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.
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…
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.
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 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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