Sue offers a very interesting mix between embroidery and online business. I have seen many artists struggling with technology and maybe Sue is your answer! She also interviews many artists, and I thought it would be interesting to know her own journey too.
Photos – © SusanWeeks – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Text by Susan Weeks on questions from Claire de Pourtalès
Hello! I’m Susan Weeks, I live on the English East Yorkshire coast, and I wear several business hats which combine my love of technology with my love of textile art and embroidery. An unusual combination!
I teach artists, crafters, makers, and creative biz owners how to create, launch and market an online course.
And I create and sell other online courses that help creative business owners to market their business, such as my Canva training course, Create It All Using Canva.
I am also the host of the globally popular textile art podcast Stitchery Stories, and I love doing that, although it takes up a lot of time.
So, textile art and embroidery are my hobby, my long career experience is in technology and training, I have been running my online business since 2010, and now I have finally found a way to combine all of those things!
How did you come to like embroidery?
From being a small child, I have always loved being creative and making things. My interest in embroidery was sparked when the old lady who lived next door to us gave me a folder of vintage iron-on transfer designs from the Good Needlework magazine in the 1930’s. The simple outlines fascinated me, and I still have those transfers to this day. She also gave me some stranded cotton embroidery threads and some other bits and pieces.
Those transfers where a brilliant starting point for me, and I would spend a lot of time, teaching myself basic stitches from a craft book or old embroidery book. I was around 6 or 7 when I started messing about with fabric and thread. Our family had little money so I learned to be creative with what I could find or buy for pennies at ‘jumble sales’ in the local village hall. Over the years, those sales were a great source of embroidery and tapestry kits that people had bought or been given, tried then given up, and donated to the sales. The ‘big’ pieces I still have were from those throwaway kits, made when I was a teenager. Making my own clothes was also enjoyable, with help from my mum who made all our clothes.
At school in amongst all the sensible subjects, I did ‘o level’ art and design in textiles and made some crazy things, including a tie-dye pink jellyfish with loads of thread and fabric dangling tentacles, and a quilt cover featuring a massive velvet fungi and spray dye background!
When I went off to university for my Business Studies degree, I started a long running embroidery project, also it wasn’t really cool to be doing such ‘old-fashioned’ embroidery pieces when you were a student. A couple of those vintage transfer designs were full page garden designs, with flowers and topiary, and a cottage, crazy paving and so on. I decided that I would embroider 2 of them as a pair. There were some stitch suggestions for the flowers, and I worked my way through it, using up threads I had, maybe buying a few as a treat. When I look at the way in which I worked a large tree it makes me smile because I made no attempt at shading – just blocks of different green colours.
Being a student, I also made some fairly mad mohair jumpers which were trendy at the time (also my knitting isn’t good) and a really silly dress that I wore for my graduation ball. Everyone else wore formal clothes and ball gowns. My short mad dress was made from children’s curtain fabric featuring the Mr Men characters and lots of bright pink net….
Embroidery and textile art were something that I didn’t spend much time on to be honest, I was busy with my technology career. But when I moved to York in 1999 I joined the City of York branch of The Embroiderers Guild and started to create much more, and went to my first workshops to actually learn something from interesting tutors.
Over the last 10 years since I came back to England to live, I have done more embroidery than I have ever done… but it’s still slow and infrequent. It’s my special treat.
Any artists, technique, style in particular?
Like many stitchers, I have dabbled with a variety of techniques, and find inspiration in many things. I like to enter challenges where there is a theme – they really get my creativity going. And when I look at a lot of my pieces, I usually start with some applique and pieces of fabric. My stitches are usually simple, mark making and straight lines, with some chain stitch and french knots, traditional stitches thrown in for good measure. There isn’t really a particular style that I follow, or any specific stitchers. We are blessed with online tools where we can find so many artists, inspirations, techniques and materials, and I love to see any styles of stitch and textile art.
I don’t tend to create only stitched pieces, mostly because I don’t have a lot of time for intense stitching. Maybe I’m lazy, impatient to see some quick progress by laying down some fabrics to make a start? And, honestly, I don’t like physically stitching for long periods of time either. I have to get out and moving too!
In terms of artists, I suppose I connect more with those who put a lot of their character into their art, who share their creative ups and downs and their fabulous ideas. Those who build a successful business around their art always fascinate me ‘cos I love business too.
Which artist do you particularly like to follow?
Obviously, I follow a lot of my podcast guests, I feel like they are my embroidery friends. Some are very entertaining and inspiring.
I also like to be in some of the textile art and embroidery groups on Facebook, as they are a fabulous way to discover new art and ideas everyday.
Scrolling around on Instagram and Pinterest for textile art and embroidery ideas is always inspiring, and I love reading Embroidery magazine.
