Textile Talk with My X Stitch Jamie Chalmers

Textile Talk with Jamie Chalmers (Mr X Stitch)

Hello everyone and a very warm welcome to this Textile Talk podcast. I’m Gail Cowley and I’ll be your host today. Joining me is Jamie Chalmers, also known as Mr X Stitch. 

Just to give you a little bit of background on Jamie before we start to chat. 

Jamie Chalmers, aka Mr X Stitch, aka the Kingpin of Contemporary Embroidery, took up cross stitching fifteen years ago and he’s never looked back.  Since establishing the Mr X Stitch website in 2008, he has been showcasing new talent in the world of needlework and textile art and has curated a number of stitch-based exhibitions in the UK and Ireland.  

He is the curator of PUSH Stitchery and the author of the Mr X Stitch Guide to Cross Stitch. He is the founder of XStitch, the game-changing cross stitch design magazine and the host of NeedleXChange, a podcast dedicated to conversations on the Art of Thread.  Jamie is a thought leader in the online stitch community and what he has dubbed ‘the new embroidery movement’ and is active on various social networking platforms. He loves introducing new people to the benefits of embroidery from a creative and wellbeing standpoint and is proud to be an ambassador for this ubiquitous craft. 

Textile Talk with Jamie Chalmers

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Jamie Chalmers

Gail: Well, thanks so much, Jamie, for joining me on this podcast episode. It’s a real pleasure to have you here, especially as you’re a podcaster yourself.

Jamie: Yeah, we’re a rare breed, aren’t we? I think it’s always nice when you go on someone else’s podcast. I was on a podcast called Fiber Talk a little while ago, and the host of that is a man called Gary. And I was like, I think we’re literally the only two men on the planet with Needlecraft based podcasts. I was like, we have to have a support group immediately.

Gail: Yes. No, I can imagine it’s getting, I think, a little bit more usual to see men in Needlecraft, but obviously they are still a bit of an endangered species, aren’t they?

Jamie: It’s a funny situation, yeah, I mean, I’ve been overtly involved in this, I’d say, for about 15 years now, and things have definitely moved on a bit. But the storyline about gender and needlework is so strong that it still remains a surprise. Even if I bump into someone I’ve never met before and they ask a bit about what I do for a living, they’re still kind of like a man doing cross stitch. And I’m like, yes. And I have to go and be very kind and conscientious about it, despite the fact I’ve had that conversation about 10 million times over the years.

Gail: Yes. And I should imagine it gets a bit irritating as well, doesn’t it?

Jamie: I’ve learned to be graceful about all of these. I’ve learned to be graceful when people call me Mr. Cross stitch instead of Mr. X stitch. I’ve learned to be. Just, after a while, you’re like, I can’t let it bother me because it keeps happening.

Gail: Yeah. And I can understand. So that leads us quite nicely into me asking if you could just tell us a little bit more about you. How did you actually come to needlecraft? Because there must be quite a story there.

Jamie: Yeah, it’s an interesting one. So I didn’t particularly have a very arty upbringing. I would say when I was at school, I didn’t even do art. At GCSE, I enjoyed it, but with that situation, my dad was a teacher at the upper school that I went to, and the person who would have been my GCSE art teacher would often tell me how I used to sit on her knee when I was a child, which was very off putting to me. So that pretty much stopped my artistic career straight away. So I didn’t do any art school, I didn’t do any design or anything like that. It was only in about 2001 when I was going on holiday to Canada, and I wanted something to do on the flight, and I happened to go into a haberdashery shop, and I was kind of looking for something to do because I knew it was going to be a long flight.

I suspect I was a smoker at the time, so I sort of needed something to take my mind off it. And I saw a cross stitch kit, and I just thought it’d be quite funny. I knew it would be a good pastime, but I thought it would be kind of ironic because I was a man doing cross stitch. I thought, what will people think? But that sponsoring thought was enough for me to buy the kit. It was an art nouveau head based on the work of Alphonse Muka. And when I got to Canada and I started doing it, I really enjoyed it. And that simple fact of me enjoying cross stitch so much was what started my journey.

From there, I spent about two years sort of cross stitching the random things that you could find that were for men, because at the time, it’s not quite as bad now, but if you were a man doing cross stitch, it was almost like you had to go, you know, like in card shops where there’s the nondescript granddad cards, which have got maybe a pint of ale or a vintage race car or a plane or something. Cross stitch kits were a bit like that. Or if I wanted to do a wizard or a wolf, I would be in great shape. But I didn’t. I wanted to do street art, I wanted to do things that reflected my tastes.

So after doing a few designs that were nice but weren’t really where I was at, I managed to discover some cross stitch software called pc stitch, which then meant I was able to turn pictures into cross stitch patterns. And that unlocked an awful lot for me because it just meant that I could do.

If there were people whose I admired, I could just turn those into cross stitch patterns and start stitching them. But it also gave me the ability to make my own patterns from scratch, do things with text and kind of build designs, which was something that I just kind of dabbled with. So then, after doing that for a little while, I decided to set up an Etsy store, because I just thought, why not? I’ve got some patterns for sale. Let’s have a look and see if I can put those out there.

