I was recently rootling through Penny Nickels’ blog, Donkeywolf. If you’re not aware of the work of Penny Nickels, you really should be. She’s a kick-ass embroiderer, lace maker, printmaker and all-round creative bomb.
Back in 2010 (I’m really on the ball here) she posted an article on “The Pattern is Dead, Long Live the Pattern”, in which she said,
“At the risk of pissing off a large portion of the needlework community, I'm going to go ahead and speak my mind. Commercial patterns = Paint by Numbers.”
“I guess my point is, needlework takes a tremendous amount of time. Do we want to spend that kind of effort on a pattern that everyone else is doing? And if we're not going to do our own work, why don't we pick something unusual?”
Big fat YES. Sorry if you love your commercial patterns, but I just can’t be doing with them. I used them when I was learning to cross stitch as a teenager – I’d buy those little packs with the embroidery floss colours already chosen for you to sew your country cottage or hedgerow flowers or whatever. But I got bored of those pretty quickly, and started to make my own patterns from illustrations. There’s some pics of these teenage cross-stitches here – I was an odd teenager.
In her post, Penny asks why we don’t use brilliant illustrations and art to create patterns – I love her embroideries of Haeckel drawings. They’re not cute, conventional or dull. They’re extraordinary, and the fact they’re rendered into stitch gives an extra dimension to the design.
Making your own patterns – whether it’s from your own art or someone else’s - is more creatively fulfilling than following a commercial pattern! At the end of her post, Penny challenges us not to embroider cute kitties, but to take on Louis Wain’s cats. I did this a couple of years ago, for Mr P. He loves Louis Wain, and introduced me to his art. I couldn’t afford to buy him an original painting so I decided to embroider a couple of cats. Here’s my cat with a violin and cat with a banjo (both done chiefly in satin stitch). They were great fun to embroider, and I love the finished pieces.