Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Time and Stitching: Using Time to Your Advantage


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On weekends, I always imagine I’ll get more embroidery done than I actually do get done.

I imagine, on weekends, that I’ll have longer chunks of quiet time to stitch; that I won’t have as much computer work to do; that there won’t be many drop-ins since the rest of the people in my world use the weekend to get stuff done at home or run errands and whatnot.

But it never works out that way.

This weekend, I played a game with myself. I timed my stitching.

Embroidery Project with silk threads

I timed my stitching for two reasons:

1. I wanted to gauge how much I can stitch in one normal hour of embroidery. Not how much I think I can stitch, not how much I plan to stitch, not how much I stitch when pushing myself desperately to finish a section. Just how much I stitch in an average hour of regularly-paced stitching.

2. I wanted to see whether or not my approach changed, because I knew I was working against a timer, even though my point was to not change. Did I feel more frustrated? Did I feel pressure? Did I actually accomplish more than I might have, by avoiding tendencies to dawdle or get distracted?

Reality vs. Imagination

The two side-by-side photos above were meant for a quick visual record of what I could get done in a timed hour.

I took the first photo, started my hour timer, and picked up my needle and started stitching.

In that hour, I managed a lot less than I thought I would.

I worked the split stitch outlines, I filled in two layers of padding stitches (they’re the medium purple filling stitches in the background on the element), and I finished the first layer of long and short stitch. I had to stop to take photos twice, since it’s a teaching piece.

I had exactly 3 minutes and 46 seconds left on the timer when I stopped. And I didn’t finish the element.

This weekend’s experiment confirmed the fact that I’m an under-estimator when it comes to time.

But overall, I was still pleased with the outcome.

A Useful Exercise

It was a useful exercise in a number of ways:

1. It confirmed the reality that I embroider a lot slower than I think I do!

2. But, while I was on the timer, I noticed that I worked with much more focus. I didn’t work with any kind of frantic or stressful speed, I didn’t feel any extra stress or anything (because speed wasn’t the point of the exercise), but I was more focused when I worked and I wasn’t as prone to distraction.

3. Because I was working with more focus, I got into a good rhythm of stitching pretty quickly, and I think my stitches benefitted from that.

4. Although I didn’t finish what I set out to finish in that hour, it demonstrated that a lot can be accomplished in an hour. I made decent progress on the element.

5. It helped me overcome a hurdle. More on that below…

Silk Embroidery Project - Other Side with Purple & Gold Leaf

The Biggest Benefit

The biggest benefit of my hour exercise in stitching was that it helped me overcome a hurdle.

I was not looking forward to stitching that element. There are other elements on the design that I really wanted to stitch. Since I’d already stitched a similar element on the other side of the design, I already knew what the outcome would be. This is not nearly as much fun as tackling a totally new element with a totally new approach, to see a totally new outcome!

But I kept telling myself I had to get this thing done, to get a good sense of what the project looks like, color and texture wise, before making further decisions.

Still, I didn’t want to work it.

And sometimes, that hesitance to get back to a piece of embroidery – for whatever reason – can keep you off a project. Maybe there’s a mistake you need to correct, and you don’t like un-stitching. Maybe there’s an area of some technique that you don’t like. Maybe there’s an area that looks too challenging to face.

Whatever the hurdle, you have to overcome it, or the piece will stagnate.

A timed exercise is a very good way to get over a hurdle. It’s a little bit of a mind game, yes, but it also constrains whatever discord you’re feeling with your embroidery to just one hour.

Chances are, once you break into the area that you’re hesitating over during your timed exercise, the mountain it has become in your mind won’t seem so intimidating after all.

Another Approach with Time & Stitching

Here on Needle ‘n Thread, I’ve often written about my 15-minute approach to stitching.

My 15-minute approach is a two-fold notion. On the one hand, it can be used as a carrot, and on the other hand, it can be used to make progress when you think you really don’t have any time to stitch.

