am happier now with that policy. Which, yes, I do need to use a few times a year. What is wrong with people?

    1. Thank you, Tricia! That's a great idea, I am going to do the same. I'd never have thought that this happens to you too.

    2. Oh I wrote a famous blog years ago on it. I am dyslexic and it circulates around the dyslexic community about the incredible degrading emails I get from people. It resulted from my misuse of the homonym pallet/palette. So many angry emails with almost what you said verbatim. As it was on my old blog which is now gone, I keep being asked to repost it as it is a very accurate discussion of the difficulties of being a highly-functional dyslexic person. It is archived on a few places on the web. When you realize that my father was illiterate when I was a child and I was deemed 'uneducable' in 1st grade and had to be removed from school to be homeschooled - I have come a long way baby. No time for those who want to cut the legs out from under me anymore. I am a fierce defender of the underdog child who is picked on by these types as I have raised two of them and teach a group of 20+ how to get past their ball and chain.

    3. Yes, I remember that blog well! Here is another highly-functional dyslexic person who was told that she would never get a high-school diploma and who was nearly transferred to a school for the mentally retarded. I have visited the principal who was behind this every time I held another prized diploma in my hands. Even sent him an invitation to come to the public defense of my doctoral thesis. He did not come and he never apologized. Thanks to some wonderful teachers who saw past the many spelling mistakes and miscalculations, I did make it in the end. I am very proud of us, Tricia!

  3. Thank you for bringing this up - I absolutely loved reading your post today Trisha and will be heading over to listen to the full podcast.
    I too is incredibly frustrated with this absolutely ridiculous negative and almost debilitating stitching phenomenon. What really puzzles me is why the same people who happily dive into a massive quilting or knitting project, so darn reluctant and completely lack confidence the minute they pick up a needle and thread.

  4. I enjoyed the podcast. Very informative and motivational being I am a novice stitcher, but it doesn't stop me from trying to do things I have never done.