So that launched in 2007, and then in 2008, I started a blog to run alongside that, and I called myself Mr. X Stitch. And it sort of went from there in as much as I talked about myself for a little while, I sort of talked a little bit about cross stitch. But I remember I discovered someone called Ulrika Erdis. I think I’d been googling cross stitch graffiti. And what she did was she did embroidery on train seats, I think, using a curved needle, but was kind of basically doing embroidery graffiti by stitching onto a different surface. And that fascinated me. I was like, oh, there’s somebody doing something a little bit different. So I had a bit more of a look and I found somebody else who was doing embroidered versions of graffiti found in toilets, which sounds a bit sinister, but again, I was just really curious because I was just like, that’s a really dark thing to do with needlecraft.

I found that really intriguing and it kind of went from there, because then I sort of realized that there was an awful lot of people doing needlework, if you could find it. And this is 2008, so we’re not talking 2008. 2009. Facebook was a new thing. Twitter, you could talk to your friends on it.

Instagram hadn’t really taken off, so I found a forum called Craftster, which was like a message board forum where people were sharing work. And that was great for me because I felt like I found a bit of a community there and there were a couple of blogs that were doing things. So Jenny Hart had one, I think it was called embroidery as art, and that was featuring that kind of work.

But on the whole, there weren’t very many websites promoting that work. So I just kind of dove in that direction and would just seek out artists who were doing work and kind of write a little blog post about them. And it sort of went from there, really, because that then gave me the opportunity, I suppose it raised my profile a little bit.

In 2011, I want to say I took part in Kirsty’s handmade Britain, which was a thing that most crafty oriented people in the UK would be well aware of. So I took part in that show and obviously that raised my novelty level to a slightly bigger audience. And it just kind of went from. I managed to get other people to write blog posts for me. I broadened the scope. I sort of decided at some point that although I was into cross stitch, what I would do with the website was I wouldn’t feature knitting and I wouldn’t feature dressmaking, sewing and dressmaking. But anything in between that in terms of needlework, I thought was fair game. So we did posts on things like needle felting, millinery, lace machine embroidery, quilting, and it kind of just went on from there. And I think just over time, the more I found this work, the more I was inspired by this work, the more I gained a sense of how to curate. You know, found out what I liked and that kind of thing, and it just kind know, just kept rolling on from there, really.

From Hobby to Career

Gail: So was there a point, Jamie, when you decided that this is going to be my full time occupation, as opposed to whatever it was you were doing before?

Jamie: Yeah, in 2017, I bought one of these planner books where it’s just like, put down your big goals for the year and for a long time, I’d been working for a children’s charity since 2003, doing it project management, and I’d always run the two things alongside. And that was nice in a way, because it meant that anything that happened with Mr. X stitch was just a sideline.

I didn’t really have to stress about the income side of things, but along the way as well, I’d started writing a column for Cross Stitcher magazine and I’d often said to them, why don’t you let me guest edit an issue? Because I could see that at that point in time, we’re talking like, 2015 16, there was a lot of stuff happening and you could see that there were some really interesting designers out there and that the world was turning, but the mainstream cross stitch magazines weren’t really turning in the same direction, but those conversations never really came to anything.

So then 2017, I get this planner, and at the top of it I wrote, one of my goals is going to be to become Mr. X stitch full time. And then about six weeks later, I got a notice of redundancy from the children’s charity.

Gail: Oh, goodness.

Jamie: Slightly forced my hands. I was like, cursed world, all that manifestation idea. But what I also did at that point was I had already got skills in magazine publishing because I used to be a town councillor, learnt how to do the town council newsletter. I’d always been interested in that kind of design stuff.

So, yeah, I did a Kickstarter campaign to launch cross Stitch magazine because over time, I’d realized how I would want a cross stitch magazine to be, what made sense. And I launched a Kickstarter campaign and that was successful. And that just gave me the confidence and gave my wife the confidence to take the leap and just try and do Mr. X stitch for a living and just try and be Mr. X stitch full time. Really. So that was the turning point.

Gail: And have you enjoyed it? Are you enjoying it? Because it is different, isn’t it, to having a salary, a wage coming in each month or whatever. You are very much in your own business. You’re put back onto your own initiative.

Jamie: Yeah, there’s an awful lot of stuff you have to do that you never really anticipate doing. And I think sometimes the thought of just working for somebody else and just at 05:00 p.m. Just turning off your brain as far as work concerned seems awfully appealing because I think the thing is, I’m honoured to be Mr. X Stitch. I’m honoured to be able to showcase the work of other people. I’m honoured to do the things that I do.

It’s a blessing to be able to be involved in the world of cross stitch because I love it and it’s amazing and it’s always inspiring. But when you’re having to, I don’t know, try and work with your accountant to do your expenses, or you’re trying to fix your Google Analytics, or you’re trying to work out why this bit of your website isn’t working, there are so many bits and bobs you have to do that, go beyond the fun bits. I heard a quote recently where someone said, I feel very honoured to work in a craft that I used to love.

Gail: Yes. Oh, I can understand that completely, because often people think that, I think they have an impression, perhaps, that you are sitting somewhere really lovely doing cross stitch all day. And of course, that’s far from the truth. Often what happens at that point is when you have to make a business out of it, that your personal work goes onto the back burner. And as you say, all of the business things come to the fore because you have to prioritize where your money is coming from. It’s as though that has to take a backseat, and in some ways, that’s a shame, isn’t it?

Jamie: Yeah. I mean, I find these days that I get my creative itches scratched by making my magazine, because that’s a creative pursuit. It’s a design thing. I enjoy doing that. You do end up trying to get those creative fixes where you can, because a lot of the time, the thing that started you in the first place goes out the window.