Especially when I was working in the academic world as a professor, I felt like I never had time to stitch and that my projects weren’t getting anywhere. I adopted my 15-minute approach, using 15 minutes of stitching as a reward (or carrot) for getting a specific and necessary, but difficult, task done.

I’d also wiggle in an extra 15 minutes here or there, to spend on a project. So, for example, I’d get ready for work with a little more focus, line all my stuff up by the door 15 or 20 minutes before I usually left for work, and then I’d give myself that time to pick up my needlework and just stitch a little bit. When my timer went off, I headed to work.

Sometimes, I’d take simple and transportable projects to work in my bag. When I had a 15 minute or so wait somewhere, or downtime between classes with nothing pressing I had to do, I’d whip out my project and get some stitches in.

Sometimes, it would be those little bits of time between tasks at home. For example, I’d get dinner in the oven in a hurry and grab the timer time to stitch. Or I’d be waiting on that last load of laundry to come out of the dryer, and I’d use that time. Or I had people coming over in a half hour, and everything was ready, so I’d grab that time.

Cluny tapestry miniature embroidery 15 minutes

Using the 15-minute approach, I finished a lot of projects! This one in particular, which you can read about here, was done almost entirely in bouts of 15-30 minutes.

The Upshot

The upshot is this: you can make time work to your advantage with your embroidery in two ways.

Setting a timer for an hour and giving yourself permission to focus uninterrupted on your stitching can get you over a hurdle or just allow you to make some really good progress.

Using 15 or 20 minute bouts of stitching as a carrot – or squeezing in a short session here and there throughout the day – is an effective way of making decent progress on an embroidery project.

Over to You?

Do you struggle with having time to stitch? Do you use a timer when you stitch, or ever work against a timer? What’s your relationship with time and embroidery? I’d love to hear your take on the topic – and I bet others would, too! Let’s discuss the topic – feel free to leave a comment, question, or suggestion below!



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(66) Comments

  1. Off-topic questions: what is the stitch/stitch combination in the gold band, the band that runs horizontally across the top of the before/after pictures? It is gorgeous!
    Are you going to be leading us into some Jacobean fillings? Here’s hoping.

  2. Ah, time! I am fortunate in that I am retired and therefore have a flexible schedule. My relationship with time and embroidery is that, because I have no restrictions, I am incredibly slow with my stitching! And I accept that gladly and just enjoy the process.

  3. A great tactic to overcome procrastination, Mary. I first read about setting the timer in David Burns’ book Feeling Good. You tell yourself you will just work on the project for 15 minutes, then if you want to stop, you can stop. Of course you have to realize you are procrastinating (which I sometimes do not!) in order to put these good ideas into practice. A very good reminder of using time to good advantage. Thank you so much!! Going soon to work on taxes prep and will take the timer with me! Ha!

  4. Good morning Mary
    I loved your comments on timing.
    Very insightful. I too use a timer but for a different reason. I have to get up and move.
    Regularly. I can sit for hours while stitching and that is not good for this body.
    Frequently, I am aware of the timer and the finishing of a portion of the piece and yes, I adjust the speed accordingly. Often with not good results. I am working on maintaining the right pace, timer or not.

  5. One reason I really look forward to my month crazy quilting/embroidery group is that it gets me out of the house to stitch. We meet in a study room at our local library, where there are no dirty dishes in the sink giving me the stink eye, no laundry calling my name, no dust bunnies threatening to take over the house. It’s just stitching and chatting for 2 hours. Lovely!

  6. I usually stitch at night before I go to bed. I could use a timer as sometimes I stay up a lot later than I had planned.

    I have found that when I’ve used the 15-minute timer for any project I was avoiding (but haven’t tried it for stitching), it really did help (for the stick part).

    When you take it with you, you will be surprised at how much down time you have waiting. I stitched a Philippine flag for a friend that way.

  7. I tend to pop up and down a LOT after I sit down to work. So I never get enough work accomplished to satisfy me.

    OTOH, timing how long it takes , gives you the answer to the age old question from those who do not stitch or craft, “Wow! how long did THAT take you?’


