The spring of 2018 was one of the hardest times of my adult life. I had just been dismissed from my first full time job, and my first instinct was to blame myself. I was sure that this setback confirmed all my fears that I didn’t have any strengths, wasn’t competent, and didn’t have insights that were of value to anyone else. I had been hoping to parlay my job, which was mostly entry-level office management, into something more creative, and this firing felt like a message from the universe that I had nothing, creatively, to offer. I thought the only way to validate a talent was for someone else to come along and hire you to do that thing, and by those standards I was failing. I don’t know what that season would have looked like for me if I hadn’t been on Instagram at the exact time that one of my friends posted about her friend’s new embroidery shop, but luckily that one post changed everything.
I tapped the link to this artist’s shop, and was surprised by everything I saw. Movie quotes, TV characters, succulents, flowers, swear words written out in elaborate fonts… I had dabbled in embroidery in high school, but I had no idea people were doing things like this. I’ve never been an excellent artist, but the opportunity to commit images onto cloth with thread, to make something so tactical and textile, felt like a breath of fresh air. I picked up some cloth, hoops, needles and thread from Michael’s and started stitching right away.
The thing I loved the most was being able to do anything I wanted. Dogs, cactuses, quotes from The Office, scenes from road trips I’d been on, I could just sit on the couch and spend a few hours creating. I’ve always had a problem with needing to feel productive; coping with bouts of unemployment often left me feeling like I was never doing enough. Having the ability to spend a few hours working with my hands and ending up with something tangible to show for it was always helpful. I even ended up starting a shop to sell some of the hoops, but many of them just remain hanging on the walls of my apartment as a testament to time lovingly spent and a new skill acquired.
I’ve always had a perfectionist streak, and often have reservations about trying anything that I might not excel at right away. Working with embroidery has softened this streak in me, for the simple reason that handmade crafts can’t be perfect. Each one is unique, a bit asymmetrical, has a few errant stitches you wish you could go back and fix. But that’s what makes them yours. That’s what no machine could replicate; these flaws just affirm that a human person took their own time, patience and focus to make something.
A while later, I ended up connecting to that friend of a friend who had inspired me to take up embroidery in the first place. One of her best pieces of advice was to always make things that you loved, and not what you thought other people would like. She told me that sometimes hoops just don’t sell, and you’re better off if you’re left with art you enjoy having around. It’s funny that when I started embroidering I was worried that no one would ever pay me to be creative, and that this would mean that I wasn’t really creative. I’ve sold a few handfuls of hoops over the past few years, but the ones that remain on my walls, unsold, are some of my favorite pieces. These pieces that nobody else really wants are the ones that validate me and make me feel like a truly creative person whenever I look at them.
The first piece I ever made, an embroidery of a very long dachshund, hangs on the wall and I get to see it every day and remember that it was the result of my own effort and creativity. If you ever feel like you’re not accomplishing enough, if none of your abstract goals feel like they’re getting any closer to fruition, I’d encourage you to pick up something small; an instrument, a canvas, a hoop and some thread. See how it feels to put a little effort into a small success, instead of endlessly pouring your energy into huge goals that are hard to track. Those lofty goals will always be there, but these small accomplishments will help to bridge the gap, protecting you from feeling useless or unproductive.