I was thinking about, apparently, Ed Sheeran doesn’t really like playing music anymore. He likes doing painting as a casual pursuit because his pursuit of making music and the success he’s had has taken all of the fun out of it. And I think that’s the thing. I think when you’re having to do things, I’m lucky, I think, in some ways, because, say, with my magazine, I curate the magazine and I work with other designers, and they’re the ones that do the designs and they come up with the ideas. So there’s not a causal or a direct link between my designing of cross stitch and making money from that thing. But I always think there’s that tension between your own creative path and where your natural creativity wants to take you and the need to make money and to kind of play to the audience.

I know that there are lots of designers and people I work with who struggle with that, because doing commissioned work is a great way of earning an income if you’ve got a certain skill set that appeals to people. But there’s not necessarily much creativity in doing what someone is asking you to make. And that tension is something that can really take the sting out of it if you pivot. And so you sort of have to just be prepared for that, I think, or know that maybe there’s other things. Yeah.

The idea of just. I think sometimes you’re quite right. People think I sit in a rocking chair and I casually just do some cross stitch and mystically, all this other stuff behind the scenes happens, but it really doesn’t. I spend so much time just stood in my office by myself doing stuff on a computer. My children understand what I do, but they couldn’t tell you what I do, like, what the mechanics of it is because it’s just standing at a desk on a computer, like 95% of the time.

Mr X Stitch Jamie Chalmers
Mr X Stitch Jamie Chalmers. Credit Cat Lane

Work & Commissions 

Gail: So is there ever a time now when you are called upon to actually stitch one of your designs, perhaps for a commission or in order to get a piece into actuality? Do you still do that at all?

Jamie: I haven’t cross stitched a thing of mine in years because I work with model stitches. So I have people who, if, for instance, there’s a project that I decide to get involved in and get done, it is just more efficient for me to make a pattern and then ask one of my model stitches to stitch it for me because I’ve got a fantastic set of about seven or eight people who will spend all day cross stitching because they can and because they love it, and they enjoy getting interesting designs, because a lot of the time I’ll work with the magazine, with designers from the other side of the world.

And so it’s just more effective for me to get things stitched on this side of the world. So my designers, my model stitcher, sorry, will do that work for me. And it’s the same for me because actually I’m okay cross stitching, but if I want something done really well, I may as well just get someone to do it who’s match fit and is able to do that stuff just every single know it really is. And this is the thing. So I do have a piece of work on the go at the moment, which is in my lounge, and it’s a needlepoint map of Amsterdam I bought from the designer Hannah bass about ten years ago. And I’m determined that it’s not going to become eleven years old. And slowly but surely, every once in a while, I’ll just sit down, watch a bit of telly, do a bit of needle point, because that’s one project that I’ve got. And I’m like, I will get that done. But other than that, I don’t have any works in progress on the go anymore because I did have, and they’ve all sort of dried out, and now I don’t feel in a position to do it.

I think I have a lot of personal insecurity about myself as a designer as well, because I’m not match fit in that direction either. So for me, I think if I want to get back into doing proper cross stitch design and that sort of thing, I kind of want to go and steal myself away and do a load of training on pixel art and just really get the skills back in the zone, almost like stretching and that kind of thing.

Gail: So would you say that there’s a particular demographic that subscribe to you subscribe to your podcast, to your website, to the magazine? It sound as though it would be a younger audience. Would that be true?

Jamie: I think probably the average is marginally younger. I would say it used to be with the Mr. X Ditch website because we would feature, like, rude things and funny things that that would obviously skew an audience a bit younger.

I think most of my audience is between the ages of 25 and 55, but I know that people that love cross stitch are kind of from all age brackets. What I do know is that my audience is about 85% female across the board, which is not a surprise, but is just kind of the way it is. And I think the average age probably is a bit younger than the average, because I think some of the other magazines who do a great job and produce their issues every month whatsoever, but they cater to a more older audience and they know that they do that. So they’re obviously going to attract those kind of people. But I think really, these days, I’m just trying to connect with people, regardless of their background and their demographic, but just people who are interested in forward thinking needlework. Because actually the magazine has one audience that it aims at.

The Mr. X Stitch blog is kind of for people who just want needlework inspiration. And then my podcast is like long form conversations with textile artists, and that’s more for people who are aligned to that as well. So there’s a few different spreads there. I think I’m a little bit disparate, to be honest.

Gail: Yeah, that’s probably a good thing, isn’t it?

Jamie: It’s a useful thing. I think what I find is, it’s interesting when you do things that feel very natural, when you find certain modes of working that feel like a really good fit. So when I decided, I’ve done podcasts for years, like, I used to do a podcast with a friend of mine called Stitching and junk, and that was in like, 2012, 2013, and we did 25 episodes, and it was just us jibber jabbering away. And sometimes we would talk to someone to do a needle work, but most of the time we just talk rubbish. And then for four or five years, I was a co host on a podcast called the Lovecraft show, which was part of the Lovecraft company, and there we were just interviewing people.

