Hand embroidery is to machine embroidery what home cooked food is to microwave meals.
Threading up a machine, choosing a design from a disc and letting the machine get on with it cannot possibly compare with the rich textures, the variety of threads, the vast body of techniques that have built up over the centuries and the sheer pleasure of hand stitching to the exclusion of everything else that is going on around you. Machine embroidery does, however, have one advantage. It has not been around for long enough to have built up a book of rules.
I went to the launch of a book late last year. This beautiful book was filled with the most exquisite photographs of African wildlife and the launch was attended, by and large, by members of our local camera club. The venue was set up with numerous large HD television screens and in between the wine and snacks the author gave us a Power Point presentation of the photographs in his book. The images he had chosen – and there were many of them – were, without exception, pictures that “broke the rules”. As each slide came up the audience would gasp at its beauty, and he would go on to explain what the “rules” dictated and how, by doing the exact opposite, he had created what was up on the screen, the photograph that took their collective breath away.
He touched on everything from picture composition to focus, from balance to lighting, from exposure to colour. I stood there, quaffing red wine, thinking oh boy, here is someone who is truly creative and has not allowed himself to be boxed in by the photography police. A person after my own heart.
What is it about the human race that causes people to want to prescribe to creativity? Why is it that for centuries the moment someone does something creative there is a whole team out there wanting to create margins and parameters? Make rules? Stifle creativity? There is hardly an art or a craft that has not been subjected to rule making and sadly, hand embroidery might be one of its biggest victims.
A rebel at heart, I am often told that to break the rules you do at least have to know what they are. Um, no. I don’t agree. All you need to know are the techniques. So called rules only box you in and stop you from exploring your creativity. That is not to say that you should allow yourself to produce shoddy work. You should aim for perfection realising, at the same time, that what you are doing is handmade. That you are human, not a machine. You do need to take pride in your work and produce the best result that you can.
Take a walk through any shopping mall and go into the clothing and decor shops. Look at the design on embroidered clothes, accessories, fabrics and soft furnishings. It is youthful, colourful, fresh and exciting. We need to be inspired by that. We need to mix our styles, try out modern fabrics, modern threads, beads, sequins and whatever else we can find. We need to invent our own techniques and styles without embarrassment, without feeling the need to satisfy the Mother Grundies who disapprove of anything that is not historically correct.
The human population moves forward all the time and if we want to keep embroidery alive, to make it attractive to the next generation, we need to move forward too. We must not ignore the vast heritage of embroidery, but we must stop looking back and reproducing what has been done in centuries long gone.
I’m a busy embroiderer, designer, author, teacher, columnist, housewife, mother, dog lover………….and so on. I can’t promise to post every day or even every week. I am going to post every time I have something to say. I intend to be rebellious, informative and inspiring. I hope that you will join me on this journey.