Question: Any Tips for Learning Embroidery?

Needlecraft Projects for the Nerdist Hosts

The lovely Nicole (@nlentine) asked if I had any tips for learning embroidery. I sure do, as long as you promise to remember that I, too, am a beginner. The sum total of my embroidery and needlepoint work (minus two small kits) is up here; you'll note it totals five projects. I am not speaking from a point of authority on needlecraft here; however, I am a serial self-teacher of craft. That, I know.

Here's a general piece I wrote over on the Nerdist site about the methods I use when learning a new craft.

The Best Way: Find Someone to Teach You

Obviously, finding someone to teach you is ideal, but where do you find such a person? I lucked out big time, in that there is a lovely needlecraft boutique, Rittenhouse Needlepoint, a block from my work. My lucky streak continued; I happened to stop in on a Friday after work, when they had an open project "happy hour." I bought a small kit and one of the owners sat me down with a lovely cup of tea and taught me the basketweave stitch. It was all I needed to execute the project vision I had in my head.

Now, I recognize that most people won't have access to a needlecraft boutique with a patient owner, but all is not lost. Here are some places where you may have luck finding someone to teach you:

  • Craftster City Guides: Craftster is a fantastic website for finding and sharing project ideas on any craft you can imagine. Besides hosting boards for each craft, they have city guides organized by country (and then by state). Put up a post asking if anyone knows of organized classes, or if anyone is willing to teach you one-on-one.
  • Local craft store: The big box craft stores like JoAnn's and Michael's host classes on different crafts. Even if they don't have an embroidery class posted, ask at the customer service desk. They are in touch with local craft teachers and may be able to recommend someone (likely one of their employees). Avoid asking questions on Saturdays around noon when they are full of coupon-shoppers that need 9 yards of fabric cut from 6 different bolts. I've found that I get great service on weekday evenings when they aren't busy.
  • Ravelry message boards: Ravelry is an online knitting community with fantastic, responsive message boards (you need to register to access the content). While it is a knitting and crochet community, most of the users are into multiple crafts. Find the message board(s) for your city and ask for help finding a teacher.
  • Skillshare: This is going to be a big-city option, but Skillshare is rapidly spreading across the country. Dedicated enthusiasts (like you!) teach classes. If you don't see a class on embroidery, send a tweet to @Skillshare and they'll send the request out to that city's followers.
  • Craigslist: This is a crapshoot, but Craigslist does have a crafts section under the discussion forums. Good luck and may the crafty force be with you on that one.

But I'd Rather Teach Myself

Me too. Learning a new craft is problem-solving at its best: I have a vision in my head that I want to create and I have a vague idea of the materials involved—now, go! If you've elected this route, I'd like to refer you back to the methods article on the Nerdist site.

YouTube is full of videos on crafts. I looked through a handful before settling on Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread videos. The videos are clear and her instructions are detailed. It gave me the knowledge necessary to make The Walking Dead project for Jonah, which is a mix of the back stitch and the stem stitch.

Needlepoint-For-Fun has a good video on the basketweave stitch, which is the only stitch I used for the Doctor Who/007 project. She has a good set of diagrams for basic stitches on her website.

I'm a big fan of learning crafts from books, but I don't have any embroidery or needlecraft specific recommendations. If you do, or have any resources, please post in the comments below.

A Few Miscellaneous Tips

Pay attention to the stretchiness of your fabric. Proper needlepoint fabric like Aida cloth isn't stretchy, but knit material like t-shirts is very stretchy. It's easy, as you're working on a t-shirt, to accidentally stretch the fabric. Your design will end up skewed and puckered, and it will make you sad.

To avoid the sadness, use a piece of fabric stabilizer on the back side of your project. I draw my project in reverse on the stabilizer, then pin it in place, making certain my t-shirt isn't stretched out. This helps minimize the puckering. You'll find the stabilizer behind the cutting counter at the fabric store. There are a dozen different kinds; just ask the lady cutting your fabric for advice on which one to purchase. (I didn't use iron-on stabilizer because I was lazy, but it might be a good choice to hedge against puckering).

Embroidery floss is really cheap, so buy a bunch in your color even though you won't use much (I only used two skeins for The Walking Dead picture). The Doctor Who/007 piece used yarn from the needlepoint shop. Sadly, I don't have a much advice on picking Aida fabric and yarn; the nice folks at the shop talked me through my entire purchase.