So I’ve always been quite good at talking to people about things. And then when I decided to do needle exchange, it was just one of those things that felt like a really good fit. It’s so weird, but it just felt like I was making a decision that was the right fit for me. I didn’t really have to stretch myself in any new direction. It didn’t feel like I was being asked to do something I wasn’t comfortable with. And I really enjoy those conversations now because the same is with you. You just have a chat with someone for like an hour or so and you have certain things you want to talk about, but a lot of the time you can just talk about the themes that emerge and have those conversations and those connections about creativity that are somewhat universal. And I love that.

I just love talking about that. Because the thing is, with all of the stuff that I’ve done, I’m not putting myself out there as an artist, and I’m not really putting myself out there as a designer of cross stitch materials because I work with people that are so much better. But I’m kind of the in betweeny bit. Sometimes people would say, like, you’re quite funny, thanks very much. You should be a stand up comedian. And I never wanted to be a stand up comedian. I always wanted to be the compare of the stand up show. And I feel like that’s kind of my role with most of these things.

With the magazine, I curate the content, I put it together, I bring it together and present it to people. With the Mr. X Stitch site, it’s been the same thing. What we do on Instagram, we’re just featuring other people’s work all the time. And even with the podcast, I’m just facilitating conversations with other people and whatever that is. Call it a curator, call it a facilitator, whatever. That’s the thing where I just feel that’s my fit and that’s my place in this game now.

XStitch Magazine Front Cover from Issue 26

Choosing Guests For The Podcast

Gail: So how do you decide which guests you invite? Do you have a sort of thought out policy on it, or is it just something that happens organically?

Jamie: So it’s a bit of both, really. I think if I see somebody that’s. I mean, so I’m quite lucky, I suppose, because I’ve been in the game so long now, there’s quite a lot of people that I know. So what’s been really nice is just in the first instance is just reaching out to people who I’ve known for years and actually having a conversation with them for the first time. So an episode quite a while ago was with the artist called Joetta Maui, and she used to write a column for my website in like 2012. And we’d never spoken in real life until that point, but it was just great because I could talk to her. And the amount of time that’s gone by that we’ve kind of known each other, there was plenty of topics to discover, and so those kind of conversations have been great.

I’ve recorded an interview with the artist Orly Kogan, and I’ve known her for over a decade, off and on. But again, first time we ever chatted. So in some ways, what I’m doing is just going, these are my favourite artists over the years. I’ll just reach out to them and see if they want to have a chat. But then also, someone will pop up on Instagram who I’ll just be like, oh, my God, they’re amazing. And I’ll just send them a DM and just see whether they’re interested in chatting. So that’s happened.

There was a tufted rug artist called Lee Anroud, who’s from Los Angeles, and she does these amazing technicolour tufted rug pieces to do with gods and goddesses, but they’re almost like this electrified folk art kind of vibe. And I messaged her, and we had a conversation, and I’d never met her before, and I was new to her work. And recently as well, I just interviewed someone called Audrey Montoya, who’s a needle felting artist who makes these crazy, surreal, like, slices of pizza with eyes in them, or she does one that’s called, it’s a piece of cheese on toast or a grilled cheese sandwich with eyes, and it’s called the grilled cheese sandwich of acceptance. And her stuff is just so weird and so amazing. I was like, let’s have a chat. And we had a chat, like, last week about it. So it’s a bit of both at the moment, I’m just enjoying the fact that I can talk to people who I’ve known and admired for a long time and then just kind of seeing who else comes along the way.

But what I’m loving the most is the conversations in some ways are very different because of the nature of people’s work. But the themes that are emerging about creativity and about getting out of your comfort zone and overcoming your demons, those things are just coming up really commonly now. And it’s just really nice to talk around those because you just start to feel those things that we’ve all got in common in this space.

Gail: Yes. I think, as you were mentioning before, I think a lot of people have probably confidence issues, concerns about whether their work is good enough or those themes are common. I think certainly with the people I’ve spoken to, and, in fact, with our students as well, I think we do all have the same worries and concerns, don’t we?

Jamie: Yeah, it’s a really raw thing. I can remember the first time I ever put any work out there. So let’s say it was, like, 2006, and there was a little craft fair on in my town, and I just did a series of cross stitches that were based on album titles, and they were really basic. It was just, like, text with a sort of traditional looking board around it. But, like one said, God made me funky. And so it was just a bit of an idea. And I would just remember there were, like, six of them, and I put them up on a wall and then literally stood on the other side of the hallway just waiting for people to point and laugh at them. And it’s all part of the process, I think.

The thing is, I had the conversation similarly with an artist called Ruth Norbury, who. Her work’s amazing. She goes by the name of gothic decay on Instagram, and she’s only recently started exhibiting and is going through that very same thing of just the rawness of putting yourself out there because you’re exposing your soul, and it feels very scary. And the thing is, I think if you want to be true to yourself as an artist, you have to expose your soul.

You have to do the work that matters to you, because that’s your art, not doing the work that matters to somebody else. Or as we were saying before, the work that matters to the customers that might buy your products.

If you’re making art and you’re expressing your truth, then it’s a little bit scary. But the scary bit is the space in which you grow. If you have that experience and you put your work out there and nobody drops dead by looking at it, and you don’t get hit by lightning, and the room does not erupt in laughter, then you get the confidence from that, and that’s another step forward. And so the next time, you can be a bit more dynamic with your expression. It’s like an iterative process, but nobody, I don’t think whoever made any successful art hasn’t gone through that terrifying stage, because it’s an important part of the process.