  8. Dear Mary

    Like you I always think I’m going to get more stitching done then I actually achieve. I’m always surprised at the end of my stitching time how long a piece of work has taken me to do and I realise I’m very slow at stitching. I can understand how you feel when you don’t want to tackle a piece and yet it has to be done to get to the next stage of a project, I’ve been there many times and forced myself to stitch the unwelcome piece. But your advice of timing yourself is a very useful tip, I never thought to do that and I can imagine that it makes you very focused, I will remember this next time I have a piece that I reluctant to start. Thanks for sharing with us you tips on how to tackle unwelcome embroidery tasks and for the photos and links.

  9. When I was a student doing architectural renderings (pre-computer), I found that I was usually off by a factor of 2 in my estimate of how long it would take me to do a project (if I thought I needed 10 hours, I actually needed 20.) Others estimating how long it should take me to do something were off by a factor of 4 (if they thought I needed 4 hours, I needed 16).

    I tried to never charge by the hour. If a designer hired me to do a rendering and estimated it as a 4-hour job at $25 an hour and I said it took 16 hours, the assumption was that I was inflating my price. If I charged $100 for a rendering, the 12-hour difference between theory and fact was my loss.

    As a retiree now, my “time is my own” (well, sort of), but I find that projects always take far longer than I expect.

  10. “On weekends, I always imagine I’ll get more embroidery done than I actually do get done.”
    Yes, yes, absolutely yes!!!!! This is so recognisable I nearly sobbed with a sense of relief at not being the only stitcher who experiences this. Thank you Mary, for putting it into words, and for investigating it – I now feel much better about my little bits of progress 🙂

  11. Hi Mary. This article has really resonated with me, because I attended a workshop about 18 months ago, and I battled with the project and have now abandoned it feeling really bad about it. Now I’m encouraged to start again with your method and feel sure that I can finish the project! Many thanks for your great idea. When I finish it I shall post a picture!!

  12. Being retired I now have plenty of time to stitch. What bogs me down is when I have a project to finish that I don’t care for. I belong to a group called SWAT. We like to do Stitch Week-A-Thons every quarter thus the name SWAT. Those SWATs have been my time to work on the unloveable projects. Needless to say, the projects are slow to clear out. Perhaps I should try your timer approach. As long as I put the timer in the other room so I don’t keep staring at it (are we done yet?). LOL

  13. Good Morning Mary; As usual I enjoy your emails reading them as I drink my morning cup of tea (I could be stitching). I always have a project in my car for the times when I am waiting, whether it be for a friend or at a medical appointment. The projects are usually small drawn thread projects ending up as Christmas ornaments for my family and friends. I keep everything in a sturdy tin on the back seat ready for whenever. It has made me much more patient when waiting!

  14. Hey Mary,

    Time what a stressful thing ! I try to do some stitching every day. Not easy but I do try. There is a flower that a need to stitch in crewel embroidery. I have been putting it off for days. I know my long and short stitch is not great. And I struggle with this a lot. I must do this to keep the project going but I find excuses not to do it.

    I don’t use any particular way to do my stitching. When I feel like stitching I grab a project and work. Maybe I should try your technique then I might get more done.
    I like your idea of working with a timer. I may get more done like that. Just to sit back and relax and work until the bell rings. I am not fast when stitching but it’s o.k. It’s not a contest right (lol).

    So I am going to read what other ladies have to share on this subject.
    Thanks Mary

  15. Love this topic! I have been trying to stitch ‘in time and in the manner of”. So far this year – 17th Century male professional embroiderer (metal thread – Shakespeare’s Bible), wandering poet’s sister (needlepoint – Dorothy Wordsworth), impatient Mary Queen of Scots in prison (gave up on that one!). One thing I have learned through this exercise is – stitch in rhythm and it will progress faster and with better tension control. I start slowly (think steam train) and work up when the design and threads talk back to you (think fast steam train – there is no stopping me when I get going!

