hand stitching monday – free range stitching

Hand Stitching Monday is a weekly blog post series exploring the world of hand stitching. It covers everything from stitch instruction, sharing works-in-progress, interviews with other stitchers, free stitching patterns, product/book reviews and more!

It’s no secret that I love hand stitching. And I love the wide interpretation of it. Everyone approaches it differently and you can see the stitcher’s personality in it immediately. It doesn’t matter if you are into formal embroidery or you wing it allowing your stitching freak flag fly – I want to honor it.


I had a co-worker once that was a sewer and knitter and a fellow creative. But she was consumed by practicality and every time I showed her something I was making, her first response would always be, “What are you going to do with it?”

I used to find it a bit irritating. We no longer work in the same office but that question burrowed into Art Brain and we spent a lot of time thinking about how to answer it. The truth is, I wasn’t going to do anything with it. The majority of what I create I make because I want to. Some of it’s functional (like a crochet blanket) but otherwise, if Art Brain has an idea? I’m rolling with it.

I find that embroidery/hand stitching – at least in the United States – bears a heavy burden of the “What are you going to do with it?” inquiry.

Stitching does not need to be for creating clothing or patching a hole or re-attaching a button. It can totally be free range, it can be a pure expression of what is in your heart and mind. I’m finding the more I stitch the more I want to harness thread and needle as a form of pure expression. Let me show you some examples.

A couple of years ago I had the fortune to take a week long class with Dorothy Caldwell at Nancy Crow’s Art Barn. We worked on making a small book with various exercises and I don’t recall now if she told us to use stitching inside the book, but it definitely made it onto my pages. And it was loose and free. It followed the outline of my thoughts at that particular moment and I can still feel the core of that when I look at them.

Ever since that class I’ve come to love using thread like a pen, drawing and moving across the fabric with an internal purpose that may only translate in my mind. But I believe that hand stitching holds the same kind of impact as painting and drawing and pottery – it’s embedded in so much of our everyday lives, I sometimes think it’s hard to view it as art.

But we definitely know it is. 🙂

This recent stitch meditation is another good example of using thread as a means of conveying emotion. This is the text I posted with it: A new stitch meditation. Recovering from cancer is not a linear path. Some days are a jumble in my heart and body and other days sear with grief. But mostly there is gratitude. It’s an intense mixture.

It felt incredibly liberating to use hand stitching for this. A kind of unexpected freedom I didn’t know it could offer.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter what your reason is for stitching. But I encourage you to push beyond the idea that it’s simply a utilitarian activity. It can create some truly beautiful work that captures your unique emotions. Let your needle and thread off the leash, let it go free range!


Learn more about hand stitching with my books! Click on one of the images to learn more about them and pick up a copy!

Hand Sewing Magic is a reference guide with over 30 stitch instructions and variations + projects. The Hand Stitched Surface explores stitching on both fabric and paper.

9 thoughts on “hand stitching monday – free range stitching

  1. jenna says:

    I understand your reaction to your work colleague’s question. I have a friend who loves my art quilts, but whose first reaction was “Is it a cushion cover?”. After that her initial response to a new one was “It would make a lovely cushion”. She has learnt not to say this, after several explanations ( the final one being rather over emotional!) as to why it was in no way ever going to be a cushion! And amazingly enough we are still friends!

  2. Lois Kirkwood says:

    Over the years, I have done counted cross-stitch, home decorating, traditional quilting, spinning, weaving, handmade books, art quilts, mixed media collage and more. No matter the subject, there has always been the same question, “What are you going to do with it?” The question is almost always asked by a non-creative person and sometimes by a person who creates in some form.
    I have a creative soul. I need to create – always. There’s not always a end-use reason. Without creativity, my chronic depression, anxiety and panic levels increase. While I need medication to try to keep it all manageable, creating works to keep me balanced. It satisfies and soothes the soul.
    I found that telling someone, “I create to quiet and soothe my creative soul – no end use is necessary” will usually answer the question to his/her satisfaction. If not, I can’t offer any more explanation.
    Lynn, I’m sure that your creativity in all forms is helping you heal. Keep on ‘making’!

  3. Sarah ann Smith says:

    OMG I LOVE LOVE LOVE (yes, I’m shouting, that wasn’t a caps lock accident) that page with the burned holes….Oh the wish to copy you, to run with it…..prepping for The Quilt Show instead….I must remember….the shadow-through of the floss….oh my……. Well done my dear!

  4. Jen Mullen says:

    Like Lois, I’ve used hand stitching to keep me calm, and most of the time I have no purpose other than the satisfaction of the process. I have dozens (probably more) of pieces that reason than keeping my hands busy and my mind quiet. Tiny little pieces and large ones that keep anxiety at bay. I do find myself using them, sometimes years later, by incorporating them into another work. I have two shirts my husband discarded that I use as cover ups in my craft room or as a light “sweater” at other times that have patches all over them that I’ve been applying for years. Some become pockets, some merely decorations that please me. I frequently rediscover a piece and think of a way to use it.

    Thanks for this Monday post!

  5. Beth says:

    I love your work. I feel like it gives me insight into how you are feeling. It also leaves room for me to think about how the piece makes ME feel. I really am drawn to the non-traditional look of the pieces—the freeness of it. It makes me want to go grab my materials and stitch, stitch, stitch. 😊

  6. Kathryn says:

    When I read “What are you going to do with that?” I heard my Mother’s voice. I understand that her practicality came from the era she grew up in, but I’m still trying to break free of that thinking.

  7. Holly McLean says:

    It seems we are also made to beli ve that every minute of our time needs to be useful. I was recently told by a health professional that my brain was on overload and that I need to learn to just sit in silence with no goals. The stitching you describe is a similar thing. I’ve been asked too ‘what’s it for’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.