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5 Things I’ve Learned from Doing Embroidery

You’d be amazed at what a needle and thread can teach you

When one thinks of crafts to do as a pastime, I doubt embroidery is the first thing to come to mind. Yet, two years ago as I was rummaging through my mother’s sewing bin, I found an embroidery hoop and was intrigued at the thought of starting something new. Cut to today and I have created multiple pieces, sewn hundreds of threads and stabbed myself with a needle countless times. Embroidery quickly became one of my favorite forms of expression and today I love to create new designs for myself and my friends. However, this process has not been seamless or perfect by any means. Through trial and error, failed projects and looking towards the work of others, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from embroidery.

1. Be patient with yourself

In my embroidery, and in my everyday life, I am somewhat of a perfectionist. I want to do things correctly on the first try and I often want things to be completed in a timely manner. However, when you are working with a needle and thread this is not always possible. I need the right colors, an idea in mind and good lighting to be able to see what I am doing. As I create more complicated designs, this process becomes amplified and it isn’t possible to complete an embroidery design in one sitting, which is a good thing. Having to slow down and focus on what I am creating makes me think about my design more and makes me appreciate what I am creating. This has allowed me to create a new mindset when facing challenges. I realize when to take a step back and think about what I need to do before throwing myself into work.

2. Don’t be afraid to start over

Photo of two embroidery wheels, one with lyrics from Taylor Swift and one with lyrics from Harry Styles.
Photo by Jordan Kadish

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three instances where I have completely scrapped a project, and there have been plenty of times where I have ripped out a stitch to redo it properly. Although this is quite a common occurrence, I used to feel like a failure when I had to start over. Yet, this was a necessary part of the process. To get the design I wanted and to create something I was proud of, I had to be willing to admit defeat. I’ve realized over time that it can be more harmful to push through something that I don’t like than to reevaluate my decisions.

3. Starting with a game plan can make all the difference

Much like writing an essay, the first step when making an embroidery piece is to plan out the design. For me, this looks like drawing different flowers, sketching out animals and planning out the fonts for quotes. It is one of the simpler parts of the embroidery process, but it allows me to prepare for how I want to approach the piece when I begin to sew the threads. This applies to my everyday life in a similar manner. It is just like using a planner or creating a to-do list. The action of taking a few minutes to plan out my projects and my day helps me to feel more organized and prepared.

4. Be willing to make changes as you go

Some of my favorite color choices and stitch styles were not done according to my original plans. Both slight adjustments and large changes made in the middle of a project pay off in the end. I feel like it is often difficult to allow ourselves to go with the flow in certain situations. We want to feel in control all of the time, but that is not the reality we live in. It’s nice to have a reminder to let things happen as they do, and to not freak out if something needs to change.

5. Do your best to improve in everything you do

sam gomez headshot
Photo by Rawan Abhari

I can say with confidence that I am much better at embroidery today than I was when I first started. I have learned new kinds of stitches and am willing to take more risks. This would not have happened if I did not continue to pursue embroidery through the ups and downs. 

Looking back at when I first started embroidery, I doubt I realized how much it would impact my life. I have created plenty of pieces for friends and family and will continue to do so. Embroidery has become a wonderful creative outlet for me, and I love to share that with others, whether that is through the embroidery itself or the lessons I have learned.

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Brooke Wiley

Wisconsin '24

Brooke is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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