  16. I value uninterrupted time
    Or undistracted time for stitching.
    I used to be a hand quilter and
    Once I got into the rhythm and my stitches were consistent I didn’t want to start again in an hour. I had the bad habit of looking for big chunks of time instead of small

  17. I personally haven’t tried this approach with needlework, (although I remember alternating a chapter of a Chinese novel as exam revision with one of an English one for fun during my university finals – constant carrot approach), but my hubby uses it. He sets a timer for 20 minutes or so of concentrated work on a project and finds it very helpful. I must try it with other things, esp. as it may help me pace my energy whilst I get back going after this ‘flu. Ugh!
    🙂 ☆♡☆

  18. I have used your idea of stitching during a few minutes of time when waiting for one thing or another and it has been a big help in making progress in my projects. I’m going to try the timer to improve my ability to focus. Thanks.

  19. Just as I can’t stop reading mid chapter, I prefer to stitch when I know I can devote an amount of time needed to finish a section. I mostly do needlepoint, especially 4-way bargello, and prefer to be able to finish off at least a full row or area! Sounds sort of OCD-ish, huh?
    I enjoy your blog and have benefitted from your suggestions and tutorials! Thanks

  20. For me the only time I do really stitch or knit, depending on the importance of the project, is in the evenings. After every bit of work, errands, appointments, garden chores, computer, mail, etc., etc., are done with. Yes, I am retired but my life is busy with activities, commitments and exercise to do during daylight hours.
    At around 6 pm. as I do my handwork I listen to the news on TV, since it does not require constant attention. Any other time would be impossible to dedicate myself to something I love to do with such peace and quiet.

  21. Great column! I did the same 1 hr. timed approach to quilting and discovered that I, too am slower than I had known…sometimes it just takes more time than one imagines. And, like you, I found myself focused and productive within that hour.
    I’m frustrated with the number of projects I have unfinished or waiting to be started. And I no longer buy fabric or patterns until I start using some of what I have.
    I am able to practice my embroidery when I listen to You Tube videos which are usually about an hour or so and I read your columns to encourage myself, to tell myself my stitching WILL get better…sigh.
    Thanks for another good read and ideas to ponder…15 min timer settings to come.

  22. Mary, thanks for this post! I use this approach with my copywriting work, using the Pomodoro technique and timer. It helps me focus in smaller chunks of time, which transforms overwhelming amounts of work into very doable sections. I’ve never thought of applying it to my embroidery work – it’s a great idea and I already know it’s going to help me finish all of my WIPs! 🙂

  23. I do all of the above procrastination techniques, plus the worst time stealer of all, my smartphone. I’m making a conscious effort to NOT pick it up simply to distract myself. Also Mary, like everyone else, I love that project you’re working on. I have made a decision that even if I don’t do all of your projects I’m going to make lists of the names and color choices bc that is a weakness of mine – not thinking through color schemes.

  24. That was really helpful guidance Mary. I think that the hour of stitch is a great idea and the 15 minutes to ta Kyle a piece you don’t want to start is great too. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming when you look at the amount of work to be done.

  25. I use “the 15-minutes” increment in my daily life all the time.
    15 minutes of cleaning the fridge.
    15 minutes of pulling weeeds.
    15 minutes of reading my tax forms.

    It makes life a little easier….and I don’t get behind in my chores too quickly.

    Let’s start a club!

  26. What a great idea! I can actually think of other activities that this technique would work on too. Thanks so much! I love reading your posts, they are very inspiring!

  27. Mary, I’ve thrown out the timer, except for cooking. I’ve gone to the slow movement of embroidery. My work is slow, it’s the only thing I do that’s slow. Everything else is a rush to finish, hurry here, scurry there. I’m moving to the less is more and re-purposing supplies I have instead of accumulating even more and spending more time on thoughtful stitching and planning ahead.

