19th February 2021

As we were deciding which topic to cover for this week’s World of Needlework segment, an email arrived which settled the question. It came from a reader who had been involved in a year-long project, where stitchers from all over the world signed up to stitch a common project, sharing the joy of their work with like-minded community members.

This kind of project is often called a Stitch-Along (or SAL) and recently, they have been increasing in both popularity and number.

However, the reader related a sad story from her group. One of the members had posted to their forum expressing how down-hearted she was.

Many stitch-along patterns are available from Peppermint Purple (source)

Despite her virtual community, in real life she was experiencing criticism, lack of support and people who told her what she was doing was frivolous, a waste of time and effort or, worst of all, completely worthless. 

Fortunately, the members of her group rallied around to support her, however our reader stated:

‘There are people out there who are not strong or confident, or who do not have the words to express why they want to stitch.’

SALs existed even before the internet. It is impossible to find the origins of them, but it would probably be right to suggest that early quilting bees, stitching circles and sewing groups helped to shape the idea. Even with the somewhat primitive technology of the pre-digital age, stitchers would find ways to support each other.

Just Birds SAL | Design by Peppermint Purple (source) stitched by by Meghan Doyle

As long-time stitchers, we remember being involved in Round Robins where a piece would be sent from one stitcher to another, with each person completing a part of it before sending it on. The piece was usually accompanied by a letter or postcard (remember those?) from the previous stitcher, explaining who they were, what they had done and a little about themselves. In this way, it combined the pleasure of stitching with the fun and excitement of a new pen-pal.

There are organisers, like Linen & Threads, who give their SAL patterns away for free (source)

As the digital age matured and it became easier for people to connect, these kinds of events took on new life. Forums and groups became international and people who might never have had the chance to connect in the past suddenly found each other through the magic of the internet. 

From there arose the idea that if we can communicate across continents, why can’t we stitch the same thing all together and share our individual journeys as we go?

The result was an explosion of SALs. If you’ve never come across them before, a stitch-along is a catch-all term for an embroidery project that is undertaken by a large (or small) group of people, usually semi-simultaneously over a set period of time. 

In some, you might sign up and receive the materials, chart and instructions ready to go. In others, you might get the whole chart with a schedule of stitching.

Some of the most popular SALs are where you don’t know what the finished project is going to look like.

Each month you receive a different section of the pattern, with the intention being that you’ll complete that little section in time for the next one to be released.

Although many SALs are cross stitch, there are plenty of embroidery and quilting SALs as well, not to mention knitting and crochet. (source)

Common across all formats is the community. Everyone involved can share their progress, get support, ask questions or get help and receive motivation from the other members of the SAL group. Of course, it is also a wonderful way to make friends. 

There are plenty of reasons why SALs are so good. Lord Libidan outlined four:

  • Being involved in a community.
  • Gaining a better knowledge of the pattern or chart.
  • Achievement of mini-satisfactions as each section gets completed.
  • The pleasure inherent in the surprise, especially when you don’t know what the finished piece is actually going to look like.

To that list, we’d also like to add:

  • Daily motivation to keep going, provided by the cyber-cheer squad which is the group itself.
  • A strong drive to finish (this is particularly important if you are like some of us and find finishing projects a bit of a challenge).
  • The shared excitement of starting a project, knowing that there is a whole community of people doing it all at the same time.
  • Often the charts or patterns are exclusive to the SAL, which means you would never have had a chance to do them otherwise.

All of these things are fantastic reasons for you to pick up a needle. For the lady our reader described, she may not have been able to find the words to explain why she wanted to be involved in the project, but at least a few of her reasons may fit into the above categories.

We hope we’ve sold you on the idea of joining a SAL or two (or three?). However, we wanted to close by saying something not just to the stitcher in question but to all stitchers out there who might have found themselves in her position. 

It’s ok if those around you don’t value or appreciate the benefits of needlework – it just means they haven’t been enlightened yet! Their own lack of understanding doesn’t mean you should feel inadequate or bad for loving something so creative, relaxing, joyous and beautiful.

Needlework is embedded in our DNA, it’s who we are. It’s our special talent that emanates from within and becomes a gift to the world, making it more beautiful.

Validation for our stitching doesn’t come from the approval or acceptance of others, it comes from our own relationship with needle and thread and the deep knowing that ensues.

Being a part of a group that shares that feeling can offer enormous strength, but even in those moments when you are alone, gain strength from the fact that you have a passion which belongs to no-one else but you.

Have you ever been involved in a stitch-along? Are there any that you’ve loved, or would recommend to the community? What have been your experiences? We’d love to hear from you and, if possible, please send pictures!

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