I’m in the middle of a course of sleep therapy and it’s affecting everything, even my creative projects. I decided early in August that I wanted to make a cross-stitch sampler of sayings to help me remember important insights I’ve had about my writing process, so I got out my embroidery hoop, canvas, and floss. I made an effort to find graph paper with much smaller squares than normal, so I could chart my designs, because cross-stitching mottos requires planning. But does it?

I ask, because so far I’ve been unable to plan anything. My vision is a collection of quotes in an irregular grid with elaborate and colorful borders as a framework, so I started by collecting and creating some border designs I might use. Instead of drafting them out, I stitched them. I felt like I couldn’t really see the designs when they were symbols on paper, and thought it wouldn’t take long to test them out. I spent a month on my experiment, which has become a project of its own. As the cloth filled up, I became more interested in finding patterns to fit the remaining gaps than in finding cool patterns for my sampler.

The piece still qualifies as an experiment because it was not entirely successful. For example, I was excited when I found a chart for a Canada goose, but when I tried to replicate it using the recommended colors, I didn’t like the results. (Note: I didn’t use the exact colors given, so the failure of the pattern may have been my poor substitutions.) I tried to fix it by adding more and more thread in different colors. While I like it better than I did, I still don’t like it much. I may try again with completely different colors to match the geese I see in my yard.

When I had filled my cloth, I realized I wanted to keep stitching, but I still didn’t want to plan. So I picked a few colors I liked and improvised. Instead of sketching on paper, I drew part of the design right on the cloth, then stitched over the lines, until it looked the way I wanted. I repeated the section to get a symmetrical design.

It’s inefficient — more than once I’ve changed my mind, backed up, and ripped out something that didn’t look right. And it’s easy to make mistakes, because I’m not charting out the bits that need repeating, but “reading” them right off my piece.

Keeping my hands busy enough to keep me awake is important right now. I have to find activities that are relaxing but don’t allow me to fall asleep, and cross-stitch is working. But because my fatigue is so intense, actually charting out a design and following it feels too hard to face.

Which brings me back to my question: can I improv stitch my quotes? My guess is yes, if I’m willing to undo my mistakes, because there’s no way I’m not going to make some. Making lettering that is readable requires careful thought. If nothing else, I need to decide on the gridded frame so I know the area allowed for each quote.

But I’m not actually in a hurry to try it. I had so much fun making up this floral starburst that I’m tempted to do another. I could do a quote experiment and try my improv method to see what improvisational lettering is like. I might replicate the pattern I just invented in completley different colors. Or I could start another completely random, what-do-I-feel-like-stitching-today? design. I guess it will depend on how I feel when I pick up my hoop.

Are you a planner, an improviser, or do you do some of both? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

2 thoughts on “How My Insomnia Lead to Improvised Cross-Stitch”

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