    Your article gave me a profound ah-ha moment this morning. I have 3 projects I have not finished. One of which is not finished because I hate the colors. I’ve decided to leave the colors I like and do the project in another colorway, by over-dyeing the pale pastel threads I just can’t abide. The second one is loaded with long and short stitch, which I detest doing. Yup, I hate it. I can do it beautifully in a box, but on a leaf shape with lots of curves, it looks like a bird’s nest. So, I’m going to whip out a stitch book and choose stitches to replace the entire lot of nasty long and short stitches. Finally, the 3rd is not finished because I need a larger slate frame. It can sit in the drawer till it comes. Thanks for the tip on the Mythic Thread Funding!

    The other thing that has really helped me with time and stitching is to figure out what something is going to be BEFORE I start it. This way it doesn’t end up crammed in a drawer with no use. For example, I bought a stack of really nice linen napkins. I’m using them as doodle cloths. When one is full, I add it to the napkin stack which we use!

    I wanted to enter the SF School of Needlework Challenge about what I see out my window. Which is of course my garden. However, it’s winter and it looks pretty bleak out there. So I decided to embroider a lamp shade, showcasing my bare branches and the sculptural quality of a winter garden. When this project is done, it already has a purpose and with these dark dreary days, who doesn’t need another lamp?

    Now that those issues are settled I can settle in on stitching what I want to spend time on. And take my time! I’m going to wash those pesky dishes first, so that they don’t haunt me while I’m stitching. I’m also going to wander out to the freezer and chose something for dinner tomorrow, so I don’t become frantic at 4pm. I’ll also drag out a piece of stationery and write one letter today, as my breaking point between 3 wonderful hours of stitching.

    Thanks for helping me sort this all out. Now, to the dishes!

    1. “Mary, I’ve thrown out the timer, except for cooking. I’ve gone to the slow movement of embroidery. My work is slow, it’s the only thing I do that’s slow. Everything else is a rush to finish, hurry here, scurry there. I’m moving to the less is more…”

      Holly, my thumbs are all up!!! You really strike a chord with me!

  28. I have used the data about how much (in area, say) I can stitch in an hour to help de-stash. I can look at a kit or a canvas I’ve picked up in the past, and estimate how many hours it will take to stitch something in my stash. Do I really want to spend 150 hours on a pattern I no longer care for, even though I loved it when I bought it 8 years ago? This has helped me to sort and prioritize and stitch the things I really love, and let go of those others without regret.

  29. Thank you so much for providing the link to the museum! I loved looking at the tapestries. I feel as though I had been transported to a world is which there is only beauty and joy, no sadness, no suffering. It was a transcendent experience that certainly was not expecting this morning, sipping my coffee. Thank you!

  30. Mary, I do use the timer on my smart phone sometimes when I only want to sew for 15 or 30 minutes or so! And, I sometimes put the TV on and sew for the length of a show that I don’t really need to watch the whole time but just want to listen to the conversation. For example, I often sew to “Antiques Roadshow” and only look up to see what the item is and then I look back at my stitches. While a TV show is not really a “timer” as such, it often works for me!

  31. Dear Mary,

    How do you come up with such insightful pearls of wisdom? Unconsciously I am taking stretch breaks about every hour or so during a stitching session. I admit to being a slow stitcher and I have yet to find my “Rythme”. But time to think things through and to solve problems is always a good use of my time. I love it when I come up with a creative way to move forward.
    Thanks for this thinking time, I have enjoyed it.
    P.s. what is the gorgeous piece you are working on?

  32. This is completely an aside, but I am about to begin one of the Cluny images (sense of smell) in cross stitch that is the opposite of a miniature. It’s 406 by 486 stitches of full coverage on 18 count fabric. I expect it will take about 5 years. If I timed myself I would probably fall into despair and quit! I saw them in Paris and was smitten.

  33. WOW, Mary you leave few excuses for we procrastinators! As I retiree, I need good lighting, supplies in one area and now 15 minutes to commence…you have proved my doubts silly!

