As embroiderers, we’ve all spent time picking out stitches, pulling out threads, repairing small errors – indulging in what is (affectionately?) called reverse stitching, frogging (rippit! rippit!) or similar terms of endearment.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a body in possession of life is prone to make mistakes.
And in the world of hand embroidery, we are not immune from the mistake-making tendencies of humanity. It is part of the game.
But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – mistakes should never hold a person back. We’ve surely heard all the sayings: “A mistake is an opportunity waiting to happen,” or “it’s not how many times you fall that matters, but how many times you get back up” – plus many more. And they’re all true. Perception and reaction, when it comes to mistakes, are everything.
Every misplaced stitch, every knotted thread, every tangled mass, every unfortunately chosen color or thread – they all have a silver lining, depending on how you look at them and how you react to them.
Take, for instance, the little projects we are working on lately in the studio. One of these projects – not the one in the photo above – will eventually result in the next Stitch Snippet for this year. But we are working many small designs in this process.
And you know what? They don’t always work out! Perhaps the color doesn’t work the first time we start stitching on one of the samples. Or maybe the stitch choice doesn’t fit the design. Or … better yet! Maybe the whole design is just plain Wrong.
These things happen.
There are a few downsides to making mistakes – especially when you’re all keyed up to develop a new project according to the seemingly brilliant idea in your head.
The Disadvantage of the Mistake
First, mistakes are time consuming. One of the immediate results of making a mistake is definitely the perceived waste of time. Especially in hand embroidery, the process of development of an idea is pretty slow – so when you have to chuck the first attempt (or second, or third), it can be somewhat disheartening. That was time lost. (But was it completely lost? Not necessarily!)
Second, mistakes lead to waste. Fabric, thread, beads and more – materials that end up discarded can be a real waste of resources. For small projects, this is not such a big deal; the cost is minimal when the supplies are minimal. On larger projects, waste due to error can lead to unforeseen costs.
Third, there’s an emotional downside to mistakes: they can be super frustrating! And they can put a dent in one’s confidence. They can cause us to question our skills and abilities. They can cause us to hesitate in trying new things or in improving our skills. They can convince us that I can’t do it, and this can be detrimental in any pursuit.
The Advantage of the Mistake
As frustrating as mistakes may be, in the creative process, a mistake is not a negative thing! No, no! A mistake is an art in itself. There is a certain artistry, I’m convinced, in making, and re-making and even re-re-making, mistakes. The way we approach, perceive, examine, and react to our mistakes
First, we all know – or at least, we’ve been told since we were kids – that a mistake is a learning opportunity. The best teacher in the world is The Mistake. If we really want to do something, if we want to succeed at the thing we are setting out to create, then when The Mistake comes along, we must take it apart, understand what went wrong, and figure out how to right it. What a great opportunity for learning!
In embroidery, this process of learning from The Mistake is one of the quickest ways to improve embroidery skills and to gain confidence.
Second, a mistake can end up being not-a-mistake. It can be the beginning of something unique and innovative – an unintended development into something better than what was initially planned. Serendipitous mistakes can lead to unexpected, delightful results in embroidery.
This is the main reason I think it’s a good idea to walk away for a while from a perceived mistake, to come back later with fresh eyes to examine it. You never know – you might like the mistake better than you liked your original plan.
Third, besides helping us refine our embroidery skills, mistakes help us refine us. They teach us patience – with ourselves and others. They teach us resilience – we can jump back up after a mistake. And they help us understand that progress in anything is not always linear. There are ups and downs. And that’s ok.
All of this is really just to say that we’ve been making – and correcting – a lot of mistakes lately in the studio. It’s just part of the process!
Sure, it’s not always the Most Fun Part of Embroidery, but we always find that it’s a useful art, knowing how to handle mistakes. I can’t tell you how many projects have turned out better than we intended, because we made a perceived “mistake” and found, instead, an improvement hidden underneath it.
If you happen to indulge in a few stitching mistakes on your end, I hope that they are not a setback for you. Mistakes have a lot to offer – embrace them and conquer!
And on that note, I’m off to make a few, I’m sure. Today is solely a day of stitching, so I’ll be sharing progress and tips soon on anything and everything we learn along the way.
Have a marvelous Monday!