An original Cross Stitch created by Jamie Chalmers, Mr. X Stitch

Gail: I suppose needlework has that extra step, doesn’t it? Because as an artist, that’s perhaps working in a different medium. So a painter, or what we might call fine art, the art is the end result. But with needlework, the art is part of the way you’ve obviously then got to transfer it into needlework. And it’s interesting that it’s always the design that people feel very underconfident about, not the stitching.

Jamie: Yeah, no, that’s true, isn’t you don’t. With some art forms, you might look at Van Gogh’s brushstrokes, but you never really look at someone’s needle strokes in the same way, do you? Yeah, it’s always about the slightly larger aesthetic. It’s just such a funny medium to work in, because from a technical standpoint. Yeah. If it holds up, if it works all right once, then a lot of people just take it for granted, don’t they? And they don’t really look in any depth.

I mean, there’s artists, like Case de Vayer, whose hand embroidered portraits look like oil paintings because they’ve got so many stitches of so many different colours, and they’ve got this photorealism. But I don’t know whether people do look at them in the same depth and intricacy as they might do with a van Gogh. I don’t know whether the stuff’s held in the same reverence.

Textiles As Art

Gail: I don’t think it is, to be honest. I wish it was. But I think that going back historically, for at least 200 years, there’s been this sort of feeling that textiles is somehow second best. It’s often labeled as craft, which is somewhat of a demeaning label, I think, and not revered in the same way as somebody that is a painter or does wonderful drawings. And I think that’s a real shame, because, actually, there’s an argument. There isn’t there, for saying that it’s more difficult to actually produce the original design and then make all the decisions about how to transfer it into thread, into stitch, because we’ve got so many choices. I mean, it could be cross stitch, it could be freestyle embroidery stitches. So to go through that process, I think, is more skilled, not less so. But I don’t know if you agree with that.

Jamie: I think there’s a lot. It’s a very deliberate medium, and I think there are some other art forms where you can get a lot of a much quicker result. And I think with needlework, it does take time to produce it, and there is a lot of care and attention and often engineering, particularly if you get into the realms of mixed media and you start throwing in all kinds of other techniques, there’s a lot more engineering and slowness that’s required there.

So I think what I find frustrating is the slightly higher argument of, it’s not really art versus craft, but there’s always just this thing of even people who make the best needlework art on the planet, it still gets lumped in as textile art. It never gets called art. It always has to be paraphrased. And we never look at oil paintings and go, oil painting art, or we never look at sculpture and go chipped out of marble art. But when it comes to textiles, we always go, textile art and that whole thing. And it’s like, I know my standpoint on the art versus craft debate. And most of the people who are needer work, artists, obviously, are craftsmen, because they’re craftspeople, sorry. Because they’re taking the time to make their work carefully. And that’s the craft, the slowness, the deliberacy, the attention to detail. But they’re expressing themselves, and they’re telling their stories, and that’s the art.

But someone who can put a bit of masking tape over a banana, stick it on a wall, and charge 100 grand, somehow that just goes, oh, well, that’s art, obviously. And it’s like, I don’t know, that debate, like you say, it’s been going on for millennia, almost. It’s tied in with the conversation about men versus women and obviously how brilliant men are. And by that, I’m being completely ironic. So the things are just so bound up in that I feel like there’s never been a better time to be a textile artist. But if you want to enter the National Portrait Gallery competitions, you still can’t do it in needlework. You still have to do it in paint.

If you want to enter the Royal Academy summer show, you’ve got to hope that the person curating is Grayson Perry, who likes textiles, because otherwise it’s really difficult. And it just seems really. It does seem quite unfair, I must admit.

Future Plans

Gail: Yes, it does, doesn’t it? Do you have any sense of where we’re going to? What do you think the future holds in store for it?

Jamie: Well, I mean, things like Instagram have been fantastic for the evolution of needlework. I think just because they’ve sped up the throughput of inspiration and creation, Instagram, Pinterest, it’s never been easier to just get loads of inspiration really quickly and to really elevate your ideas of what’s possible through needlework. So that’s been fantastic. However, that’s also quite a fragile system, I think, because it’s very much know with Instagram, it very much depends on Facebook and meta and their profits and all of that kind of know the algorithms.

But I think that the world at the moment is really like it’s a bit polarized in some places, and at the same time, it’s a bit very aware and very diverse and very lovely in other places. And I try and hang on to the lovely diverseness of it all, because in the same way as there’s so much like gender and race diversity, there’s also so much like artistic diversity.

And I think for a lot of people, if they pay attention to their higher selves and they think in a sort of graceful kind of way, then they can just see that needlework is a tool for expression, and you don’t really need to weigh it down with much more dogma than that. So I think that as things move forward and as people try and explore their artistic expression through needlework, whether it’s free machine embroidery or needle felting or making lace out of electronic substances, thinking off the top of my head, it’ll all just kind of blend together.

And I just think that you find a lot of outmoded schools of thought are starting to dissolve away. And I think that the textile art, being different to the rest of fine art, will eventually dissolve away over time as well, because it’s just iterative. And I just think that if enough people see enough work that moves them, then it sort of doesn’t matter what the medium is.

Gail: So it’s really the fact that they’re able to see some of this work out there that they find incredibly inspirational that’s leading them down the path to textiles, you think?

Jamie: I think so. I think textiles has always had this quite homely connotation, and it’s a bit unfortunate, I think, these days that modern school curriculums don’t really lean into it that much. Whereas for many generations of people, needlecraft was something that they would do at school. But I think it still has that domestic familiarity that you don’t get in the same way as, I don’t know, neon art or oil paintings and that kind of thing, because people are familiar to textiles.