  34. I like and use all these ideas. Being retired (hallelujah) , I try to use the 1 hour rule often to stitch, after dinner and dishes while the news is on. I also have a grab and go project at all times, which has led to many small finishes. I love the 15 minute or “found moments” of sewing time. I can push a few quilt blocks through the sewing machine, stitch one thread on my sampler, knit a row on a hat, cut some fabric scraps into useable pieces, and at least get some progress even if I am too tired for a longer session. I used to underestimate the time a project would take me and I have put some down, for years at times. But eventually I finish nearly all of my WIPs.

  35. I’m a freelancer, so one would think that my schedule is vastly flexible. It isn’t true, though, because there’s such a thing as biorhythm, which in my case drops dramatically in the afternoon, when it comes to brain work.
    My evenings however belong (nearly) completely to me and (mostly) my stitching. The kids are grown up, so I live alone and my housework takes no more than half an hour daily. It’s a luxury, as I perceive it.

    Maybe it’s just my nature, but when I’m stitching, I’m stitching. That’s why there’s no need for me to discipline myself, but in another way, I make use of the 15-minutes-approach nonetheless: I can’t stitch longer than max. 1 hour at a stretch, as my eyes would suffer too much from it. That’s why I made up a 30-minutes-approach for myself. 30 minutes of sustained, but relaxed stitching – 5 minutes eye exercises – reading one post at Needle’n Thread – 30 minutes of webdesign/social media – and so on – that’s my daily evening routine.
    Above all, however, I refuse to put myself under whatsoever stress. There’s stress enough in this world, and I had enough of it in my life. I want stitching to be relaxing and joyful in the first place, so I never plan to do a certain amount of it in a certain amount of time.

    Nevertheless I’m as familiar as many of you with the weekend phenomenon! Despite having had no aim, when it’s Sunday evening and I see what I’ve done in two days, it seems next to nothing! I do not even manage nearly as much as you do, Mary! Compared to me, you are super-productive. But then again I tell myself that it’s not a competition. Stitching isn’t a duty, it isn’t compulsory figures, but free skating! 🙂

  36. Thankfully I don’t have an issue with time to embroider. I don’t get out and have no one to answer to, I’m a widow, my time is my own. The only drawback sometimes I don’t stop till my hand hurts. lol I have to get back to my project.

    Have a great day everyone.

  37. I also am a horrid underestimator when it comes to the time it will take. Especially with tedious and/or simple tasks. I think my brain just assumes that because it isn’t complicated it won’t take a long time. Even though I’m fully aware that this is a gross fallacy, the problem persists…..

    I do also do the timer thing for projects on which I’m procrastinating, both at work and in my stitching. Often if I just set the fifteen minute timer (as a motivator for focus), I find that I keep going after the timer dings. This can be good (on a work project I’m hating) or bad (on a personal project I need to put down to get to work on time!).

  38. I don’t use a timer. I find that sometimes I get a lot more done in a stitching session than I think I will, and sometimes the opposite is true.

    My best time comparison is when I am demonstrating embroidery at 18th century reenactments. The events we do tend to be about the same length of time. Now, I can be called away to other matters at events – house tours, keeping track of “snacks” and drinks for the members, watching someone’s display table for them or helping my husband with his table – but other than the house tours or food obligations I can keep working at my embroidery. Due to the nature of how I am demonstrating, nothing modern can be visible. Therefore before an event I will estimate how much of the piece I am working on I will get done at the event. I will photocopy the instructions for that section – smaller then the original – so it can be easily referred to while hidden and will wrap the threads needed for that section around reproduction wooden bobbins (cross shaped pieces of wood) to be able to take them out as needed.

    As a result of this preparation and the similar time to work from one event to another I find that at some events I get a lot less done than I anticipated and at other ones I get so much more done that I am leaning under our table into a wooden storage box we bring so that what I am doing is hidden while consulting the main instructions and switching threads on the bobbins as I finished what I anticipated much too early and need more to do.

