So whether you already embroiderer or you’re on my Easy Embroidery! course you might have noticed how mindful embroidery can be. By that, I don’t mean that you do chain stitch while wrestled into downward dog. I mean that creating repetitive stitches can easily be as calming, soothing and meditative a practice as sitting cross legged on a yoga mat.
One of the reasons why I adore handsewing is because of its meditative quality. The art of making small, neat stitches forces me to sit still, slow my breath, calm my thoughts, steady my hands and become completely present in the moment. The world and my problems fall away. In short, I’m practising mindful embroidery and, even better, it can be achieved with minimal effort. In fact if you already sew, knit or crochet you’ve probably already nailed some of the things that make this practice so meditative.
So if you have a stressed or fevered mind, or just want to use your stitchy skills as part of your self care, here’s how you do it:
Pick a light and bright spot in your home where you can practice mindful embroidery. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just make it comfy, calm and a pleasure to spend time in. It might be in a fave armchair, sitting on the bed or at the kitchen table when everyone is out of the house. By doing this your body and mind will soon associate that space with calming down.
Make sure that the spot you chose is conducive to mindful embroidery. It needs to be a place where your needles, threads and scissors are easy to reach, you can see what you’re doing and where your body is supported.
For the same reasons of familiarity, use a scent that you can associate with your mindful embroidery. I love the ritual of lighting a scented candle before I start work in my sewing shed. Alternatively I use roll-on aromatherapy oils on my wrists. The scent immediately tells my body it’s time to slow down.
Use repetitive stitches which allow you to work effortlessly. If you don’t have a particular project in mind just draw the outline of a fave motif on fabric and stitch it. Remember that the goal here isn’t to complete a gorgeous project (although you can if you want). It’s to practice mindfulness. If you have nothing to show except for a calmed heart rate and mental space then you’ve done a cracking job.
Choose a stitch that you love to do. Now may not be the time to wrestle with a new and complicated versions of bullion knots. Find a stitch that you genuinely love to use because this will show in the quality of your mindfulness.
Start your mindful embroidery by not stitching anything at all! Shut your eyes for a minute, taking slow and deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this several times until you are centred and ready to start.
Focus on each individual stitch to keep yourself in the present. Don’t think of the last one or the next one but THIS one. Look at where the needle comes up and goes down and how the thread sits. Only move onto the next stitch when that one has been fully appraised and appreciated (including when it’s wonky).
Remember to breathe evenly when you are stitching. Be aware of the sound of your breath as you exhale and inhale. If you can, time your stitches to match your breath, drawing the needle up with the in-breath and down with the out-breath. It takes practice but is insanely absorbing even if you can’t get it quite right. (Oh, and don’t pick a stitch that makes you hold your breath. For me that’s chain stitch. If I tried to meditate with that one I’d be dead before finishing the hoop)
Allow your mind to wander but always come back to the present. Just as in meditation or yoga, all sorts of thoughts pop up when you are engaged in mindful embroidery. Don’t allow them to take hold though. Instead imagine them as balloons that drift away or use the sound of pulling thread as an anchor that brings your attention back.
Stitch things that have meaning to you. When I’m commissioned to embroider a hoop for someone (LINK) I keep the meaning of the piece in my mind as I sew. It feels as if I am imbuing the fabric with meaning, which sounds woo-woo but it’s part of being in the moment.
Use your ears! Listen to the sound of the needle popping through the fabric and the thread as it draws through behind it. They are both really distinctive especially on the taut fabric in a hoop. Try to find the rhythm in the sounds.
Enjoy how stitching makes you feel. When I embroider I find that my shoulders relax and drop because I’m just doing one thing without interruption. Try to find those moments in your own body and mind. Perhaps you can spot it because you let out a sigh or stop gripping in your jaw.
If you want a sense of community when you stitch – like in a public yoga class – think of all the women who have stitched before you as you work. Imagine them in the same position over the centuries, making the same movements, tackling the same challenges and stitches. It’s exceptionally grounding and always makes me feel as if I’m a carrying on some kind of superpower.
Remember that your stitches have power. Not just by holding fabric together or creating decoration but in that your stitches can make a difference. Imagine if, instead of using running stitch to create a border, you used it to write “Fuck Trump!”? Your stitches are part of your voice so think about what you want them to say.
Enjoy the slow speed of your work. It’s easy to turn to a sewing machine because you want quick results but this isn’t about speed. It’s about finding mindfulness. Use it as an opportunity to look at each stitch, improve your decision making each time the needle pierces the fabric and enjoying what you are achieving through your own steam.
Embrace mindful embroidery by using a mantra, a phrase or word that helps focus your mind. So each time you take the needle down into the fabric you could say to yourself (in your head or even out loud), “I am….strong/ calm/ safe/ at peace”. Or simply say a variation of this out loud at the start of your work as an intention, coming back to it routinely as you sew.
When you have finished just sit quietly with your work on your lap and your eyes closed. Breathe slowly and deeply allowing yourself the chance to stay still for a little longer. Do your own little version of namaste to mark the end of your practice: put your hands together and give a little chin-to-chest bow to your efforts or make a small movement such as patting the hoop (not a euphemism) to mark the end of your practice.