Sharon Boggon may have been born stitching – she doesn’t remember being taught, she has just always created with needle and thread. And we reap the benefits of her years of hard work to fine-tune her artistry! Sharon’s embroidery and crazy quilts are inspiring, and she freely shares her knowledge through her books and online community.
Why textiles? Why embroidery? How did you get started?
I don’t actually remember when some sort of fiber related activity was not part of my life. I have early memories of making dolls’ clothes and embroidering a doll’s blanket.
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Like many Australian homes of that time, our house had a timber verandah around it and I remember summer days sitting in the shade of the overhang, stitching. I can not actually remember learning to stitch but I know by 5 I was well underway with both sewing and embroidery.
How do you get inspired for embroidery? Do you plan all of your embroidery projects out ahead? Or do you let the needle and thread guide your journey?
I use a studio journal. Some people track their work in a notebook as they work but a studio journal is slightly different in the sense that not only do you track the work that is in progress but it acts as a catch all for your creative life. Everything goes in there – photos that inspire, scribbles and sketches of ideas, colour schemes, ideas I see online as well as what you are working on. In other words you toss the lot in and all those ideas and activities marinate together, often generating more ideas.
Sometimes, when things are sparking, I will think of two or three things in the day and they all get noted in my studio journal. Even if it is just a scribbled note. If and when I have time, I will return to them, tease out the ideas a bit to see if they take me somewhere.
The main point is that the ideas are captured. Sometimes when working up an idea I will have other offshoot ideas and these paths get noted too. I am never stuck for an idea. In fact I have far too many of them and the trouble is deciding what I want to do next!
Which are your favourite embroidery stitches and how do you use them?
That is hard – often it is the stitch I am exploring at the moment! If a stitch does not work for me I try changing things like the thread I am using – or the fabric. I push them around a bit make them bigger or smaller, change the spacing, etc. Usually there is something to be discovered about them.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery?
I think the main thing is that it is perfectly OK to experiment with stitches. Not everything has to be on the grid or sitting in perfect formation.
I also wanted this book to be a little different from books that are stitch collections, so I have a section that explores how you can create your own variations and patterns with the stitches. There I break the stitches down to their component parts and draw attention to points in the process of construction where a stitch may be changed and adapted to create interesting effects. I call these “play points”. So although the book has directions for 120 stitches, there are numerous improvisations to be explored.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do have a small room that is where I stitch, sketch and make things. It is away from the computer so is very much my space. Recently I have separated my digital life from my stitching life. I know sites like Pinterest, etc. are wonderful for inspiration, but I found I was spending too much time online ogling other peoples wonderful work and not stitching my own!
What is your favourite storage tip for your creative supplies?
I store everything by colour. Usually when I am stitching I think “oh I need a bit of blue to pick it up a bit” so I go looking for something blue; it can be a thread – or a bit of lace or a button or something. Because things are organised by colour I am more likely to discover that bit of ribbon that is the right colour for the project. So I add it. If it had not been sitting in the blue basket I would not have discovered it or thought of it.
Sometimes people ask “How did you think to use that?” To be honest it is because I tripped over it in the basket that stored everything else of that colour.
What are your must-have supplies for your embroidery projects?
I keep it simple. Lots of interesting thread – that’s the thing that can get the creative juices going. After that fabric, and I like beads but they are extras.
I suppose my one absolute must-have is good light. If I can’t see what I am doing, I don’t enjoy stitching.
Hoop? Or no hoop? Why?
Yes, I use a hoop for everything. For me much of embroidery is about controlling the tension of each stitch. A hoop enables me to do that without thinking about it. But I understand some people do not like hoops and I would never insist on a student using one if it makes the experience of stitching awkward and difficult.
I always say do what makes you happy. It is far more important to enjoy stitching than to get everything perfect. So for me a hoop is highly recommended.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I listen to the radio quite a bit, our ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commision) which plays a little music but mainly airs programs about current affairs etc. I also listen to podcasts. There are more and more stitching related podcasts that I am enjoying. But other topics are current affairs, philosophy, and increasingly theology.
I also listen to audio books. At the moment I am listening to many literary classics that I read in my 20s. Returning to them now via audio book is interesting. Some I loved in my 20s, and I can’t understand what I saw in them. Others I did not understand when I was younger and I am now re-discovering them.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
Formal education drives much in my work and enriches the mental texture of my life. Education of any sort NEVER gets in the way.
How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one creative project at a time?
At one stage I used to work on between 1-3 projects at a time, but recently that has changed. I think my work is changing, and I am exploring a few different styles at the moment, so have more than that on the go. I have just counted my current projects and I have 9 things on the go.
UFOs: taunts from the shadows or lessons learned?
I don’t think of them as UFOs! If I have not picked them up for a year or so I recut them or put them in my studio journal.
Often the idea was good but for some reason they were not realised. There was a problem in some way that meant the project hit a stall point. They were started off on the wrong fabric or I did not like the colour or it was the wrong technique – I try to figure out what is to be learnt from it. I record that in my journal and put either the project in my journal or a sample of it. If it is too big a project, the rest hits the bin and I move on. Life is too short to battle with stuff that is not working for you.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
I think creativity can be taught but much of our society knocks it out of people. People also have some silly ideas about being perfect – or aiming for perfection. Don’t bother with that path as it is a creativity killer. Nothing and no one is perfect – accept it and move on to do the best you can.
Many people want to have a skill instantly. My husband plays the violin and people say how talented he is. It is not talent – he has practiced every day for 40 years!
I have daughter who is a circus performer (trapeze, wire walking, hooping). People say how talented she is and how fortunate she is to earn her living from performance. It is not talent – she has trained every day since she was a child. It has been hard work.
I don’t believe in innate talent at all. It is a huge myth. People develop skills that enhance creativity. People develop skills that enable them to express that creativity.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
I would suggest people start thinking of their life as a huge exploration of what is possible. It is very easy now with the internet. Many short economical courses are offered online. There are loads of free resources online, too. Explore these resources until you find something you are good at. Something that sparks you and then do more of that thing. Discover your strength and really build on that.
Do more and more and more of what you love. Too many people look at a weakness and say, “oh I must improve on that”. But that is just a way to feed the internal critic. Develop what you are good at, take another course on what you are good at, what you naturally lean towards and excel at that. Keep pushing that aspect and get better. Challenges can help, but a do a challenge that looks fun. Don’t do one because you feel you have to. Once you gain confidence, then tackle a so-called “weakness”, but only one “weakness”. After that, go away and explore 10 things that are your strength and then people will say, “oh you are so talented”. You are not, it is the work you have put in and you have had the sense to nurture who you are.
Tell us about your websites. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
Pintangle has loads of resources for people who are interested in hand embroidery and crazy quilting. It houses a large online collection of stitches too. I also run Take a Stitch Tuesday (TAST), a weekly stitchers challenge from the site, too.
Interview with Sharon Boggon posted November 2020