In this space, I make it a practice to never suggest anything I would not try myself. So after attending a number of 2020 Zoom-based arts events, I decided it was time to give Zoom-based arts and crafts workshops a try. Our community is lucky to have a range of free or low-cost options (more about this later) for those interested in exploring anything from collage to watercolor. As I looked around for something that would work with my deadline, I saw that Lisa Connery (aka Katina von Beaverhausen) of Crass Stitching was offering a two-session workshop. Having been a fan of Connery's work for a long time, I immediately signed up and reached out to see if she'd be amenable to my writing about my experience and sharing it here. Happily, she said yes. What follows is an overview of what I did, what I learned, and what surprised me. My fellow particapants, who shall remain anonymous, have my sincere thanks for all that they contributed to my overall experience. What follows is part-blog, part FAQ, and part interview. I hope that it inspires you to find your own best Zoom-learnng experience.
After registering, I took a brief look at the materials list and decided that rather than pick up the suggested kit, I would make due with what I had at home. Months ago, inspired by the explosion of cross (and "crass") stitching across social media, I purchased a basic kit but it remained undone. The instructions were terrible, the needles were missing, and as it had been years since I had done any type of needle craft, I stopped and put it away. Connery's Zoom class offered an opportunity for redemption.
Photo by Debra Domal
The first one-hour session was comprised of both intermediate and beginning/returning stitchers like myself. Promoted with a self-care theme, participants could create their own projects (more about this in a minute) depending on what type of pattern design got them to their happy place. For some it was a soothing design of leaves or flowers, and for others, it was a chance to let off steam in true Crass Stitching style. If you've seen the dumpster-fire 2020 patterns, you know what I'm talking about.
My ability to achieve Zen would have been greatly aided had I taken more time to prepare (e.g. review the stitch vocabulary and pattern making tips in the handout). So, reader, this is a clear case of do as I say, not as I do. Even i you are just in it for fun, front-loading your chill with some planning and prep is definitely the way to go. The majority of Session 1 was spent reviewing materials, pattern making basics, and a tour through the many online tools (some of which are even free). This info was pure crafter's gold.
Photo by Debra Domal
Photo by Debra Domal
Being in Connery's Zoom presence is akin to hanging with the coolest chick in school. With a brand-based deeply in irreverence and irony, Connery is smart, funny, and self-depricating. She is also warm, accessible, and extremely helpful. With any other instructor, my anxiety over counting all of the squares when making and referencing a pattern would have sent me into a deep math-phobia spiral. The fact that Connery shared stories of her own mishaps was deeply comorting and contributed to our communal Zen vibe. In short, pattern making is hard, time-consuming, and yes, sometimes frustrating. Accept that and move on. Don't let it shut you down.
Image from Crass Stitching's Facebook page
As it happened, these two sessions bookmarked the tail end of the Trump Administration and the beginning of the Biden-Harris Administration. There was a tangible difference in the vibe. And this was mirrored in the patterns we talked about. Dumpster fires had been replaced by quotes from Amanda Gorman and Bernie Sanders mittens.
Crass Stitching created this pattern, which, in honor of young women poets of color, is available for the price of a donation to The Writers of Oya. Find out more on the CS Facebook link below,
We had a week between classes in which were to complete and begin implementing our patterns of choice. Our second session was more of an informal show and tell/troubleshooting session. Sharing was optional, a relief for me, considering two many pattern options coupled with little time and a deep streak of perfectionism had let me patternless. But, I showed up anyone. I observed. I praised. I asked questions and I owned up to my case of "crafting block." But I was not alone in my self-criticism. After seeing too many of us, apologize for "not doing enough" or "just doing this," one brave participant told us that we had to have a new rule. No more self-criticism. Zoom mic-drop moment. We all took a breath and agreed. This was perhaps one of the best moments I've shared during this pandemic. I felt lighter and I felt ready to stitch. It was fascinating to learn how other participants found their stitch bliss. Some found it in making gits for loved ones. Others found in bold and biting words, and still others by returning to a long forgotten craft enjoyed with mothers and grandmothers. Despite everything we've been through this past year, people still seek out ways to create, to share, and to find some semblance of peace.
Among the many pearls of wisdom Connery shared, are:
- Working with a hoop is optional. Stitching closer to the edge in a larger-square pattern is AOK.
- Thread/embroidery floss comes with several strands wound together. Choose your number of strands wisely. Use more for key elements. Think of it like typographical emphasis. And speaking of type, watch your spacing and triple check for stitch typos.
- Be creative. Try using watercolors to add color and texture to your work. Hint: you can also use it to "hide" any mishaps.