  39. I read your commentary with interest because I too have used a timer for knitting projects.
    It has been a good tool for doing the dreaded pattern that has countless repeats, and can become tedious. I’m going to try it for practicing new and unfamiliar stitches. A lot can be learned in fifteen or twenty minutes.

  40. Oh Mary!
    This struck chord with me !! Am trying to teach myself needle painting. Did a leaf and was really thrilled with it. Got to the flower and it has all gone pear shaped!!
    My stitches aren’t right and nothing flows anymore! Have become the worlds best un picker !! Last night gave up on the project !! How timely was this blog!! Shall recharge and do the 15/60 trick and see how it goes. Was going to put a photo up of it too on the community page!! That will have to wait How good was the timing of your letter!!
    Cheers and thanks

  41. hi off topic question – do you have any suggestions of where i could find info on making a baptism gown? it will take place this summer. any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. AND YOUR emails make my day EVERYTIME – thank you thank you thank you. marion

    1. You might check out Farmhouse Fabrics online. They have patterns and so forth for heirloom children’s and baby clothes. I bet you’ll find some patterns there and, if you have questions about fabric and so forth, you can contact them. They’re very helpful in putting together materials for sewing projects.

  42. Thank you for this! I am going to try timing myself. I am always in awe of how quickly other people manage to complete projects, and wishing I could do that too!

  43. Hi Mary. Your embroidery is absolutely beautiful and your comments are encouraging for all – experienced and beginner like me.
    I do not have the confidence to attempt anything too complicated, however, I thank you for your suggestion to use a timer for fifteen minute periods to get through the frustrations slowly but surely.
    I will definitely follow this plan. Thank you very much Mary.
    Take care.
    Love, hugs’n’kisses across the airwaves. xoxoxoxo

  44. Sounds like a good plan. When I have a large project I find it helpful to break it down into the many elements involved. Then I photocopy a calendar page (or 2) and write in each day what I want to accomplish. It works most times and keeps me on track.

  45. I have a basic time slot every day to do my crafts. As embroidering is my favorite, it is what I normally do. I wait till after lunch dishes are cleared away and plans for supper is made and then (about 1pm) I start sewing. I keep at it till 2:30 when I start on supper.
    This said, I get about 1 & 1/2 hours in (baring interruptions!) before I have to quit. I am not good at doing things in small stints (except reading), so I never did any embroidery in the ‘between’ times like while cooking. I like the idea of taking a picture of my progress over the afternoon, however and think I will do that but maybe only take pic’s once every couple days or maybe the same day each week when doing a larger project.

  46. I have found that I work better without timing myself. I seem to automatically work at or near an hour without setting a clock. But after an hour the mind, neck muscles and eyes start to switch off and I have to stop. I do keep good posture, but for me, the best posture in the world does not prevent fatigue. I wonder how professional embroiders generations ago (I’m talking 18th and 19th century) managed to work whole days without tearing their hair out! Can someone please tell me what work habits were like then? Recommendations for books welcome!

  47. I haven’t used a timer in the sense of only giving myself a certain amount of time to stitch, but I have timed how long it takes to work on a particular project. A couple years ago I needle painted an amaryllis flower and it took almost 70 hours of stitching to complete it. I didn’t think I would have that many hours into one project.

  48. This is so recognisable! I do this all the time: thinking that I will have hours and then finding that it gets cut up into tiny chunks of time by other things – and I think ‘Oh, well, it’s not really worth it.”. When just 15 minutes or so would allow me to make some progress!
    This ‘set an hour aside’ approach also works with marking, I find. Getting started is the problem and once that is cracked, the rest follows more easily.
    So glad to see that more exulted persons have these problems!!

  49. Ah, Mary, you are costing me money. I was taken with the sample microstitch project in your blog and, just for the heck of it, clicked on the link you provided. As luck would have it, Microstitchery.com is having a HUGE sale and I ended up buying 2 rug kits. I can hardly wait. And I haven’t finished Party in Provence yet. Or the rug I am hooking. Or the quilt I am making for my guild challenge. I guess I’ll have to try your 15 minute approach.