They know about patches on clothes. They know about a little bit of cross stitch or their granny’s cross stitch sampler. So they’re already kind of aware of it. And I think all that really needs to happen, and something that hopefully I’ve been a part of, is just decontextualizing that and going.

It’s not just this little thing that you remember with fond nostalgia, but it’s also an important tool for political discourse, and it’s an important tool for self expression, and it’s an important tool for making magnificent soft sculptures that will amaze you and so I think it is just that thing of people knowing that textiles is still relevant and has got a function. Our clothes are important to us and the stitches that hold them together. But at the same time, that it deserves to be elevated and that it’s just as valid a tool for a fine art expression as an oil painting or a piece of sculpture.

Gail: So most people, I think, tend to come to needlework, certainly through their first experience of it, by purchasing a kit. Do you think that the kit producers and manufacturers have a part to play in helping the craft forward, or the art form, I should say, really, after the discussion, we’ve just forward, because still we get an awful lot of mainstream kits that are sort of vases of flowers or kittens in a basket, don’t we?

Jamie: Yeah, we do. And don’t get me wrong, I like flowers. I like kittens, I like country cottages. But I think you’re right. I think the problem is just there’s this global industrial mechanic system, where the people who’ve got the resources to produce kits at scale just cater to the middle, because perhaps they’re catering to a european audience rather than a locally specific audience. So they just aim for the middle of the road. And I think for a lot of people, they do just drive down the middle of the road, particularly in terms of cross stitch.

So there are loads of people doing loads of really interesting things, and I can think of loads of designers who I admire, who are really creative and really interesting. And then there’s also a lot of people who are just doing this year’s version of the middle of the road when it comes to the kits, because that’s where people can often casually see these things. If you go to a shop, like a hobby craft or a hobby lobby or something like that, you see the kits there. And for a lot of people, that is their first interface into this. And it is a shame. It is a shame that sometimes you just go, well, I’ll get that Winnie the Pooh one, because it’s like, the least offensive.

This is the conversation I had when I was starting out. It’s going, how can I find the thing that’s closest to what I’m interested in? Not how can I find the thing that truly reflects what I’m saying, but the logistics, the mechanics of getting your own stuff. Like with my magazine, I had a print version of the magazine for five issues. And the amount that goes into getting a magazine into a shop, it’s insane.

So, if you’ll permit me, I got mine into hobbycraft, which was great. But in order to do that, I had to say, for instance, if the magazine was ten pounds, I had to sell it to hobbycraft for four pounds. Then on top of that, I had to pay an extra fee for every single store so that it would get put on the shelf. So in the end, I may be getting like four pounds out of every issue or five pounds out of every issue, but if they didn’t sell them, they would just destroy them. And that’s kind of the way it works with getting magazines on shelves. So you have to be these big enterprises who can afford to take the losses because they’re the only ones who’ve got so many products available that it sort of balances itself out in the end.

But then in order to have that kind of scale, you then end up just catering to the middle of the road because you’re like, right, well, I’ll just sell to as many areas and properties as I can. And it all just becomes a bit homogenised. 

Nirvana Album Cover X Stitch by Jamie Chalmers

Gail: And over time, we’ve seen a lot of the needlecraft titles drop off, haven’t we? I mean, many of them that I remember seeing in WH Smith or wherever are now no longer with us. So I imagine that perhaps there has been a move away from buying cross stitch patterns, or any pattern, in fact, in that way.

Jamie: It’s really sad. It’s really sad. There was a magazine called Cross Stitch crazy that I think had been going for like 30 years. And yeah, the publishers folded it, so they only produce one cross stitch magazine themselves. And Cross Stitcher, which is like the country’s favourite magazine is, I don’t know.

It sometimes feels like it’s a little bit in jeopardy as well. What happens with the bigger businesses is they’re advertising sales engines, and if they don’t get a return on their investment, then they have to make those kind of decisions. And it doesn’t really matter what the content of the magazine is, because to them it’s just a means to an advertising revenue end, and it’s a real shame. And it’s just another one of those.

When you look at some of the big systems that failed. I remember when was it Virgin Megastores, they were like the absolute best. And then something went wrong with one of their suppliers and before you knew it, they all folded. And these massive systems are so fragile like that. So I think the loss of these other cross stitch magazines is an effect of that, because it’s so hard.

Like, I had to stop doing a print magazine because I would have run out of money after five issues, it just wouldn’t have been sustainable. And thankfully, the digital magazine is a different kind of beast. And we live in a world where it works for a lot of people. And I know that there are also people who make niche magazines, but it’s rare to be able to get that to a point where it’s sort of sustainable and easily accessible for people. And those are the gateways, those are the ways that the casual consumer sees these things.

XStitch Magazine front cover Issue 1 by Jamie Chalmers

How To Get Into Cross Stitch

Gail: What advice would you give to somebody that was a complete beginner but wanted to start on some form of needlework? Would you suggest they bought a kit? Would you suggest that they bought a magazine? Would you suggest they went online? What would your advice to them be?

Jamie: So putting, obviously, the answer of go and find X Stitch magazine.

Gail: Oh, that goes through that saying, doesn’t it?

