Erich Campbell here. Today, rather than present you with another stock design, I figured I’d give you a couple of stories from my embroidery career to help you to stay strong and stitch on, even when you don’t love your own work at first sight.
For those of you who have seen me in the Embrilliance social media groups or who have followed my commercial embroidery channels, you’ve likely seen some very detailed, difficult-looking pieces of embroidery that I’ve produced. The thing that I always found funny is this: Though I often find folks who love these major pieces of work, most of the work I did as a digitizer was in no way that complicated or beautiful. Most of the work one does in digitizing for the business world consists of small, usually fairly simple, corporate logos. It’s probably why, even now, a really well done letter is more pleasing to me than the ‘masterpieces’ that are most of my followers’ favorites from my sample case. Noticing this split, and dealing with digitizing for others both in-house and on contract for years lead me to the following major truths about making anything, but especially about embroidery.
1. Your favorite work won’t be everyone’s favorite.
Unless you are making something just for yourself (which you should do from time to time, by the way) you are not your audience. This took me years to learn. The kind of things I like are not the kind of things that everyone likes, and my quest for excellent embroidered typography or my love of Viking-age art won’t always translate to my customers or even my family. Below is one of my favorite designs that I’ve done, followed by my wife’s favorite. It turns out that personal taste has a lot to do with it. No matter how hard a piece is to create or how technical it was, no matter how proud I was of the hours of work, I can always count on someone to like something simple, clever, or literally something that just has art that they liked better in the first place, to get all the attention. Don’t let it discourage you or make you discount work that you haven’t found the right audience for yet.
2. You can make outstanding, well-made embroidery of art that you think is ugly.
A customer came to our shop looking for bowling shirts. Not a strange request, but when it got to the embroidery, they were a little concerned we couldn’t make what they wanted. I couldn’t help but immediately take up the challenge. “We can make anything!” The customer didn’t hesitate- “Our team is called the Sloppy Joes. Can you make a Sloppy Joe chasing a bowling pin?” “The sandwich?”, I asked disingenuously. “Yeah, and like, can you make it look angry. . . and make the bowling pin look scared?” “Sure, no problem!” I’m sure I didn’t sound convincing. Off to my desk I went to look for some source material online; but as you might have guessed, there was none. So what do I have to do? You guessed it- I’m looking at pictures of sandwiches with a pencil in my hand. I’m going to draw an angry sandwich, and draw I did. I sketched up a grumpy sandwich, presented it to the customer, and all was approved. I then spent the rest of the afternoon lovingly carving ground beef out of satin stitches and shading a bun before digitizing angry eyes on my marauding foodstuff. Was it beautiful? No way. Did it run well and show technical proficiency? It certainly looked the way I intended it to, and that beef had texture. Did the customer love it? Yes; yes they did.
3. People will love and cherish your work, even when you can see its imperfections.
My first major commercial embroidery was a hat that digitized for a high school’s graduating class. It was awful. The fill stitches were too short, the sequence was bad, and the outlines weren’t quite hitting the mark. It was bad news. Having learned entirely on my own from manuals and studying designs, this being long before the internet would bring us articles or the lovely videos we have from our favorite educators like Lisa Shaw or the explanatory tours through tools we get from Brian, all I could do was hammer away and test, progressing through trial and error. I managed with great difficulty and many ruined caps, to put out a set of decent hats. I would probably have sent them to the reject bin these days, but they looked reasonably enough like the art I was presented. Later I found out that they were well-received and loved by the students. I think back on those hats now, made some 20 years ago, and realize that they have become heirlooms. Those students take these caps out of some dusty closet and think back on the time they graduated, the person that bought them the memento, the friends they had in school- anything but how perfectly the outlines hit the edges of the fills. Even in my commercial work, I’ve done thousands of pieces with personal meaning for the recipients; quilt labels, special jackets for rewards and retirements, monogrammed bridal apparel and gifts, blankets for babies, and memorials for those who have passed. Though I’m proud of the quality I achieve in my work, I’m betting that the odd stray stitch, missed trim, or wobbly letter hasn’t made these pieces less meaningful. Even I have keepsake embroideries from places I’ve been or done by people I care about, and my critical eye for the medium is tempered by my precious memories.
As you embroider your next piece, whether you stitch a stock design, drop a name or monogram on a piece of clothing, or create your own digitized design, be kind to yourself and remember: You might not be the audience for what you are making. You can apply your creativity even to art you don’t understand or enjoy, and what you make doesn’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile or to make wonderful memories for the person who receives it.
Stay strong and stitch on, everyone!