Oh hiya! Here we are again for another inside chat with a talented creative. This week I spoke to wonderful Melody of Curious Twist, who designs and creates cross stitch patterns and kits, which stay clear from the traditional twee and add a whole lot of personality!
So let’s get going…
JANEY: Hi Melody! Pray tell, when did your interest in embroidery begin?
MELODY: My first introduction to cross stitch was in the Girl Guides, centuries ago!! I vaguely remember making a bookmark for Mother’s Day but that was as far as it went. I always had practical hobbies and liked making things but back then I was more interested in fixing bikes and tinkering on cars with my Dad. I didn’t study art in school but chose the design and technology route instead. I left school at 16, joined the Royal Navy at 17 where I trained as a helicopter radio engineer. I loved it but left after a few years to have my daughter.
Fast forward 20 years; I was browsing Pinterest in search of DIY gift inspiration. That year my friend and me had had the bright idea of making each other a Christmas gift but it must cost less than £10 to make. It seemed like a fun idea at the time but I couldn’t think of what to make her and was close to giving up. That was until Pinterest showed me all this new and exciting cross stitch that was completely different from the type I was familiar with. I knew straight away this was the solution to my gift situation but I couldn’t find THE design, so I naively thought I’d have a go at doing my own! At that time I didn’t know that cross stitch design software even existed, so I just sketched out a grid on a piece of A4 just like I’d been taught at Girl Guides, grabbed some coloured pens and managed to cobble together a sort of pattern. It was shockingly bad and I couldn’t understand why it didn’t look how I pictured it in my head! I ended up drawing the design straight onto the aida with a tailor’s pencil, something I still do if an idea doesn’t seem to translate properly from the pattern to the fabric. The finished piece was far from being a technical masterpiece, but my friend loved it, not just because I’d made it myself but because it had swearing in it! I think everyone I knew got a naughty cross stitch that Christmas. Before long I was OBSESSED with it and when I eventually discovered pattern design software that was it.
A couple years later, after lots of practice and endless YouTube tutorials, I opened my Etsy shop. That was in 2016 and looking back, I had no clue what I was doing in terms of starting a business. But that was ok as I had no expectations either. For the first year or so I only sold custom pieces that I designed, stitched and framed myself as a way of making some extra pocket money. I hadn’t considered it could become something more but before long I was turning down sales, as there just weren’t enough hours in the day to do them all. At the time I was working a day job that was emotionally demanding and seriously taking a toll on my mental health. Outside of work all my free time was spent cross stitching but I needed the escape, and it became like therapy for me. It’s an incredibly calming and mindful activity especially for someone like me who finds it impossible to switch off. I started to wonder if this were something I could develop into a viable business, freeing me from my work situation but with no business experience it seemed like pure fantasy. Eventually, I had to leave my day job for the sake of my sanity, but I was worried I’d eventually find myself in a similar work situation. I’ve tried a few career paths over the years but have always found the workplace environment and office politics extremely stressful and hard to navigate. On the flip-side of that coin, I wasn’t sure I was capable of starting up an actual small business. But once I’d made the decision I was surprised at how motivated and driven I was to make it work; I didn’t know I had it in me!!
J: Ah the familiar pang of imposter syndrome creeping in there – but I’m so glad it didn’t stop you!
How important to you is it that your designs are relatable to your audience, and a little naughty!?
M: I am aware that my designs won’t appeal to everyone, and I’m ok with that. I’ve never been one to mince my words and I defy anyone to spend time in the armed forces and not pick up some colourful language!! Profanity and sarcasm feature high in my everyday vocabulary so it was natural to include it in my designs. But it’s not just about being provocative and shocking people – I think if you’re a person who enjoys making things it’s not just the process of creating something that’s important. You want the finished article, whatever it happens to be, to express something meaningful to you or the person it’s intended for and reflect some part of your (or their) personality. There was a time when there wasn’t a great deal of variation in in the cross stitch designs available – not everyone wants to stitch kittens and fireside scenes. Not that there’s anything wrong with those but it’s fair to say they only appeal to a limited audience. This meant there was a whole heap of potential stitchers who never even tried it because there wasn’t anything to attract them to the hobby. But now it’s a completely different situation and you’re spoiled for choice, and that’s fantastic. There are some incredible designers doing remarkable things in the world of fibre art and it’s a really exciting time to be part of it. I truly believe that the rebirth of traditional skills and hobbies is because they’ve been re-imagined to appeal to a wider and more contemporary audience, although the original processes have stayed the same. I mean, the tools may have been modernised, but a cross stitch is still just two small stitches crossing over each other!
J: That’s so true – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! (Just make it WAY more fun…!)
So of those modernised tools, what is one piece of equipment that you cannot live without?