What does embroidery give you?
It gives me a creative time to focus on working with fabric and threads, and beautiful colours. I’m not good at subtle tones! It provides another outlet for my creativity, away from my business and online world. It’s so soothing isn’t it, stitching quietly, working out what to do next, enjoying colours and patterns.
Did you go to classes (direct or online)?
I have had very little ‘proper’ embroidery training. Books have always been a source of inspiration and education for me, a fab source of ideas and techniques to try. I’m definitely ‘self-taught’, and any classes and workshops have been few and far between. Shall I admit this…. I’ve never attended an online stitching class. I spend all day long, working and learning online. I use embroidery and textile art as an escape from the computer. Online classes are however a fabulous opportunity for so many people to access classes, learning, inspiration that they couldn’t attend otherwise. A fabulous way to meet new people too of course.
Are you a creative person, working your own patterns, or do you prefer to follow a kit?
Apart from recycling those early abandoned kits, and using those 1930s transfers, I don’t use kits or other designs.
I create my own art, inspired by so many things. Maybe that’s why I love to take part in challenges where the topic is provided and then it’s up to me what I can create. I love aerial photography and the patterns created by landscape and nature, so I have done a couple of pieces inspired by those – loads of ideas in my head for more of course! Song lyrics are another useful source of inspiration.
I usually doodle around, sketching ideas until I get a feel for the overall composition of the piece. Then typically I just start, and see what happens :-).
One notable exception was when I worked a Jacobean-inspired design by Hazel Blomkamp called ‘Midnight Meander’ from her book Crewel Twists. Our embroidery group chose the design for each of us to work as a group project. I enjoyed pushing my ‘classic’ embroidery skills, and spent ages selecting a pleasing colour combination of greens to work the monochrome design. I hadn’t really used beads before (properly) so that was another learning experience. I look at what I created and am very pleased with it.
Now, let’s talk about your online business
My corporate career background is technology and training. I started as a mainframe computer programmer at the Nissan car factory in the north of England back in 1988. In my own time I also studied for a Training qualification and started training people how to program using a specific programming language. I was head-hunted into a fast-growing technology company serving the global banks and then founded the training department.
There were some massive changes in my life and to cut a long story short I happened to live in France for a while with my small son, so my only real choice was to start my own online business, building on my corporate career and learning everything about online business. That was in 2010, and I offered services in internet marketing, then podcasting services and training. A major online Freelancer training company invited me to be a mentor for them, supporting their community, and I also created many technical training courses for them.
My podcast Stitchery Stories was born in 2017 when I decided to host a podcast to show my podcasting skills, part of my work portfolio and spotted that there were hardly any talking about textile art. Some more have come along since, of course, which is great. So I had built a global audience, but rarely talked about my business and professional career.
When Covid19 struck in 2020, there was a lot of panic in the creative world. Everything was cancelled, and so many artists were panicking and wondering how they would survive. And then suddenly, artists were asking me… « Sue, do you know anyone who could help me create an online course? » And then it hit me – I was that person who the creatives needed. I had all the online skills; I had the course creation experience. From my love of textile art, and from the many conversations with artists on my podcast, I understood the artistic side and also the specific challenges involved in a creative business. I knew that it was a challenge for example, to usefully film an embroidery or craft demonstration that so many other online course trainers did not understand or teach.
And so that is how my current business was born! Responding to a global pandemic, combining all my online skills, all my training skills, my mentoring and consulting skills, my audience of artists and my understanding of creative businesses. Many creative businesswomen are worried about, and struggle with using the modern technology tools, and that struggle holds back their ability to flourish online. That makes me really sad, and so it’s my mission to make all the techy stuff simple and enjoyable to learn, and to support other women business owners to create financial independence and success on their terms. Related services and consultancy, and online course sales, also build my business.
Besides artists, have you encounter people who changed your perception of embroidery or the business around it?
It’s always amazed me what fabulous embroidery and textiles were created by women throughout history, in difficult conditions. All that beautiful stitching done in dimly lit, draughty castles, or ‘sweat shops’, or wherever, the artistry ignored cos it was women’s work embroidery.
The stories and research beautifully woven together by Clare Hunter in her fabulous book, Threads of Life, were very moving, and vividly brought to life, embroidery and the women who created it.
Have you visited special places where embroidery is its center?
I always like to seek out historic textiles when I visit historic houses and museums, although it’s not frequent.
When I was living in Normandy, France, I spent a fantastic day visiting the Bayeux Tapestry which was a special treat.
As a contrast, in 2002 on my visit to Peru, I loved seeing native stitching as well as woven items. A highlight was staying on Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca, where it is the men who do the knitting and the women spin, dye and weave, all creating their beautiful textiles and clothing. An experience I will never forget.