Doodle embroidery – what is it all about?

A selection (very SMALL selection, actually!) of my embroidery books

Yesterday, I went to a really good, independent bookshop near where I live. It’s called Webberley’s, in Hanley, Stoke on Trent, and it’s a great shop. Two floors of books, both fiction and non-fiction, on all sorts of subjects. A large craft materials section makes it even better.

I was hoping to browse through their craft/embroidery books section, and maybe make a few suggestions to ‘Santa’, as he’d come, ready-prepared, with his credit card. However, I came away disappointed, and not for the first time, after looking through recent embroidery book titles.

It’s not the shop’s fault – I know they can only buy in what’s available from the publishers – but I find the latest ‘craze’ for books on ‘quick and easy’ embroidery extremely depressing. The projects in the books seem to all be things like ‘how to stitch three buttons onto a shop-bought cushion, add some lazy daisy stitches and you’ve got a wonderful addition to your home’. No you haven’t, actually.

And why are the only ‘allowable’ colour schemes brown, brown, and more brown?

And don’t start me on ‘doodle embroidery’! What’s that all about? Take a line drawing of something that looks like bad clipart (is there such a thing as ‘good’ clipart?), and then backstitch over all the lines, often in just one colour. Voila! Erm…you’ve then got a line drawing that’s been backstitched over. What do you then DO with it?

The embroidery books that I’ve loved to collect over the years are truly inspirational. Gorgeous photography, projects that have your fingers itching to start as soon as you open the book, instructions so clear that even a completely new technique looks simple enough to try. Stumpwork, ribbon embroidery, thread-painting, blackwork, 3-D projects, historical items…they’re all tempting if presented in the right way.

The selling point with a lot of the designs in recent books is that they’re quick to finish. This is partly what I dislike about them. I know there is a modern myth that ‘people these days have less time’. It’s very easy to buy into that idea. However, there may be more things available to do now than in previous times, but each person still has the option of CHOOSING – and maybe that’s the real problem. Many people watch TV for five hours a day, and think that’s OK. Then they say they’ve got no time. Excuse me? Turn the thing off. Even better, get rid of it. You’d be amazed how much more can be achieved when the  time-filling, gadget-needing activities are eliminated.

If someone has little time, but still wants to do somethng creative like embroidery, I do question the idea that a project needs to be completed in one session, too. If you’ve only got half an hour a day to stitch, but you work on one project for a month (30 lots of half hours), you can easily make a very worthwhile item in a month.  What’s wrong with that?

Maybe I’m just weird 🙂

I do sometimes get the response, ‘Well, it’s OK for you, you’re a designer, so of course you like the complicated designs – it’s easy for you.’  But that idea won’t wash either, I’m afraid. I’ve never had professional training in embroidery. I taught myself, from the age of four, because I was ENTHUSIASTIC. I became very focussed on what I wanted to do, sometimes dropping other activities to allow more time for what really interested me. If people never push themselves, we’d all still be sitting in our prams, eating rusks, not achieving anything. Perhaps I’m just more determined than other people? I dunno.

OK, rant over. I think I’ll go and have another look through the heaps of books I’ve already got on embroidery….


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9 thoughts on “Doodle embroidery – what is it all about?”

  1. My solution: I tell people that I don’t have a TV. They sort of turn away with a sad shrug, as if to say, “Poor thing…. No TV. No wonder she knits miniature socks out of sewing thread.”

  2. We haven’t had a TV in our house for over four years, now, and it’s not a problem at all……for us. Other people, when hearing that we haven’t got a TV, usually respond defensively by saying, ‘We don’t watch ours much, either.’

  3. I do sympathise! I find a similar thing with books available out here in Taiwan. It’s either quilting or beginners’ stuff, almost all are translated from Japanese too, so nothing of the traditional style of the people here either.

    Still, I guess these ‘quick and easy’ guides have their good points, namely that they’re allowing those with limited time, experience and confidence to make their first forrays into hand embroidery and needlecrafts of all styles. I don’t know about your experiences, but I find that many, many women admire stitchcrafts but, esp. in the UK, are certain they can’t do it themselves. I mean, how often do you hear someone say ‘I wish I could do that, but I never could!’ without even once trying it??