Good luck! If you make anything, send me a picture! If you have experience with embroidery and needlepoint, I'd appreciate any advice you have to offer; share it in the comments.

Podcast Recommendations: Comedy Part II

Round two on the comedy podcasts, and tonight's round-up are three of the Safe For Work variety. No profanity (or very little) here, kids, but that doesn't diminish the funny at all.


Paul and Storm Talk About Some Stuff for Five to Ten Minutes (on Average)

Like many nerds, I first encountered Paul and Storm at a Jonathan Coulton concert, and I was slightly annoyed at having to wait 45 minutes for Jonathan to take the stage—until they started talking. These guys won me over in moments; they are nerds to the core, interested in everything, and full of ridiculous stories. The podcast is usually just the two of them riffing on a couple of topics, and it's fascinating to hear two close friends and collaborators bouncing off each other.

The kitten rescue story in this episode made me laugh inappropriately on the train (I was sitting RIGHT NEXT to the door and garnered lots of strange looks at the Swarthmore stop): #117 That's One... (Bonus! Includes the afforementioned Jonathan Coulton!)

Judge John Hodgman

Are you in an argument with your roommate? Let John Hodgman decide your fate! With the brilliant Jesse Thorn as bailif, it's the best dispute-resolution show since Let's Bowl. Make sure to stand when Judge John Hodgman enters the courtroom.

Please explore all of the Maximum Fun podcasts. You can't go wrong, relying on Jesse Thorn's taste.

One favorite episode: #23 Arby's-tration

Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4

This podcast has a rotation of shows; my favorite is The News Quiz, which is what NPR based Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me on. I've learned a surprising (and probably terribly skewed) bit about British politics from listening to the show. The BBC only keeps shows available for download for seven days, so don't forget to refresh your feed weekly.

Podcast Recommendations: Comedy Part I

Image from hiddedevries

You like to laugh, don't you? Podcasting is the perfect medium for stand-up comics to build their fan base, and it seems like there's a handful of established stand-ups starting podcasts each time I check iTunes.

This is by no means a comprehensive list—just three of my go-to favorites. (As we go through the list, don't forget the previously mentioned Nerdist podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, and Kevin Pollak's Chat show; all funny, all favorites.) 

I've broken this category up into two batches: Not Safe For Work and Safe for Work. Today, the NSFW. Best not to try unless your boss is really awesome. Prepare yourself to laugh inappropriately on public transportation.

The Smartest Man in the World with Greg Proops

Oh, kittens, I adore this show! In each live show, Greg expounds on about whatever topic comes to mind (frequently Greek and Roman history, movie starlets, and Satchel Paige). His stories are gloriously told with lots of detail. Expect him to get political; he's a liberal from San Francisco. I've listened to every episode multiple times, and each time I end up laughing like a lunatic.

The Pod F. Tompkast

Who makes me laugh out loud on the train more, Greg Proops or Paul F Tompkins? It's a toss-up. Paul is delightfully cracked; you get impressions of John Lithgow and the Cake Boss, clips from his live show (if you're in L.A., go see it!), stream-of-conscious rambling with piano music from Eban Schletter underneath. My favorite part of the show are his phone calls with Jen Kirkman. As with The Smartest Man, I've listened to each episode multiple times. IMPORTANT: listen to these in order, as there is a segment with a continuing storyline.

The Adam Carolla Podcast

This is the most radio-esque of the podcasts mentioned. It isn't my favorite, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Adam Carolla; as a teenager I spent 10:00 p.m. - midnight with my ear glued to the radio so that I could hear Loveline (my head was literally right up the radio; Mom would not have approved if she'd known the scandalous things I was listening to—but not to worry, I was a nerdy, highly virtuous little girl). The best episodes of the podcast, of course, are when Dr. Drew stops by. All who adore Dr. Drew, show your love!


The comedy podcast I'm most excited about but haven't listened to yet is Aisha Tyler's Girl on Guy. She was great on the Nerdist podcast #116 and I have no doubt her show is a killer. 

Do you agree with my choices? Disagree? Which are your favorite comedy podcasts? There are so many new ones out there, I'd love to know your go-to selections.

On Tuesday: comedy podcasts that are safe for work.


