Given the choice, I prefer working by hand, especially when I am embroidering text.
It’s tedious. I need to ice my hands at the end of each day and I've developed callouses on my thumb and forefinger. And all this for what? when a machine could do the job in a quarter of the time it takes me, with perfect results.
But perfection bores me.
Take my favorite piece of embroidery: a little pouch from the town of Boquillas. The pouch (a gift) was made from a discarded piece of foam-backed cotton canvas sewn up with a blanket stitch. The front of the pouch features a cactus felt appliqué while the back is embroidered with the word “Boquillas”. The closure consists of two strips of misaligned velcro.
I have kept that pouch on a side table in my studio and not a day has passed that I haven't picked it up and taken a good look. The blanket stitches are uneven but the maker took care to form a much denser pattern to mark the front edge of the pouch. Each cactus flower features a dark brown center and three of four well-shaped petals of yellow satin stitch. Each cactus thorn has been individually embroidered possibly upside down. But cactus itself spreads luxuriously across the entire front of the pouch.
On the back, one word, “Boquillas”, neither centered nor left-aligned, the letters so misaligned and malformed, it takes time to comprehend them.
I want to know who embroidered this. Why the two extra stitches to shape the letter “B”? Why not take the time to align the letters? Why the lower-case “q” all propped up above everything else? Why “Boquillas” but not the maker’s name?
This lettering is so very far removed from the Etsy and Instagram mix-and-matched orgies of white typefaces on beige background, I can't get enough of it. It's such a relief to finally see something entirely different and arresting, to pause at the uneven trace of the maker’s hand on her work.
My own embroidered words look very different from the Boquillas work. There is a neatness to my handwriting. But no matter how carefully I work, the nature of hand-stitching always results in variations. I get distracted or uptight. I daydream. I am hungry, or hot, or happy. All of this gets reflected, minute to minute, in the marks I make.
To work by hand is to be imperfect. Beautifully so.