Tuesday, 13 January 2015

In which I embroider (and review a Craftsy embroidery class)

Over the last few weeks I've finished a few small projects that involved some element of simple embroidery, mainly just tote bags. The more I did, the more I realized that actually, I have no real idea what I am doing with embroidery beyond the absolute basics and a couple of tiny sashiko projects that I made at the end of 2013.

I considered buying a book to help fill in my knowledge gaps -- and I probably still will, in fact, buy one or more embroidery books -- but in the meantime I had another resource available to me. In my round-up of my 2014 spending on craft projects, I mentioned that over the last few years I have bought but never used several Craftsy classes and, as I had concluded that they were poor value for money, I had sworn off buying any more. The last one I bought before I made this decision was "Design It, Stitch It: Hand Embroidery" presented by Jessica Marquez, which I had never even started. From memory, I saw this reviewed extensively on someone's blog (probably someone who got paid by Craftsy for the doing so) and because this whole embellishment/embroidery thing has been rumbling along on my wish list of things to try for quite a long time, I bought it when it next came up cheap in one of Craftsy's (many) sales. (I should add that I am in no way affiliated, paid by, or even a fan of Craftsy. I'm not going to link to Craftsy/the class directly so that there's no question about this.)
My set of ineptly embroidered samplers
At any rate, when I decided I needed to try out some embroidery stitches this last week or so, this seemed like a good chance to get some use from the class. I therefore spent a few days making like a ye olden days schoolgirl and doing some simple samplers according to a template provided by the Craftsy class, making extensive use of the videos.

Sampler 1: Flat stitches (I really liked the multicoloured stitches in the middle)

The class is divided into five lessons, each of which deals with a group of stitches and has a sampler attached, plus a class on designing your own simple embroidery templates. The stitches are (from left to right) flat/straight stitches, chain stitches, knitted stitches, cross stitches and fill stitches. You're encouraged at the end to turn your samplers into a tiny mini quilt thing for framing but, uh, no.

Sampler 2: Chain stitches (I really liked the couching stitch and the bottom and the daisies)
I used plain unbleached calico as my base and alternated between stitching with polyester embroidery thread on a spool (the lilac thread) that I erroneously bought a couple of years ago and various random skeins of embroidery thread left over from a cross-stitch kit gifted to me when I was 11. Since I turn 40 this year, this latter will tell you something about (a) my level of hoardery, but also (b) my level of organization, since I was immediately able to put my hands on the small tin box in which I stored said skeins of embroidery thread at least 25 years ago when I finally abandoned the half-finished cross-stitch thing. I also had a wooden embroidery frame left over from that same project that I used. I also had some embroidery needles that came in a box of assorted needles when I first started sewing. So my overall costs for trying this out were very low just because I happened to have hoarded carefully preserved so many hitherto useless pieces of equipment and thread.

Sampler 3: Knotted Stitches (I like how some of these look, but omg, I hated doing them)
 Overall, I found the samplers straight forward to use and quite entertaining to try. There are several stitches I immediately loved, especially some of the chain stitches, couching and some of the cross stitch variations. I liked the knotted stitches least as they were time consuming and went wrong all the time, and were impossible to fix once they had gone wrong. The fill stitches (satin stitch and the like) were also time consuming but look really good when you're finished (except my Cretan stitch, which is at the bottom of the sampler on the far right, which went so very wrong and I hated it).

Sampler 4: Cross stitches. (I liked the stars and the multi-coloured stitch best)

As far as the Craftsy class itself is concerned, I found that the presenter was actually very good. She's very clear and gets a good balance between showing what she is doing and talking about it. She also makes mistakes/fumbles a bit in places but what's good is that she talks about how to fix the little problems that come up as you embroider (like the skein working loose, or thread getting pulled in from the back). I actually found her soothing to watch because she seems much more comfortable with being silent than many Craftsy presenters, who seem to feel the need to fill the empty air with a lot of useless words. She does shill for her book quite a bit, though, and she needed to find new words other than graphic and textural since she says both about a million times.

Sampler 5, Fill Stitches (with terrible, TERRIBLE Cretan stitch at the bottom in blue)
As I was stitching the samplers I found myself weighing up the difference between the class and buying an embroidery book. With a book, I'd have had a more permanent and accessible record of how to do each type of stitch, and for the price I paid for it I could have bought a much more comprehensive guide to embroidery stitches. That said, it was definitely easier sometimes to see someone doing the stitch than look at diagrams, especially when you're first starting out with something like chain stitch, which I had not done before. Every subsequent variation on a theme is much easier when you've seen the first, basic stitch demonstrated.

I am not really walking back from my original position that Craftsy classes have mostly been a waste of money for me, given that I made such limited use of the classes I've bought. However, I am actually pretty happy with this particular class and how I was able to use it. I don't doubt I could have replicated the content with various free YouTube videos, but the pre-packaged content of the class and sampler templates was very convenient and easy to follow. I think the big problem with the YouTube approach is that you have to know what it is you don't know in order to look for the content. Since I was starting from scratch, this was far easier.

In the end, my conclusion is rather specific: if you can get the class in one of the Craftsy sales, you have very little embroidery experience and don't really know where to start, I actually consider this particular class to offer decent value, not least because the presenter is clear and her presentation style is easy to watch.


  1. Thanks for the review! I don't know that I, personally, have the patience to tackle hand embroidery, but I admire those who do. You've got some nice-looking samples!

    1. I doubt I have the patience for anything REALLY extensive as far as embroidery goes -- I won't be recreating the Bayeux Tapestry any time soon, for sure. However, I quite enjoy small projects and of course the whole Alabama Chanin thing depends in part on hand sewing, so it seemed like a good skill to see if I could acquire.

  2. I don't embroider (I was taught the basics in school, but it's not for me at all) but I totally agree on your final and very specific assessment of Craftsy. I will give them credit that they refunded me for a class that I bought and found to be way way more hand-holdy and basic than I wanted (but was not mis-represented at all in the promotional video). I don't know if they would have done that if I'd had the class for a long time though, I've read people quoting 6 months, but that might be pulled out of the air.

    1. That's good to hear. I know that people who've found that the instructors stop responding have also had class credits applied to their accounts to make up for the lack of interaction. I've never asked a question on any of the classes and probably never will, so that aspect doesn't concern me one way or another, but I know other people get very worked up about it.

    2. I have wondered about that too. They sell the classes with the pitch that they will never ever expire, but of course the instructors will expire at some point (sorry to be morbid). I have spent more time than I should admit wondering if they paid their instructors a one-time fee, or an ongoing payment for keeping up with the questions. If it was a one time fee, I doubt the instructors realised they were signing up for a lifetime of answering questions.

      I know that a lot of websites operate in such a way that the company sets up the framework, and then they make money off the public providing the content, like Pattern Review, Youtube, instructables etc. but Craftsy don't seem to acknowledge that that was their plan. I think they were hoping that the instructor would answer for a while, but then the crowd would take over. I imagine Kenneth King (my favourite Craftsy instructor) has more things to do than answer the same questions for the rest of his life. I wish they would be more upfront about it. Like "You can watch the videos for as long as Craftsy remains in business, but it will be actively supported by the instructor until June 2015" or similar.