Image from hiddedevries on Flickr

Podcast Recommendations: Crafts

I have a challenge that needs your help. I intended to post this week about my favorite craft podcasts, but when I reviewed my iTunes list, I realized that ALL of them are on hiatus or haven't put out an episode in months, with no indication that they'll start recording. (This not including the two favorites I mentioned last week—wait, yes, it includes one of the two.)

Bummer! I hadn't really noticed (except for Sticks and String) because I have so many shows I listen to each week. It's easy to overlook.

This means I need recommendations from you! Which craft podcasts do you love? I'm crazy about all crafts (except scrapbooking—it really brings out OCD tendencies in me and I have trouble enjoying it).

I'll still mention one show, as he's only on hiatus:

Sticks and String with David Reidy

This this the Australian knitting podcast I mentioned on the Nerdist. David's accent is absolutely mesmerizing, and hearing about the reversed seasons of the Southern Hemisphere—like Christmas in summer—never gets old. David talks about regular life; his knitting, his job as a schoolteacher, and periodically gives glimpses of nerdy little hobbies (which I love to hear about). I've learned so much about Australia from the little bits he includes—apparently Sydney has GIANT BATS—and consequently the Blue Mountains are at the top of my travel wish list.

Most episodes include an essay, a bit of music, and a recommendation of some sort. Periodically he will interview sheep farmers or wool producers.

David's on hiatus right now to care for his mother, but there are plenty (166!) back episodes, all worth a listen.

Podcast Recommendations: Exploring the Creative Process, Part II

When we last met, we examined three comedy podcasts that delve into the creative podcast. I'll continue today with four non-comedy podcasts that similarly explore creativity.

First, two in the craft genre. Non-crafters, there is some good small business/side business advice to be found here.

Craftcast with Alison Lee

All crafters and small business owners need to listen to this show. Alison alternates her interviews between higher level discussions on running creative businesses and in-depth explorations of a particular craft. On more than one occasion I've thought "I have no interest in this craft," only to find that Alison's interviews stick in my head—and two months later I'm stocking up at the craft store.

Here are a few recent interviews that struck my fancy include Holly Becker from Decor8Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up coach; and Jo Packham, who discusses the changing industry of craft book publishing.

Bonus points: she interviewed Todd Henry from the Accidental Creative, whose podcast appears at the end of this list. Get introduced to two great podcasters at once!

CraftyPod with Sister Diane

This is another podcast for the crafters and small business owners in the crowd. The podcast officially ended in July, but Sister Diane is planning to bring it back in some sort of subscription basis (details not yet determined).

Regardless, the back catalog is an excellent resource for inspiration on running a sustainable creative small business. I particularly enjoyed this episode:

Episode #87: Creative Cross-Pollination with Margaret Roach: Get some fascinating insight into life at Martha Stewart Living, as well as leaving a great corporate career to follow a passion.


Now, two podcasts that focus more broadly on the creative process.

Studio 360

You're correct, this is a public radio show; in fact it's one of the best public radio shows on the air. Unfortunately, in many markets, their timeslot is terrible (Philadelphia included—I wouldn't wake up at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday if God himself stopped by for tea); that's why I'm including them on the podcast list. I find it to be a particularly good show for me—I'm a crafter, I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination—and this show has taught me a lot about art in an accessible manner.

The series Science and Creativity may particularly appeal to my fellow nerds.

The Accidental Creative

I'll bookend the discussion on creativity podcasts with the other site I contribute to. Todd Henry from The Accidental Creative podcast explores staying "prolific, brilliant, and healthy" over the long term. The tone of his podcast is more serious than the others I've highlighted above, but the advice is unmatched—practical, actionable, and inspiring. It has been one of the primary drivers to pull me and my writing out of a mythical dreamland (where I was a writer only in my head) and into the real world.

That I sit down in my chair every night to write is largely thanks to episode #194: Chasing Vapor. If you need a kick in the butt to get moving, this one's for you.

#205: Be Accidental: This is a good overview of the podcast.

If you are a manager of a creative team or if your job requires frequent problem-solving, this is a must-listen.

Todd's also got a book that I whole-heartedly recommend; hit up the Writing tab on this site for the series Becoming an Accidental Creative where I further discuss the impact the book has made on my creative process.


