Today we have a guest post from my friend Jen Funk-Webber. She puts out a delightful email newsletter, The Needlework Nutshell. She also runs the Stitching for Literacy Bookmark Challenge and designs wonderful needlework which you can see on her site, Funk & Weber Designs (http://funkandweber.com/fw/index.html).
In her most recent newsletter she mused about experimenting in needlework. I loved it, and she gave her permission to reprint it here.
I had an interesting e-conversation with Amy recently. I do a lot of preaching about experimenting with new embroidery techniques, materials, and ideas. I’m a huge fan of doodles and am undeterred by disasters. I am willing to leap before I look, and failure is (almost) as welcome in my house as success. Truth be told, failure comes around more often than success, but he can be quite entertaining, a lover of
“You make it sound so easy,” Amy says, “but I find it very hard. I don’t know where to start…I don’t have any ideas.”
I’m willing to concede that experimenting might seem hard for some, and I believe Amy when she says she doesn’t know where to start. I’m not convinced, though, that she has no ideas. She had the idea of opening a dialogue with me, after all. I think the ideas are there in Amy’s head, and yours, but they may be buried under a pile of fear, old habits, or routine. It’s possible ideas are disguised, or maybe you
simply don’t recognize them…yet.
Have you seen the movie, Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks? There’s a scene where engineers back on earth are sitting around a table trying to solve one of the life-threatening problems the astronauts are up against–how to connect the air from the lander to the command module or something. The project manager dumps a box of materials on the table and says (this is NOT a real quote), “These are the materials they have on board; find a solution using only these materials.” On your mark, get set, go.
And they did. I get chills just thinking about that scene–such ingenuity under such pressure! That’s not just engineering; that’s creativity. The experimenting that I talk about and get such pleasure from is really just a creative exercise. Anyone can do it, including Amy, including you.
Keeping Apollo 13 in mind, imagine dumping a bunch of fabrics, fibers, needles, glue, ribbon, paper, etc. on a table in front of a dozen kids. You tell them, “Make a bookmark using only these materials.” On your mark, get set, go.
They’d do it. So can you.
I think the trick to experimenting is to not worry about the end result. No lives are at stake here. If the end result is awful, you can throw it away. No one ever needs to see it. Chances are good, however, that if you let the project sit for a day (year) or two (years) and look at it again, you will find one or two things about it that are good. The overall piece may not be what you want, but you may discover a few elements you want to try again: a color combination, a new way to do a stitch, two techniques that look nice paired together.
I keep a lot of my failures and experiments as references, carelessly jammed in Ziploc bags or rolled like ancient scrolls at the bottom of fabric boxes. Last year, I turned an unfinished experiment with a double blanket stitch into what I called my DNA bookmark–I posted pictures on the blog. The experiment, though not unsuccessful–I liked the
colors and technique–probably lived in a bag for a year before it dawned on me how to use it. I’ve made several DNA bookmarks to date, adjusting and improving the design, and I hope to sell the pattern to a magazine one day.
Initially, that experiment with the double blanket stitch had no end result at all, good or bad. I was merely trying the stitch. I didn’t see an end for it when I started. Heck, I didn’t see an end for it for months and months! I didn’t care. The end result wasn’t the point; I was just
experimenting with the stitch.
It’s through these experiments that I discover new ideas and techniques. Of course, not every experiment leads to new and exciting ideas. Many lead nowhere. But I find the more experimenting I do, the more ideas present themselves.
So when you set out to experiment, forget about the end result; focus on the journey, not the destination. If you do this, ideas will come.
Tomorrow, ways to use your stash to spark experimentation.