Jamie: Yeah. No, I always say I think there’s something to be said for just getting a magazine with a kit, something that doesn’t bother you particularly and just doing it because you need to feel it out. I think we need to work.

You need to go through the physical motions of it to see if it’s something that you enjoy. The thing I love about cross stitch is there’s a real slowness to the stitching, and the fabric has an even weave, so you don’t have to think very hard about where you’re placing your stitches. So it’s ultra meditative. And that was the thing that I first fell in love with, is sitting there and just being like, wow, this thing’s really slowing me down. And there’s a thing when you meditate that if your mind wanders, you’re supposed to bring it back to centre again. And every time you put the needle through the fabric, you’re coming back to centre. So with cross stitch, you don’t have to think too hard, but you’re doing this really meditative process.

That, to me, that’s the secret sauce. That’s the thing that I love seeing if I teach workshops or whatever. So you’ve got to feel it, and you’ve got to know whether that feels right to you. And the simplest way to do that is to just get a kit from a magazine or get a little cheap kit from a craft store that honestly, if it goes completely wrong, you can bin it and you don’t feel like you’ve lost out.

I think sometimes people make a mistake by going right. I’ve got this really meaningful pattern that my grandma is going to love, and then when they try it and it goes belly up because they’ve just done the stitches wrong or they’ve done that thing where they haven’t separated the strands and they’re trying to force all these threads through the holes. It’s a bit heartbreaking. So you need to try with something where the risk is low, because it doesn’t matter if it works, brilliant.

If it doesn’t work, you can bin it, but at least that way you’ll get a sense of how you feel and how the technique is and get into it that way. And then you can start to take the steps in the directions of whatever your interests are. Whether you go and look on etsy and you find an independent designer there, or you come and find me at X Stitch magazine, whichever. But the first steps are always, just try it, try it, see how it feels and if you like it, then you can carry on.

Gail: And I suppose in that scenario, really, the design is a bit secondary, isn’t it? It doesn’t really matter what it is that you’re stitching, but it’s more the process that you’re enjoying.

Jamie: Yeah, I think so. And if it turns out that you make something that you’re quite content with, you can always make it funny. I’m trying not to use any swear words. You can always just have a little speech bubble of someone saying old balls or whatever, just because you can turn it on its head. But I think it’s just that thing of coming to grips with the technique, because particularly with cross stitch, the technique is very simple. It’s not like you’re learning gold work couching or anything. So, yeah, just trying something where if it’s successful, I’m sure you’ll find someone you can give it to. And if it’s a car crash at the back, you can keep it or you can lose it, but you’ve still taken those first few steps down the road and then you’ll know if it’s for you or not.

Jamie Chalmers aka My X Stitch
Jamie Chalmers aka Mr. X Stitch. Photo Credit Cat Lane

Gail: I think sometimes as well, people almost expect that their first attempt will be amazing, wonderful, and when it isn’t, they feel quite demoralized. But in all honesty, needlework is about that, isn’t. It’s about trying something, seeing if it works. If it doesn’t work, well, it’s experiential learning. You move on to the next thing. But I think sometimes we almost set ourselves up for failure because we expect that it’s going to be amazing first time and we forget that skills build and you have to be a little bit kind to yourself, really, to allow that to happen.

Jamie: Yeah, 100%. I would always say to people when I was teaching workshops that I’m sure Michelangelo’s first pieces of marble were absolute car crashes, but you never see them. And unfortunately, we do live in this world of Instagram reality and all of that sort of stuff. So you never see the thing where it’s like, oh, my God, this looks dreadful, but it has to look dreadful because nobody, unless they’re a prodigy, nobody can come out of the park swinging home runs every single time.

I’m trying to teach my children to read. I’ve got a four year old. I’m trying to teach her to read, and it’s ultra frustrating. The thing that fascinates me with this process, though, and I remember this from when I tried to learn to roller skate, you go from not being able to do it. So, like, I couldn’t roller skate, then I was able to stand on roller skates, and then I was able to move forward. And all of that was great because it was moving in the right direction. And then with any of these processes, suddenly there’s, like a tipping point where you get frustrated at the things you can’t do.

So it’s not like, because you see that you can do better. So, for instance, with roller skating, there’s a thing called a t stop, where you can just stop by dragging your foot behind you, and it kind of slows you down. Or I would see people just spinning on the spot to turn around, and I couldn’t do that, and I’d be annoyed because I couldn’t do that thing, because the balance shifts. I’m hoping this makes sense, but the balance shifts to a point of going, I can’t do anything to going. I’m not as good as I now want to be.

Gail: Yeah.

Jamie: Does that make sense?

Gail: No, it does make sense. I know when I speak to people that are perhaps doing a machine embroidery course with us, usually their first question is, well, what machine will I need? Because clearly I need one that’s all singing, all dancing. But, of course, you don’t. What you need is a pretty basic machine that you can start with, and once you’ve made that start, you then start to realize all the things that you’d actually like in your next machine. You don’t know that to begin with. You don’t know that you want one that’ll wind its own bobbin. You don’t know that you’ll need one that will need a needle down position. So I think you’re absolutely right. I think that you almost have to make that start and figure out from there, what it is that you want to do or achieve next.

Jamie: Yeah. And also be prepared, to be honest, and go, oh, this isn’t working. Sometimes for some people, it just won’t be the right thing. The thing I love about cross stitch is I always call it like a gateway craft, because you try cross stitch and then you move over onto harder crafts.

