little & often

Since I began co-tutoring an online Slow Stitch for Wellbeing course last June, I have re-discovered the joy and pleasure of hand sewing.

As a textile artist, most of my work over the past 25 or so years has been by machine. Which I love, but there is something special about slowing down and picking up a needle and thread. I did crewel embroidery kits as a young girl, then had a brief foray into cross stitch in my mid-20s. Since then, I didn’t do much sewing at all by hand.

During our 6 session course, each week, I speak about a different topic such as the History and Manifesto of the Slow Stitch Movement, wabi-sabi (the Japanese aesthetic of embracing imperfection), the Psychology of Colour and using Stitch as a Meditative Practice. My teaching partner demonstrates some stitches and we all sew together for the remainder of the session. At the end of the course, we show how to sew all of our sampler pieces of fabric into a Book of Stitches.

I find that when I teach, I don’t always have the time to actually do the coursework, but I think that after nearly a year of teaching Slow Stitch I may just have enough fabric pages to assemble a book!

In January I chose ‘pause‘ for my word for 2021.

My current manta is ‘little and often’. This counteracts my tendency to be ‘All of Nothing’ which uses up tons of energy and often sets me up for failure.

My fabric ‘page’ shows Threaded Running & Whip Stitch, Fly Stitch, Straight Stitch, Satin Stitch, Feather Stitch, French Knot, Couching, Back Stitch & Bullion Stitch.

I would also like to apply this practice of ‘little and <more> often’ to writing blog posts. 🙂

Finding order in chaos

Since lockdown I have been mostly at home, except for my daily walks around the neighborhood.   Home is a safe place and we have pretty much cleaned, tidied and re-organized every room and storage space which is very satisfying!

Quite a few people have said to me ‘This is great for you!  You’re an artist.  You will have so much time to make artwork!!’  But I haven’t really had the energy or headspace to concentrate on making very much new artwork.  What has been keeping me grounded and satisfying my artist self has been organizing all of the beautiful colored art supplies in my studio.


I have a LOT of fabric, collected over 25 years of quilting.  It’s been sorted by color and piled into big plastic boxes.  It was so great to dump each box onto my studio floor, fold each piece and arrange them by hue or tone before putting them back into the box.  I cut some strips of cardboard to divide them into rows which should help keep them tidy.  I also got re-acquainted with my fabric, thought about the quilts that they are now part of, and have had some initial thoughts about future work.  I have been enjoying the red, black and white palette that has comprised so much of my work for the past few years, but now feel ready to work with more colors.



Likewise, I sorted my sequins.

One of the most exciting things has been getting a rainbow’s worth of embroidery thread.  I’ve not been much of a hand embroiderer/sewer over the past 25 years, preferring the speed of using my sewing machine.

One of the online courses I have been co-tutoring is Slow Stitch for Wellbeing.  After we check-in, I  speak to the group about a different topic each session:  the philosophy of the Slow Stitch Movement, the importance of working with our hands, wabi-sabi, and letting go of perfection.  Then my teaching partner shows us a hand stitch or two.  Finally, we all stitch silently together.

I found a very exciting tutorial on how to label plastic floss cards!  Every day for about a week I spent time winding thread onto my bobbins and sorting them by color.  So satisfying and rewarding!

I am also a core artist in the Quarantine Quilt Project.  I made a 7″ square which represents feelings, responses and/or experiences to the pandemic.

I arranged 16 squares of different colored fabric onto a grey square and slow stitched over most of them.  The Anchor thread label represents how I have been grounded and anchored through the process of sorting and organizing my fabric and art supplies over the past several weeks.  The birds represent Steve and I, unbound and unfettered, safely enclosed but with space to fly out when we’d like to.

I hope that each of you are finding whatever you need to get you through this time in the best way possible.

On the road again

Well now, I thought I’d written about this next piece two years ago when I started making it.

Working title for a work in progress: The Road to Oklahoma
It is about being torn apart, partings from, partings through, bloodline, arrival, departure, the long straight road that cuts through the land.

September 2015

The base is made from undyed fleece from a Whiteface Dartmoor sheep needle felted onto black acrylic felt. Torn red silk dupioni stitched down with white bugle beads bisects the road.  I machine stitched a sinuous Mississippian riverine motif along the left hand side.

The back side tells a story too.

It has been hanging on my design wall since 2015.  A couple of weeks ago, I have come back to work on it.

I made some gorgets from paper clay.  The original ones would have been carved from whelk shells by the Mississippian ancestors of the Mvskoke.

I stitched them to the top right hand side of the piece with red thread,

but then decided to change to cream thread.  The metal disc is the cremation remains disc from my father’s ashes.

On the lower left side is another Mississippian gorget, printed onto organza of a Red Stick warrior.  This represents and honours my Mvskoke ancestors who lived in what is now the state of Alabama until we were ‘removed’ to Indian Territory in the 1830’s.  We were called Upper Creeks by the European invaders to differentiate us from the Lower Creeks who had settled in what is now Georgia.

This is also about my dad Frank Charles Schwakhofer, who was born in Muscogee, Oklahoma in 1919.  Because he was half Muscogee (Creek) and half white, he never felt like he fit in anywhere.  Both the white and the Indian kids called him a ‘half breed’. He never learned to speak Creek, but he could understand it.  He left home as soon as he could.  First, riding the freight trains out to California in the mid 1930’s when he was 16.  Then when he got older, he always had a car.  He drove off and never looked back.

I printed a map with the city of Muscogee in the middle onto cotton organza.  This map is from 1905, when it was still Indian Territory, soon to become the state of Oklahoma.  I hand embroidered the roads in red thread and sewed a gold bead right smack on top of Muscogee.  The photo of my dad, also printed onto organza, is from June 1955. On the road somewhere.

an Indian and his car