- "Mistakes" are part of the process and often remain overlooked. Perfection is not the point. As my fellow Bridgerton fans will agree, Marina Thompson's embroidery was flawless. A lot of good that did her. Meanwhile Daphne Bridgerton's canvas looked "like a battefield." So go ahead, leave your back-of-canvas ends as they are. Be passionate. Stitch away your frustrations. Be a Daphne.
A word about value and how hard makers work
- In case I didn't make it clear before, pattern making is hard and requires skill and a great deal of time. Consider purchasing a pattern from a local maker. And yes, you can get some from Crass Stitching. Taking a workshop like this is one way to learn the value of what local makers do. So next time you see a price on a pattern or a completed piece of fiber art, don't question it. Pay it with a smile You are likely getting a deal considering what went into creating it.
Tips for Zoom-based learning of hands-on skills
- Prepare your space, your lighting and your tools
- Review any handouts
- If you are logging on from a shared space, find a quiet spot where you can close the door, get some quiet and (hopefully) be free of interruption. Some interruptions are necessary, but many are not.
- Set your goal, determine your level of time/energy commitment and be realistic about it
- Unless this is work or school-related, leave your judgment (and self-judgment) at the door
My a-ha moment and other important takeaways
Photo by Debra Domal
The same wise participant who put the kibosh on all the self-doubt was also responsible for another unexpected gift. Sharing her own work, she said she preferred to "doodle" with her stitching. Mind-blowing moment number two. Her openness, her commitment to self-care via judgment free improv, gave me the permission I needed to bring my own long-time love of pen and ink doodling to the hoop.
So days later, here I am. It's a start, but it's a start in the right direction. One I can follow without less fear of failure. I'm working on what I learned at the hoop to the rest of my life.
Photo by Debra Domal
After our first session, Connery was kind enough to "stay after class" and take a few of my questions about her work, teaching on line, and the movement that is craft and "crass" stiAnd now, Here's what she had to say.
Smile Politely: What are tips for makers looking to learn online?
Lisa Connery: YouTube! Join Facebook groups, follow Instagram artists you love! I’ve been seeing a ton of artists posting how-to videos during lockdown. Reach out and ask your favorite artists for their favorite resources. Heck, I always tell folks in my classes to just reach out to me if they have questions, I don’t believe in hoarding skills—they’re meant to be shared! I’ve also heard good things about Domestika but I haven’t tried it myself.
SP: How have you adapted your workshops for Zoom?
Connery: I’ve had to fiddle quite a bit with how to show the work on screen, which is challenging, but when it’s working smoothly, it’s actually better than what I’ve done in in-person classes because everyone can see, rather than me having to go around from person to person or table by table. That also poses a reverse issue where I can’t easily troubleshoot because I can’t see a person’s piece clearly, but what’s nice with Zoom is that people can chat in the sidebar and help each other work it out. It definitely makes you have to think 3 steps ahead to make sure that you have everything you need for the video so it’s made me have to be a bit more organized.
SP: Are there any advantages or nice surprises to teaching via Zoom?
Connery: I think because people can just pop in, it’s less of a time commitment so maybe that means more people come to them, but I only have one in person class to compare to so it’s hard to say. Personally, I think I prefer to have these in person because I’m a really social person, but I am also a little intense so it might make them more accessible for folks who might be a bit put off by my personality, lol. Not having to get too dolled up is definitely a perk! That Zoom filter is my best friend.
SP: Cross stitching has been blowing up lately. Why do you think that is? What makes it so popular? Is it the Zen aspect you hint at in these workshops?
Connery: I think a lot of arts that are considered to be traditionally “female” have blown up due to a lot of things, but most likely because people finally have the time. I think every fiber art is fairly time consuming and before COVID, who had the time to sit and stitch for 4 hours? All of the sudden, folks were at home with that craft they swore they’d make time for and now they have nothing BUT time and they caught the creating bug. Craftivism is also top of my mind (how many people learned to knit because they wanted their own pussy hats?). Also, the fact that it seems like people are not feeling like they have to keep things traditional and they seem to enjoy the nostalgia of cross stitching.
So someone who maybe learned to stitch in Girl Scouts might not want to make some doily, but maybe they do want to make something that says “Smash the Patriarchy.” I think cross stitch, specifically, is incredibly calming (when your thread isn’t tangling or you miscount!). What you see on the pattern is what you’re going to get on the fabric. It’s like when everyone was going nuts over coloring books, but it’s just a slightly different technique and medium. In terms of hobbies, it’s also pretty low cost to try out. I can’t tell you how many new hobbies I’ve invested in, only to box up all the supplies to drop off at the IDEA Store when I just am not that into it.
See examples of Crass Stitching's irreverent gems in the gallery below.