This approach interests me for many reasons and it’s been on my mind ever since I picked up a needle. I like the immediacy, the authenticity and the joy that improvisation brings to the visual and creative experience. To allow yourself to improvise requires a certain faith in yourself and work. It’s like starting a relationship with someone new: you don’t really know if it’s going to be forever, but who cares, right? Just go for it. We can’t live projected in the future all the time. Most of us do.
Say you want to embroider a series of different flowers, now imagine going through the meticulous process of choosing the amount, size and colour of each flower, the distance separating each one of them and ultimately a deadline…. Gosh, the result might be outstanding, and there’s certainly some genuine pleasure in planning (and yes, sometimes it can’t be avoided), but now visualise doing the same thing but only choosing what to do one flower at a time. And each flower gets your full attention. And there’s just you and this one decision, doesn’t the experience feel a lot more spacious and filled with possibility already? I highly recommend you try it. It’s way wreck-less than you might think.
Perhaps some of you would feel anxious at first, I get it. So many of us thrive for perfection and beauty and hey, sure, you have standards, I do too. But what’s the point of exploring creative processes if you want your creation to always fit in a pre-made gift box? I think there’s a time for colouring books, and a time for getting a coloured pastel (go bananas and get two!) and colour shapes without knowing what it is that you’re drawing. The first is relaxing on a good day, and annoying on a bad day, but the second one is called self-expression. And I think everyone should try that, not just artists and people in love. Do I sound sentimental? Whatever, it’s actually really good practical advice. There’s a lot of positive energy that comes from you trusting your instinct. Positive energy means positive thoughts, which to me equals positive outcomes = joy. In fact, I think to embroider with a stream of consciousness approach means to take quite a few risks and rely on a form of creative faith, where you believe you’ll be able to figure things out and make it work as you go along.
When I embroider using this specific technique, I feel the work becomes more emotionally charged and original, it’s more like a trajectory that I have intuitively followed using needle and thread than a composition. Or better, it’s like a composition that is not pre-composed.
I don’t know how conventional or unconventional this embroidery technique is in modern and contemporary practice, I certainly feel it is perhaps at least a little defiant of more conservative approaches to embroidery (hello Victorian times!) where rigid rules and stitches were applied to achieve specific effects: three-dimensional spaces, realistic shading and even some elements of painterly illusion. They are all exercises that require incredible craftsmanship and I’m definitely appreciative of anyone who’s able to achieve such results, however, some of these exercises seem to me to be based on particular ideas of control and beauty, that, I’m honest, because of maybe my understanding of history and art, have never appealed to me in this instance. You only need to read a book such as “The Subversive Stitch” by Rozsica Parker (which by the way was published in 1984 and still feels so incredibly relevant) to get a much better sense of what I mean. It reinforced my decision to explore embroidery as a medium to create and connect with people.
The experience of time, slowed down by the action of coming in and out of the fabric truly creates an interesting connection between your mind, your body and the fabric on which you can tell a story. Many have recently described it as meditative and mindful, and well, yes, it is. Though each person can make what they like of it. I find myself able to embroider for 8 hours without feeling tired. The pace is calming, and that’s one thing that makes it perhaps different from the real automatic writing exercises that are traditionally associated with the idea of stream of consciousness and which are meant to have you write as fast as your thoughts using hardly any filters (which is super hard, by the way!), embroidery allows your thoughts to float in a dream-like colourful zone to your taste, so why not float in a dream-like colourful zone?
Not all of my work is done following this method though, as I said, the marriage between a joyful process and a finished piece can sometimes be a compromise, so perhaps I think it’s better to have a more open-minded approach to this relationship. It doesn’t have to be and either/or dichotomy all the time, and if you’re a beginner, I highly recommend you try to focus on the process first. The results always come. Have faith in your intuition.