Finishing Emboidery: What Should It Be?

After yesterday’s Finish It In ’14 stitchinar, Val commented that one of the hardest parts of finishing embroidery was deciding what a piece should be.

My brain pounced on that and hasn’t let go.

An Artist’s Perspective

Replica of Michelangelo's David

This is a replica of Michelangelo’s David. I never saw a replica of the Four Prisoners, and the Accademia didn’t allow photos of the originals, so this is as close as I can get to an appropriate illustration.

First, it conjures a notion sculptors and writers and many other artists have: the idea that works of art have lives of their own, that they come to an artist from without rather than within. Michelangelo’s prisoners relates this idea beautifully. The sculptures show people climbing out of marble blocks. Some people question whether Michelangelo considered the pieces finished because they appear unfinished, but I believe they are as complete as Michelangelo intended. He felt that these things, the prisoners, existed on their own inside the rock, and his job was simply to release them, chip and file away what wasn’t supposed to be there.

I’ve experienced a similar feeling when writing. A character will “take over” a story, and it feels as though the story writes itself. I will sit down to write with no plan of what I’m going to write about, and then suddenly it’s three hours later, and I’ve written a chapter that seems to have come from nowhere but is obviously what needed to happen next.

My Perspective

I am too literal and practical to believe that an artist’s work comes from outside; I believe it comes from inside the writer or artist. I believe our unconscious brains have been working on them, unbeknownst to our conscious brains, and when the opportunity arose, the ideas poured out.

Michelangelo seemed to feel that a piece of marble should be whatever shape or art was trapped inside. From this perspective, a piece of embroidery should likewise be whatever it was intended to be. It could have a purpose of its own and our job is simply to reveal that purpose.

Except that’s not generally my literal and practical perspective. To me, there is no “should” for a piece of embroidery that comes from without; embroidery should be whatever I want it to be.

Embroidery: A Life of Its Own

That said, I have had random stitched doodles seem to ignite ideas, which can feel like an external influence, as though the embroidery has taken on a life of its own. For instance, in playing with the heart design in Do You See What I See? I discovered a second optical illusion that I hadn’t intended. Where did that come from?

And the DNA bookmark was a stitch-test doodle then a failed bracelet before it occurred to me that it should be a bookmark. To someone with Michelangelo’s perspective, that DNA bookmark might simply have been what it is, and I was trying to force it to be something it wasn’t. That is, the embroidery should have been a DNA bookmark, not the bracelet that I wanted it to be.


Twisting, 3D, embroidered bookmarks.

DNA Bookmarks. I haven’t written up the pattern yet, but I might if you pester me.

Even though I don’t believe a piece of embroidery has an inherent purpose—i.e., this embroidery was meant to be a pillow—I do believe an embroidery’s natural properties can suggest good uses. I decided the DNA bookmark should be DNA because I love science and have a science background. I decided it should be a bookmark because I was in the thick of Stitching for Literacy, and I was seeing bookmarks everywhere. It was a perfect fit. I felt in my bones that that failed bracelet was actually a successful DNA bookmark.

Last month, when I looked at one of those DNA bookmarks I thought, “Huh. Stitched in red and white, that could be a twisted candy cane, kind of a ribbon-candy-cane combo for a holiday ornament. Or, stitched in silver, white, and blue, with lots of metallic thread, it might be an icicle.”

Double blanket stitch test

The DNA Bookmark started as a doodle for testing a double blanket stitch. I tried to make it a bracelet, but that ultimately failed. Eventually, it became a bookmark, and I liked it.

So should those twisty stitched bits be DNA, ribbon candy canes, or icicles? Does something within the embroidery choose, or do I choose, or do you choose?

I believe you and I choose for ourselves and our embroidery. Those decisions come from within us. You’re welcome to think otherwise, but this is my answer. So there.

Deciding What Your Embroidery Should Be

So how do you go about deciding what your embroidery should be in the end? How do you feel in your bones that you’ve made the right choice?

The first thing you’re going to have to do is trust your gut. Have faith in the process, your instincts, and your creative self. Then give it some thought; ask yourself these questions:

Who is this for? Whether it’s for you or someone else, think about the person who will ultimately receive the embroidery. What this person likes and does will suggest finishing options. If she’s a cook, maybe it should be something for the kitchen. If he’s a big reader, maybe it should be bookish, a bookmark or book bag or e-reader cover. If she’s an animal lover, maybe it should be something for her pets.

Will it be functional or decorative? Though all embroidery is decorative, some is for looking at only (pictures, hangings, ornaments) while others are on objects that are used or handled (barrettes, napkin rings, containers).

Consider the kinds of finishing you’ve seen. Does anything stand out as a great match?

Go to a needlework/craft shop, visit your favorite embroidery websites, or search for embroidery blanks online. What catches your eye?

Finally, if you’re still stumped, ask yourself what you’d like to learn or what kind of finished product sounds like the most fun to you right now. When in doubt, let fun rule the day. “Fun” is always a great choice.

How do you decide what a piece of embroidery should be?

2 Responses to “Finishing Emboidery: What Should It Be?”

  1. What an interesting comparison. I am so intimidated by embroidery that I just remain in awe at the work others turn out.

    January 12, 2014 @ 4:30 pm
  2. Jen

    Don’t be intimidated, Gee Zee. I think embroidery is mostly a repetition of simple steps and stitches. Do you do any stitching with your scrapping?

    January 12, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

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