M: I’ve dreamed of owning a DMC Collectors chest for as long as I can remember so decided to treat myself recently. It’s a gorgeous little wooden chest with one skein of every shade of DMC embroidery thread inside. Any ‘thread heads’ reading this will know where I’m coming from! It’s a thing of beauty and I swear I hear angels sing every time I look at it.
Having the physical skeins in front of me makes choosing colour palettes so much easier. Quite often I’ll have chosen the palette before I have a design idea, so in that respect it actually helps to inspire me. And it’s just so satisfying looking inside those tiny drawers full of colour! It’s my happy place!
BUT, my iPad would have to share joint first place! For me it’s like having a second brain and I’d be completely lost without it.
J: This thread head’s brain is whirring at the thought of that chest of skeins!!
Please can you talk us through your creative process?
M: It tends to be less of a process and more of a jumble of randomness that over time filters down into a workable design! I’m definitely one of those people who has 50 tabs open at once on my computer screen and having ADHD means my brain works much the same! I’m always finding scraps of paper with ideas scribbled on, but by the time I come back to them I have no clue what they refer to. Oh, and if you ever find a random notepad lying around in a coffee shop, on a train, in the ladies loos, it’s probably one of mine!
I love nerding out over typography and colour and how they’re used together in design. The choices I make around them in my often depend on the words or phrase that is central to a design. But then again, I may start with a new colour palette or font I’ve fallen in love with long before I’ve even thought of any wording.
I’m certainly no artist but I do spend a lot of time doodling on my iPad which helps me to develop vague ideas into something concrete I can work with. From there I’ll play with the layout of on graph paper (keeping it old school!), transfer that into a digital pattern and then stitch up a sample. Stitching the design up is an important stage for me because it tells me what really works or if there are improvements I can make. Take it from me, what works on a computer screen doesn’t always translate into a real life cross stitch!
J: Nothing quite beats doing it with your hands does it!?
This is why I tend to ask this question to most of the creatives that I speak to! I love that the ‘process’ is so different for everyone. Back in art education, it is drummed into you that the set path to take is research, development, and final product. Now this works brilliantly for a lot of makers, and I do see the benefits, but as you say Melody, sometimes the idea starts with a combination of colours, or a really good swear word!
If you absolutely had to choose one, which is your favourite pattern that you offer?
M: It took me ages to choose, but I am known for being indecisive! I’d probably go with Live, Laugh, Fuck Off. Not only is it one of my first designs and a permanent best seller, but there’s just something about the juxtaposition between the delicate daisies and the F-word that I love. It can take a moment for the brain to catch up to the fact that it’s not just another twee cross stitch and does actually say ‘Fuck Off!’ And talking about it gave me a reason to put ‘juxtaposition’ in sentence; it’s one of my favourite words!
J: To be honest, that’s probably the longest word ever used on this blog…!
That one is definitely a favourite of mine too – I’m not shy about my opinions on those twee signs and I love the idea of this cheeky alternative!
Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
M: Now that the world is slowly re-opening, and I can once again source new supplies, you’ll definitely be seeing more colour in my patterns. I’m also working on new designs for experienced stitchers to get their teeth into. Until this point most of my kits are for newbies but it’s important that what I offer aligns to my existing customers and offers them more of a challenge as their experience.
J: Brill, I love the idea of people starting their cross stitch journey with one of your patterns, and then moving onto your newer designs once they gain some confidence!
So what are your top tips for those beginners who would like to give the technique a go?
M: Just have a go and enjoy the process of learning a new skill and making something yourself. If you’re really struggling don’t give up: try leaving whichever pattern has got you all flustered and try something simpler to help gain confidence. You can always come back to it later.
The end product doesn’t have to be perfect, and no one notices the mistakes we think are glaringly obvious. Not everything you make must be worthy of hanging in the Tate Gallery. Those little hiccups are what tells us something is handmade.
Oh, and l cannot say this enough…. NO ONE SEES THE BACK!!!!
J: Eek what fab advice! That’s something I really struggle with personally – when I try out a new skill, I almost expect myself to crack it instantly, and then get so disappointed when it isn’t perfect – which as you say, probably isn’t necessarily even that obvious to others.
If, like me, you are reading this and are itching to get those hands stitching, have a peek at www.curioustwist.com, or shop on Etsy, by searching ‘ACuriousTwist’.
Melody offers a huge range of kits, and then once you’ve got yourself familiar with your technique, you can purchase her patterns and supplies (including patterned aida, cheeky needle minders and project bags), so you’re covered for everything you could possibly need to get going!
Thanks for stopping by again- I hope you enjoyed getting to know lovely Melody, and are just as in awe of her talent as I am! Remember to check out her website and Etsy shop, maybe give it a little favourite for when you’re looking for gift ideas, or a little treat for yourself. Also, give her a follow on Instagram – @curious.twist – and let her know how fab she is!