Campus Spotlight, Private, Student Life

Instagram embroidery: Emily Sanders on needlepoint and the online art community with @thread_counted

Since its inception in 2010, Instagram has grown to serve a vast range of purposes for different online communities; many lovers of fashion, dogs, and memes have all found their home there. For Emily Sanders, U3 Arts student better known by her 1,200+ followers as @thread_counted, the app has allowed her to develop an online following among fans of hand embroidery and lovers of pretty things. 

Sanders started doing hand embroidery in February 2016, after discovering the community of embroidery-focused Instagram accounts, and feeling intrigued to try the practice herself. After purchasing her first embroidery kit, with time and practice, she began to see a positive impact on her mental health. 

“I started doing embroidery because I felt like I wasn’t really having a creative outlet with school,” Sanders said. “It’s something that I just do when I watch TV. It relaxes me [….] One time I was having a really bad day at school, and then I just went home, and embroidered, and it was like the stress was all gone.” 

Sanders’ skill with a needle is entirely self-taught, as noted in the description of her Instagram account. She was able to learn with the help of the Internet, taking to online tutorials and other embroidery Instagram accounts to learn basic stitches. After developing her craft for several months, Sanders began selling her work online in June 2016. While she receives the majority of her commissions via Instagram direct messages, Sanders is also developing her Etsy account, threadcounted. In December 2016, her work was placed on sale at Art Pop, a local art boutique located on Mount Royal Avenue. 

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Many of Sanders’ designs depict natural elements, including leaves, trees, and animals, and are clearly influenced by her love for the outdoors; she has a particular affinity for whales. She attributes this to her time spent working as a camp counsellor in the Adirondack Mountains, where she was not only exposed to nature, but to a variety of arts and crafts. 

“My camp did a lot of arts and crafts stuff,” Sanders said. “So even though I never really did any embroidery there, we did a ton of knitting. It was very creative and very hands-on in general, which is what I like.”

When designing a new piece, Sanders will often draw out her vision repeatedly until she feels comfortable stitching it. However, like many artists, she often perceives her final product to fall short of her original vision. 

“It’s not perfect, [hand embroidery is] one of those arts where it’s never really gonna come out for me the way I draw it,” Sanders said. “Often [my final product] will change from what [my initial design] was.” 

Feeling insecure about one’s work is a common part of the creative process, and Sanders’ involvement in the embroidery social media community often worsens this feeling. Constantly seeing the work of others makes it difficult not to feel self-conscious, and Sanders is no stranger to this feeling. 

“It was a bit daunting, obviously. I started and I wanted to be as good as the people that I see [on social media],” Sanders said. 

In addition to feeling pressure to perform up to par with other Instagrammers, Sanders often struggles to maintain her creative vision without being influenced by the feedback of her following. On a platform where every double tap is validation of one of her designs, it can be easy to be swayed by mass opinion. As she’s grown as an embroidery artist, Sanders has learned to pay more attention to her own desires and needs in her designs, more so than the comment section of her Instagram account.

“Since I’m doing it so much on social media, it’s hard to get not caught-up in how many likes you get or how many people are following you,” Sanders said. “So now I just try to say, ‘What do I like?’ and ‘What do I think would be cool?’”

Though being a part of the Instagram art community is a rose that has its thorns, Sanders still views this aspect of her work in a largely positive light.

“I really love the Instagram community of [embroidery] too because so often, that social media thing can be really negative,” Sanders said. “So when you do something that’s a craft, or a sort of textile art, [it can feel] so much more positive [….] I recommend following [embroidery accounts] because your Instagram [feed is] just so much prettier!”

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