I spent August stitching. And September. And October, November and December. In fact, I still have a box of stitchery on my dining room table and I pick up something almost every night. My job as an artist means that I am making things during most of the hours of my work days. Depending on the day I am writing, or photographing, or assembling kits or making things for my Etsy shops, or making art for one of half a dozen projects. But all of those things I do during my work day are “me powered”. I am the one designing, making the creative decisions, assembling the practice pieces, doing the edits. It’s a one-woman-show here and if I’m not doing the work, then nothing gets done. Most of the time I love it and I love being busy.
But with everything going on in 2020, my creative brain was feeling just tapped out. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you. I managed to keep a lot of my regular juggling balls in the air, so to speak, but I just didn’t have much capacity for taking on anything new or thinking of the next new thing or the next big art project. The class proposals that I used to put together in an afternoon were taking me a week (with a lot of procrastinating). I couldn’t think of anything to write here on the blog. I didn’t want to make art because it just felt like it was simultaneously too much to take on and why-bother-because-no-ones-going-to-see-it-anyway-because-everything-is-cancelled. It was really frustrating and exhausting, so I just kept getting sucked in to doomscrolling and reading Firefly novelizations because it was just easier.
Let me introduce you to my friend Mr. Scrooge. He’s an ornament pattern designed by my friend Larissa Holland at mmmcrafts. (This one’s stitched by me.) He’s grouchy and “bah humbug”ish and utterly delightful. At least I think so. In August, I decided that Mr. Scrooge was the perfect metaphor-in-an-ornament-form for 2020, so I decided to make Scrooges for my sisters as a Christmas gift. He’s made from embroidered and beaded felt and entirely hand sewn, so really a perfect kitchen table kind of project while watching vintage episodes of All Creatures Great and Small.
What I realized as I started stitching was that it was exactly what my brain needed: to follow someone else’s pattern. There are lots of studies and reports about the physical act of stitching or knitting and the meditative effects it has on the brain. But what I also came to realize is that there is something really restful in following a pattern and letting someone else steer the creative ship. Although I got to do the fun part of picking out the colors, for everything else, I didn’t have to problem solve, troubleshoot, design, or choose anything. I just followed the directions. Stitch the beads to lower left coat trim, then go to step 5.
Soon, almost every night after dinner, I would turn off the news and the social media and pull out some felt to stitch. Although I don’t do embroidery or beadwork for my business (for many reasons), I love both things and my hands have years of practice. It was fun to have a reason to dive into my stash of beads and vintage sequins for the perfect shade of rosy pink or try out that Kreinik metallic thread. I made one Scrooge. And then another. I stitched my way through the rest of the autumn making Santas, Scrooges and sardines for friends and family. And even though it’s January, I started a partridge and a pear for myself this week.
I realized, as I was thinking about writing this post about my new-found daily stitch practice, that it was the practice of craft that I needed right now. I didn’t make a lot of art this past year, but instead I found myself drawn to the craft: the precise, detailed, fine craft work with my hands. That’s what made me feel grounded and my brain feel a little less overwhelmed. And it’s not just me. My mom took up cross-stitch again this year after a couple of decades. My dad made me a turned wood rolling pin for Christmas. I saw a good friend post a finished cross-stitch piece on her Facebook feed just this morning. Another friend made a delicate straw star ornament for me that I have hanging in my window and I Instagram chatted with someone else about learning to make our first hard covered books coincidentally on the same week. My friend MissChiff has assigned herself 1000 hours of painting to practice her watercolor skills.
So maybe if you’ve run out of Mandalorian episodes and you want to reduce your mindless phone surfing, try folding some origami. Or teaching yourself cross stitch. Or finger knitting. Or sketching. Or making friendship bracelets. Maybe it’s the thing your brain needs too.