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Slow stitching: the mindful craft embracing imperfection

Updated: Mar 29


Slow Stitching is a relatively new term yet the practice is ancient. 


Picture an era where every garment, every quilt was meticulously make by hand - before the invention of sewing machines in the mid-1800's. It was a necessity. Even after this invention people have continued to hand stitch clothes, quilts, and items and mended constantly.


There is so much to explore with slow stitching - so pull up a chair, thread your needle and let's dive into the world of slow stitching. It is a inclusive space where imperfections, upcycling and creative exploration takes place.






How do different cultures perceive hand stitched items?


Different cultures have their own ways of creating their hand stitched pieces. 


Wabi Sabi is the Japanese saying for “Finding beauty in imperfections” and a great term for this revival in style of stitching. Departing from the pursuit of perfect stitches and flawless work we can instead connect with what we create by falling in love with the process of making, the imperfections in our fabric, wonky stitches - all the irregularities which make our hand-made creations unique and full of character.



Boro stitching is an old Japanese style of mending - and inadvertently has a unique soul like essence. A peasant would have one indigo coat which was hand woven and stitched to last a life time. As the coat wore out it would be repaired, continually mended and stitched creating layers of fabric over time.  


Clothes worth wearing are worth repairing - Laura Yates 

Also Kantha stitching practiced by Indian makers layering old saris to create vibrant cushions, blankets, functional textiles, and repurposing into garments functional pieces of art. Again, the imperfections are celebrated as they add additional exquisiteness to the finished piece.


Many other cultures embrace hand-stitching and it plays a significant role throughout their history in both ancient and contemporary sense. African, Amish, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Scandinavian and Western cultures all diversely express themselves through the art of hand stitching.


As part of our own family histories, some of us might have been handed down old embroidered table clothes or napkins, doilies or quilts - things that have been past down through the family - if you know the story to these it makes them special. Some of our mothers and grandmothers and even ourselves have made hand stitched quilts, and practice mending. 


Like me, you might find some unique hand-stitched items in an op shop or thrift shop. I have a beautiful collection of these now that I cherish. 


And so the stories go on. 



What is slow stitching?


Slow stitching is not unlike what our mothers, grandmothers and ancestors have done before us. Now, in our fast-paced environments we are used to going at a much quicker speed in our daily life and in comparison slowing and stitching by hand feels almost the opposite. This night and day experience emphasises a more intentional and relaxed way of living - even if it is for the 15 or 20 minutes that you can sit to stitch. Taking the time to savour every stitch, appreciate the textures of the fabric and thread, the imperfections and engage in the overall process of creating with a sense of mindfulness.





What stitches are used in slow stitching?


Slow stitching focusses on the simple stitches with the emphasis on the joy of stitching. Stitches such as running stitch, back stitch, blanket stitch, whip stitches (to name a few) are commonly used - and they create items that are far from common! Some of you may be expert embroiderers and some of you may not have stitched at all - simplifying what we make and how we stitch, playing with layers, experimenting with colours and textures held together with simple stitches create so much beauty, texture and form.



I’d like to take you on this journey with me; I encourage you to explore fabrics and stitching in a new way. The important thing is you enjoy it - that you don’t worry about things being precise and perfect. Let it evolve, experiment and explore. Try with different stitching and if that’s just the basic running stitch that’s fine - a huge amount can be done with that simple stitch. It’s a bit like using a paint brush using it it an uncomplicated way or in more intricate way. 



How can slow stitching be sustainable?


It is no secret that nowadays we are huge consumers of clothing and how clothing is constructed and made is a mystery to many. Our waste of textiles is a huge creating over 6 tonnes of textile waste every 10 minutes - and this is just in Australia. Goodness knows what that figure is in the UK or the US.


Clothing is now seen as disposable - the term Fast Fashion is commonplace referring to quick and inexpensive clothing that is made to meet rapidly changing trends - and people consume the trend and the clothing for the next trend at lightening pace. In addition, fabric to support these industries is of a lesser quality to keep production costs down - the fabric does not last as long, and I am sure we have all bought a cheap t-shirt or two that we have had to discard after it became misshapen in the washer - and we may have only worn it a handful of times.