    Once several of these folk who buy and use the simple books are hooked, then they’re likely to want more advanced level texts and inspiration. I do agree that a lot of the ‘bare line’ designs etc are just too simple and not really up my street either, but if it gets folk of all ages and stages into embroidery, I’m not going to complain too loudly!!=)

    Love the miniature work BTW!

    1. Yes, I agree with what you’re saying. But I think my concern is that there seems to be a kind of ‘glass ceiling’ – both with beginning stitchers and with book publishers (and some designers), where nothing beyond beginner level gets attempted/offered. So, once people have tried quick and easy stuff, there’s not much to move on to, so they lose interest.
      I have an Australian friend, who cannot understand the attitude of English women – the ‘I couldn’t do that myself’ attitude – she says that in Australia, lots of women do many types of stitchcraft, to a very high standard, and think that it’s normal. I admit I love the Australian magazines, books, etc, and will happily pay high shipping charges to buy stuff from Australia and have it shipped to England!

  4. I found this very interesting. I too, have lamented the lack of ‘decent’ embroidery books in the shops recently – but my husband tells me that is because I already own most books that have been published.

    i think the need for beginners to have something to start with is a valid point – but there doesnt seem to be a follow on. and anyway, whose house is big enough to be filled with dozens of ‘quick to finish’ projects? the most exciting books for me are the old ones – Jan Messant, Constance Howard etc. although I am rather keen on Jane Nicholas’ stumpwork books, and the A_Z books as ‘beginner books in a variety of techniques.

    Interesting point in the comments too, about Australian publications. I’m an Aussie and spend a fortune on Stitch from the UK – hands down my favourite magazine. I love Jane Hall’s work and I think the English do some amazing contemporary work that you just dont see here much…

    1. Paula – your husband *would* have a valid point (I’ve heard that comment said of me, too!), except that publishers don’t stand still – or shouldn’t, anyway – so, there should be newer books coming along behind the ones we already own, to tempt us to buy more, shouldn’t there? 🙂

      It used to be the case that I was spoilt for choice when it came to choosing a new embroidery book, but the ‘follow-on’ books, and the expert books just aren’t being produced, now, on the whole, which is worrying, I think.

      I grew up with Jan Messent’s and Constance Howard’s books – even if they only had black and white photos, and strangely amateurish line drawings in. From an inspirational point of view, they were great, as they always had me itching to start making something. Jane Nicholas is wonderful – do you know she’s just brought out another book? And do you remember Erica Wilson? She was an American designer in the seventies, who at one time even had her own TV programme! I bet that wouldn’t happen these days – far too niche!

      Stitch magazine is a very good one, but aimed more at people who are into City and Guilds courses, and freeform embroidery, I think. But they do have some very interesting articles.

  5. I enjoyed your Blog.Such memories,30 yrs ago we lived in Canada. There I saw Erica Wilson,and also discovered the American Threads magazine.This was an introduction to miniature quilting,I was blown away by “Trip around the World”.No computer for nearly two decades,but so contented to find extras such as a Marbek Angel to adapt to 56silk count.Here I am stuck,gause still in place in cardboard,I lack courage to remove it,I have mini molding among a ‘ton’of mini stuff.So maybe that is to be my chance for this year.All being well,I hope to go to the UK in May,do you know of someone I could post it to to be mounted? I cant post it from here.Alternatively are there direction for doing it myself? I still have very good eyesight and no arthritis. I am 85 yrs,and so enjoy the computer and all the wonderful things in the Miniature World.

    1. Erica Wilson’s designs really made a big impression on me. A few years ago, at a trade show at Birmingham, she suddenly appeared at my trade stand, and bought loads of kits for her shop in New York!! I was really kind of star-struck! My husband didn’t quite understand why I was so amazed by this ‘customer’ – we’d had dozens of other customers all day, so what was so special about this one?! I didn’t get the chance to explain to him until after she’d left the stand – that she was ‘my hero’.
      I’m afraid I don’t know of a place where you could get your stitching mounted – perhaps someone reading this could help?
      Well done for still crafting at the good age of 85!

  6. En Realidad no se como describirlo viendo tanta preciosidad en Miniatura pero en mi país no hay para Realizarlo por lo tanto tengo Colección de Revistas en Miniatura si alguien desea compartir conmigo Revistas a continuación dejo mi Enlace y mi Correo:
    Gracias por compartir tan preciosas Labores en Miniatura les deseo un monton de éxitos para siempre,
    Amistades Ecuatorianas

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