  50. Some of your readers may also be familiar with FLYLady. One of her ideas is that you can do anything for a 15 minute interval. Usually she is recommending that to those of us who procrastinate. Just digging in and getting started for the 15 minute time block can work wonders. I have found that it is good to have several projects in progress at any given time. Some have a hurdle to be faced, others have thoughtless repetition that is a no brainer, there may be few or many color changes, at least one or two are portable, etc. There is a lot that can be accomplished in 15 minutes to move the project along. When there is a larger time interval available, sometimes it is a good idea to set the timer, get up, walk around or change position for a few minutes before returning to the project refreshed, or picking up another from the WIP/UFO basket. It always works!

  51. Brilliant observations, Thank you.

    I read that usually when we don’t want to do something we thihnk it will take longer than it usually does and that when we WANT to do something we underestimate the time it take. I know that’s true for me when it comes to house cleaning (ugh) or crafts and painting (where did the time go?!!)

  52. This is exactly what my mother did and now I do. My father provided a big enough basket to my mother which could hold all her crochet work (She was more interested in it.) and was easy to carry from one room to another.
    I too have a small box in which I keep only those threads which are necessary for that particular project. It becomes easy to get the required thread immediately. Rest of the threads remain stored in another big box. Same goes for needles.
    Your articles always are inspiring. Thanks.

  53. My mother was always busy with household work. But she always managed to snatch time for crochet and seeing her passion for her work, my father had provided her the basket. I love those memories. Thanks for reminding me them.

  54. I’m doing a canvas piece for an RSN certificate in hand embroidery course and struggling. It’s way out my comfort zone. I kept putting it off too as the progress in general is very slow. On the up side I’ve learnt that although in some ways I’m not enjoying it, it us teaching me a lot. There’s colour blending, use of thread thickness combinations to cover the canvas and thread type for when foregroung or gackground. Having an image you love is the biggest thing. You have to love it because you will be spending a lot if time looking at it.
    Mary, thank you for your continued hard work with your site. It’s always a pleasure to read.

  55. I am a slow stitcher so I quit stitching for a long time because I thought I was getting no where. In the last year I have been inspired by Mary to pick one of my many half finished projects and focus my efforts on it if even 30 minutes at a time. This has really worked for me and I find that once I start I often stitch for longer. I also take pictures of it every few weeks and that has helped me to really see my progress.

  56. I have developed similar “carrot” activities for myself. At one time I was asked to embroider a rather large piece for a group project (a large gold laurel wreath on the back of a cope) I was honored to be asked to do this particular portion since there were so many very talented embroiderers in our group. However it was a very boring and repetitive piece. Only one color gold and lots of the same shape and size leaf. It was very monotonous and I found myself pushing myself to work on it every night when I got home from work. I had another project waiting in the wings that I really wanted to do for myself – a beautiful pair of celtic peacocks (design inspired from the Book of Kells) with lots of rich colors. I finally made a deal with myself. I had to work on the laurel wreath for an hour and then I could the fun project for 15 to 20 minutes and then I had to return to the laurel wreath. It sounds rather silly but it kept me focused on completing the large wreath project that while beautiful and important to our project was very boring from a creative standpoint. I was able to complete it and I also had a good start on my next project.

  57. Did you go to a school to learn needle work? I’m in Dallas Texas & would love to get a little help with my skills. I know zero about how to find a class – I don’t have a computer or a printer- just a smartphone. Any help would be awesome.

    1. Hi, Barbara – I didn’t go to school to learn needlework. I’m self taught. I have attended classes, though, as an adult, to brush up on skills and to verify I’m doing things “right” according to the experts. 🙂 You might check out the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. I’m sure they have a chapter in the Dallas area. They have a website, and you can find more information there, especially regarding contact information for local chapters. Also, look up local needlework shops. They’ll often host classes, too. Worth checking into!

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