We can have a shift in attitude towards the textiles and clothing that we own and a great way to explore this is through slow stitching. Historically, in the past, our mothers and their mother's would have learned to sew and mend clothing to extend the life of outfits. If we take a leaf from the Japanese and stitch and repair items as simple as a cleaning cloth, it can really be such a pleasure and a great way to practice stitching.


The lack of repair culture often leads to clothing - even good quality clothing - being discarded with minor defects or damages to the item. Embellishing with simple stitches is easy to learn and a whole lot of fun and can really lift and make items unique and a talking point with others.




How do I let go of perfectionism?


When I was younger I didn’t hand stitch because I could not create perfect stitches and now I give myself permission to be more random through slow stitching and it is such a joy!


Three ways to let go of perfectionism when being creative:


  1. Start small Best not to create a project that is too overwhelming. If you pop over to our Instagram, you will find us posting some simple patterns for you to access and we have put some ideas in this article as well. When you start small, you can finish a project and feel really accomplished - it is a fantastic feeling and you can see it all coming together in a much short timeframe. When you have larger projects, it can seem never ending and you focus on the amount of work to be done rather than the progress that has been made.

  2. Practice mindfulness Focus on what the needle is doing as it goes up and down through the fabric. Feel the fabric in your hands. Before you know it you will be more and more relaxed. I certainly experience a good nights sleep if I make the time to stitch in the evenings!

  3. Allow for imperfection Look at the uneven stitches, the frayed edge or the odd shape. This has its own identity. Play with the process and if something doesn’t look right to you - keep going - keep stitching and keep playing and keep exploring - don’t judge yourself. Give yourself permission to do this. This way of stitching is about the process and not perfection. Let your work evolve, stitch, add some more stitches. It will come together. Leave it for a day or two then look at the piece you created and you will find parts of it you really love.


There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion - Edgar Allan Poe


Whether you are curious about the stitching your family has done for generations, the diversity of stitching from different cultures or considering how you can contribute to a sustainable environment through your craft, we know that you will experience countless hours of joy in this craftwork.


We really look forward to seeing what you make!





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9 Comments


Guest
Mar 23

I’ve always stitched as my father’s aunts and my grandmother were very good embroiderers. They were perfectionists! I joined an Embroidery guild in my late 20’s and learnt how to stitch perfect stitches to produce perfect samples of various techniques….never used though! After a huge gap as our children grew into adults, I took up cross stitch. Loved it but my eyes hated it as I got older! I have been slow stitching for almost ten years now and the process is very relaxing. I have quite a collection of samples now and I’m slowly making them into pouches or journal covers. I do have a nagging voice, subconsciously, asking why! I ignore it. Because I just love the stitchin…

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Replying to

I think stitching is so addictive- there is definitely something about the action that makes it so relaxing. If you can get over that nagging voice it becomes a total pleasure !

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Guest
Mar 19

Absolutely I agree and it's so .

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I’ve been slow stitching since Covid arrived. I took part in weekly projects over a year and it was a wonderful way to fill in our Melbourne lockdowns. I’ve joined in since then with various projects on You Tube and love the different ways of using slow stitching.

I’d agree anyone can produce lovely slow stitched items with no rules to “ get it right” !

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Guest
Mar 19

I have been totally liberated by a tutor who ran a local workshop I attended. I asked her "should I unpick this (imperfection)?" Her reply? "Are you being marked (judged), or is it for you?" Hooray! It's for me!! 😍

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Guest
Mar 19
Replying to

Oh I hate to unpick my work and alway keep going - it makes it unique.

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Guest
Mar 19

Ugh perfection! I am always trying to get things perfect when I stitch, but I a wildly attracted to the work of people who are the complete opposite! For me I think that just doing it and sticking with it helps me get over that 'hump' of something not being perfect. I am interested in the tips and tricks that others might have!

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