Believe It or Not, Nobody’s Perfect – Part 1

24th April 2020

Experienced embroiderer or not, all of us have looked at the work of others and wondered how they could possibly do such amazing needlework, apparently without ever making mistakes. How are their stitches so perfect? And how is it they can turn out one stunning design after another without any failures?

‘Hummingbird and Flower’ by Trish Burr – Inspirations issue #105

This is probably more relevant when we look at our favourite designers. Our heads tell us that of course we are only going to see their best work, but our hearts still believe that maybe that is all they ever produce?

This week we’re sharing stories from renowned designers who were brave enough to tell us about their stitching failures.

Many of us are familiar with the breathtakingly beautiful work of Hazel Blomkamp.

‘Mandala Musings’ by Hazel Blomkamp – Inspirations issue #93

Renowned for her exquisitely detailed crewel-style embroidery, it is hard to imagine anything less than wonderful coming out of her fingers. But when we contacted her, Hazel sent us a reply entitled ‘Hazel’s Design Disasters… 

‘What I have found, over the years, is that if I have a specific purpose for a design – maybe I know where I’m going to hang it in my home – it goes smoothly.  If I don’t really know what I’m going to do with the finished product, you can be sure that it is going to go wrong.’

Hazel Blomkamp teaching at Beating Around the Bush 

‘My most recent disaster occurred when I was working up projects for my Crewel Birds book. Living where I do, there is no shortage of Guinea Fowl in my home environment and along with the monkeys that dance on my roof most days, I’m rather fond of them. I had been curious as to why there were so few embroidery designs out there that featured a close-up Guinea Fowl. Plenty of them pictured in the distance, but that’s about it.

I discovered that there is a reason for this. It’s one of those birds that is nice from far, but far from nice!

I battled to draw it because it doesn’t exactly have a beautiful face, but I soldiered on and eventually got something on paper that I thought was workable. I transferred it onto fabric, chose some threads and started to stitch it but with very long fingers. I just wasn’t enjoying it.

I completed the head and then had to go off on an overseas trip. When I got back, I looked at it with fresh eyes and decided, no. Ditch it. I had realized that a Guinea Fowl close up is not really a thing of beauty.

The thing is though – and I’m sure others find this – I can’t yet bring myself to throw it away.

It is still sitting, neatly folded, in my thread cupboard as if I might go back to it. I know I won’t but still it waits.’

Hazel Blomkamp | Beating Around the Bush 

Still in the same country, and equally as talented is Trish Burr. When you look at Trish’s designs, it is difficult to imagine that she could ever put a stitch out of place, but she also sent us a wonderful story:

‘Winter’s Song’ by Trish Burr – Inspirations issue #88

‘We had just re-located from Zimbabwe to Cape Town, and I was asked to attend the South African Ighali embroidery convention that year as a guest of the Embroidery Guild. As I was not teaching, I decided to sign up for an embroidery class with Norma Young who was the vice chairlady of the Cape Town guild at that time. The idea was not only to pass the time but also to see how others taught embroidery as I was quite new to teaching at that time.

I was nervous as I had not attended a convention before and as a newcomer, I felt a great need to impress my new embroidery community with my skills!

The classes took place in a large hall and we sat at tables covered with white tablecloths. We were stitching a project that required that we tack an embroidery stabilizer on to our ground fabric. I diligently tacked through the stabilizer and ground fabric, then sat back with a smug smile on my face.

When we had all finished, the teacher asked us to hold up our work to show her and as I did, I lifted up the entire tablecloth from the table – I had stitched right through my fabrics and the tablecloth!

Needless to say, I was very embarrassed, but we all had a good laugh and I received the booby prize for the worst stitcher on the first night of the convention.’

 Trish Burr

‘As far as stitching failures are concerned, I would like to reassure everyone that I have had many.  I make ample use of those black garbage bags for disposing of my mistakes and recommend to others that if they are not happy with the way their embroidery is progressing – they should scrap it and start again. Unpicking is just too much like hard work!

There is no wrong way to do it. Embroidery is individual and as long as it is pleasing to you, it will be successful.’

Hazel and Trish are not the only designers we’ve heard from, so we’ll bring you some more stories next week. As such, rest assured, we all make mistakes and we all have disasters. In fact, we’d love to hear about your stories of stitching failures too – what better way to encourage one another than by keeping it real and re-assuring every stitcher out there that mistakes happen and that’s perfectly ok! 

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