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Hand embroidery and mindfulness

Yoga, meditation and all things wellness seem to have become part of our everyday lives over recent years. Especially in this past year of lockdowns and uncertainty, where it’s never been more important to look after our mental health. But there’s one other ‘ness’ that comes to complete the list – mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

For some, it may feel like a bit of a buzzword, but it’s actually an ancient idea that has a relatively simple meaning. Now, I’m no expert, so I won’t be going into the full-on details, but for anyone who needs a quick reminder of what mindfulness actually is, according to the super popular meditation app and site Headspace it’s “the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment”. Any resource you find will tell you the many benefits it can have on the mind and body, from increased positivity and compassion, to more focus and an overall better sense of well-being. It can even sometimes help with chronic pain management according to some sources. You may have noted that I said relatively simple when describing its meaning, because I think most of us will agree that being present is actually much harder than it sounds! And that’s where hand embroidery comes into it all. For me, I really feel like time spent stitching is a key part of my own practice of working towards this type of present feeling. Like I said before, I’m not an expert, but I thought that I’d share my personal experience when it comes to mindfulness and hand embroidery in the hopes that I might help others.

Patterns require presence

I feel like many embroiderers will agree that there are few things that will help you stay rooted in the moment and paying close attention like following a pattern! Unless you’re working on an abstract, free-sewing project, then chances are you want to make sure that every single stitch is perfect and in the right place. And to do that, you need to stay present. Now, I know some people like to stitch while they’re watching a series or listening to a podcast, but I do sometimes find that they end up being too distracting and leading to mistakes. Really following a pattern requires full presence!

a photo of a mandala embroidery design

Repetition as meditation

That being said, a pattern requiring presence doesn’t necessarily mean that it's super complicated. Sometimes they’re super simple and just require a lot of the same stitch over and over again, like a large patch of satin stitch or French knots, for example. In these cases, I find you can almost get into a meditative state and get lost in the repetition. You can just go into a stitch zone and tune out from everything else going on around you!

a photo of an embroidery needle poking through an embroidery design

You set aside time

One thing that comes up time and time again when you hear people talking about yoga and meditation practices that can lead to greater mindfulness is the idea of setting aside time and eventually forming a habit. And I think the same can totally apply to a mindful embroidery practice. Instead of setting aside time to be on your mat, you can dedicate a moment to be with your hoop. A moment to focus and try to execute your stitches to the best of your ability. It doesn’t have to be a long time - starting with even 5-10 minutes of stitching per day could be all it takes. What makes this feel even more achievable is that embroidery is the type of project that can be picked up and put down as often as you like. You don’t have to do the whole thing in one go. As you go on, a little bit of stitching every day can easily become a habit that keeps you in the present.

Creativity is a release

Engaging with creative outlets in general can be a great help for mental health. It can reduce stress and aid self-expression, among other things. I’m sure most embroiders, knitters, painters or writers could already tell you that, but a quick online search will also show you a growing amount of research-based evidence that supports what long term crafters have known all along. I know for certain that the time spent designing patterns, browsing colour options, choosing combinations and just simply stitching away, pretty much always leads to me feeling in a better place afterwards. (A few resources that helped me here and might be of interest if you want to delve deeper: mental health charity Mindwise, Psychology Today, Calmmoment)

It tests/teaches patience

I’m convinced that every embroiderer has done it – gone in all guns blazing on a new technique or tried to stitch too fast because they want to crack on and get a piece done. And I bet nine times out of ten they’ve ended up up with mistakes or tangled threads. I know I’ve certainly done it! And it’s definitely no fun. Unpicking stitches or cutting out knots that have reached the point of no return is a huge lesson in slowing down, staying present and being mindful as you stitch.

It reduces screen time

Another one here where I’m sure I’m not alone. Now, more than ever, I find myself mindlessly scrolling on Instagram or the news, taking in way too much information. And, sometimes, not even taking anything in at all! Whenever I find myself “doom scrolling” like this, I try to put my screen away immediately, pick up a hoop and step into a present that’s a whole lot more pleasant. Of course, that’s not always possible if I’m actually meant to be working – because, real talk, we all scroll elsewhere when we’re meant to be working! – but I find that even having that awareness and realisation is helpful. I’ll then make sure to do some crafting later in the day when I have the time.

As I’ve already mentioned in the intro, I’m not a pro when it comes to mindfulness, just a person who’s trying to learn, practice and take care of my mental health like the rest of us! For any deeper details, it’s always best to consult professionals when it comes to mental health. But I really feel that sharing personal experiences can be so helpful, and I hope this insight into my mindfulness practice can help add another option to your own tool kit. Everyone will have a different way of connecting with the present. For me, that’s embroidery. And you never know – it might be for you, too! I’d love to hear any other ways you practice mindfulness and creativity. Do let me know in the comments.

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