So there you go. Those are seven of my favorite podcasts that focus specifically on the creative process. Next Sunday: my favorite crafting podcasts. We'll talk before then...and you can always hit me up on Twitter. I'm still trying to catch up with all the lovely messages I've received since the Nerdist podcast—thank you, thank you all for being so kind!

Podcast Recommendations: Exploring the Creative Process, Part I

I almost always have a giant pair of headphones on.

Hi, all my lovely new friends from the Nerdist podcast—as well as my long-time friends! I'm so glad you're here.

As I mentioned on #126, I'm a big fan of podcasts. Thanks so much for your encouragement about finally jumping off the fence and starting my own podcast. You're peaches, all of you, and I'm working on it. More soon.

In the meantime, each Sunday for the next several weeks, I'll share with you some of my favorite podcasts. I love media of all kinds, but podcasting is my favorite. I grew up listening to talk radio of all kinds: public, talk, radio drama; and while I still enjoy talk radio, podcasts offer delicious freedom from the content control and interruptions that program directors, management, and advertisers place on broadcasters. I can rant on this topic for thousands of words—let's just leave it that I have passion for this topic.

This week, let's focus on the creative process. Longer form podcasts offer a great opportunity to delve into the practices and rhythms that artists employ to stay creatively productive.

Please take Not Safe For Work indicators seriously. The comedy podcasts in particular can get pretty filthy, but it doesn't delegitimize the insights they have to offer on the creative process.

Beginning with the comedy podcasts, there are three that dive deeply into the act of creating.

The Nerdist Podcast (NSFW or children)

Let's start with the show that brought us all together. If you're a newer listener to the show, you may have missed some fantastic content from early in the project.

Episode #2: Drew Carey: Drew is the last of the "overnight" comic success stories from The Tonight Show. His discussion of how he mentally prepared for the show, as well as his detailed knowledge of his set, is an excellent lesson in treating your craft—even if it's comedy—seriously.

Episode #8: Jim Gaffigan: Jim Gaffigan is a favorite at Chateau HolaMindy, and in this episode we get another great behind-the-scenes look into his process. His dedication to keeping it clean and acknowledging his fans after the show is inspiring. Pay attention, too, to how frequently he mentions his wife's contribution to writing his act.

Honorable mention: If you're a Mythbusters fan, you should not miss Adam Savage's first-ever stand-up set in Episode #10 (the set begins 25:00 minutes into the episode and is not for kids). It makes me cry tears of laughter every time I hear it.

WTF with Marc Maron (NSFW or children)

What's your damage? Marc Maron believes that comedy is borne out of deep psychological damage; it's a premise difficult to dispute after listening to a few episodes. It's just Marc and a comic together in a room talking about their wounds, comedy, and how Marc used to be a jerk to his guest "but now we're cool."

Only the most recent 50 episodes are available for free, so don't forget to regularly refresh your feed. All back episodes are available with an inexpensive premium subscription.

Because episodes are always dropping off the free list, I won't point you to a particular one. Jump in anywhere and you'll be good. If you just want to laugh, go for a live show, but if you want a deep exploration of how a lifetime's experiences lead to a particular type of comedy, pick an interview of your favorite comic.

Kevin Pollak's Chat Show (probably NSFW, most are okay for teenagers—the f word surfaces from time to time but not as much as the shows above—although the Larry King game segment can get filthy)

The depth of the interviews here is amazing; most interviews last over an hour, with many pushing up against the two-hour mark. That amount of time gives Kevin and his guest a lot of time to tell stories.

This is a video podcast; the show is streamed live most Sunday afternoons, with the option to download the video or audio version afterward. I go with the audio version for portability and decreased file size, but if you've got the time, go for the video. It's better than nearly everything on television, and it's free (as in beer).

Like Marc's show, just pick your favorite actor and jump in. If you are a true comedy fan, start with the impressionists. Kevin is one of the best impressionists out there and he loves to play with other impressionists.

I particularly enjoyed his interview of Neil Patrick Harris. It's surprisingly serious. Also, if you listen to the Alison Brie episode, he reads a tweet question from @HolaMindy—that's me!

I'll wrap up Part I of our exploration of creative process podcasts here. Stay tuned for Tuesday, when I'll bring you three non-comedy podcasts that delve deeply into the creative process. Until then, get out there and make some cool stuff!