So for some people, the confidence with the needle might take them in the direction of, like you say, free machine embroidery, something like that, because they like the outcome, and they realize that doing stuff with a sewing machine is a really fast process. But for some people, it might take them in the direction of black work, because that’s pattern repeat, and it’s quite simple. But if you do it well, you can create great depth and texture, and then for other people, it might take them in the direction of something like gold work. But I think there’s something about the creative journey is your creative journey, and it’s shaped by you and your circumstances and your experiences, and no one can tell you the right thing to do, but the right thing to do is to keep moving forwards. And if it turns out you try a certain type of stitch and it’s not as comfortable, but it sparks another idea that creeps in around the back of your mind while you’re doing some work.

Go with those ideas. Don’t get in the way of saying, I must make this piece of work, because that’s what’s expected of me, because it’s your internal dialogue that’s the artistic spirit that’s talking to you, and you’ve just got to hopefully give that space to kind of communicate with you.

Gail: I always think that some of the most interesting work is actually where some of the different, I’m going to call them craft areas, cross over. So it would, for example, be very interesting to paint the background of some cross stitch fabric and then stitch onto it. It would be interesting to mix it in with some machine embroidery. And often where those two crafts cross over and can be merged is where some of the more interesting and unusual work comes in.

Jamie: Yeah. Now, I know that you’ve interviewed Cas Holmes, and I’ve interviewed her as well. And Caz is always interesting because I find that she’s got quite a sort of fearless approach. So I think what fascinates me is the people who are willing to go and try and make mistakes and work around the edges of what’s possible.

I did an interview with an artist called Sally Hewitt, and her mixed media work is amazing. And she trained as a sculptor in the first place. And I think that gave her a certain fearlessness because she’s willing to go and just really push at what’s possible and not be overly concerned about the outcome, because it’s that alchemy, it’s that sort of discovery that is the exciting point. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

But the people I’ve spoken to who do that kind of mixed media thing, like I said with Ruth Norbury, she does hand embroidery, and then at a certain point, just chucks loads of ink and various other materials on top of it and then stitches over the top of that again. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But they always seem to move forward. And if a mistake happens, sometimes you can reverse it, and sometimes you just have to accept that as part of your process and work with it. But those interfaces are always interesting, like you say, where people start to blend different ideas together. Some people, Meredith Woolnough, I know you’ve spoken to her.

Gail: Yes, yeah.

Jamie: Phenomenal, phenomenal work. And she does the one thing, and she does it really well. And for some people, that’s their jam. Whereas for other people, like Sally Hewitt, very disparate types of work usually has, like, six or seven pieces on the go, all the different medium in play, and it’s almost like she has a magnum opus in her head that she is trying to deliver or something.

So again, it’s whatever works for you. But I think that part of the reason I stand up and say, I’m a man that does cross stitch is because I want people to try it. And if they see me doing it and I’ve not been hit by lightning, maybe it gives them a go, and maybe that’s the thing that they feel. But I think we should try everything.

I tried ballroom dancing. I was dreadful for a while and really uncomfortable for a long time, which was great fun for my wife. I kind of don’t mind it so much. And flower arranging and cooking, all these things. Like, we have to try all of these things because some of them will resonate with us and some of them won’t. But the things that resonate with us are the things that make our life a bit more enjoyable.

Mr X Stitch Original magazine cover Issue 22 cover

Crafting For Mental Health

Gail: Yes. And I think there was a survey done a little while ago that showed that about 50% of people that do craft on a regular basis come to it because they have mental health issues. And it’s something, perhaps that we have touched on it a couple of times, but it is the reason, certainly it’s a reason why a lot of our students take up crafts initially because they might go through a bad patch, and they find it helps. That sort of regular pastime, something that you can pick up and lose yourself within, can be incredibly effective to combating some of the really low feelings that we can have.

Jamie: Yeah, it’s the mindfulness. I think it’s that being in the present moment and for some people that’s playing football because they don’t think about it. My wife does Lindy hop, and she loves that because you can’t. Hmm. That person at the office really annoyed me today while you’re trying to do a kickball change or whatever it is. And so it’s the same with need know.

It’s the same with colouring in. I think sometimes people worry, know you have to do something valid. I love the fact that coloring in became really popular. I think it was, like, lockdown related and stuff, because it’s such an uncomplicated way of accessing mindfulness. And that’s one of the reasons why I love cross stitch as well, because it’s kind of laid out there for you.

You don’t have to do a lot of conscious thinking. You’re just following the pattern that’s laid out. But you do end up in that moment where you’re just thinking about right now. And like I say, if you’re doing that a lot, if you’re running, you’re thinking about where you put in your feet, if you’re playing football, you think about what’s going on with the ball. So you’re just always in the present moment. And from a meditative, spiritual standpoint, that’s the healing spot, because you’re not allowing the stressful thoughts to have a look in. And so the more space and time you spend in that creative space, the better it is for you.

I just think sometimes people worry that they have to be doing a certain type of mindful craft, whereas I would say it really doesn’t matter. Like anything, chopping spring onions slowly, any of those things are things that they just take you in the present, and that connects you with your inner source, and without wishing to get too spiritual about it, connects you to the universal existence that we’re all a part of.

Student Needlework Prize

Gail: So do you have anything that’s coming up in the future for the business that you’d perhaps like to share with us or any plans for the future?

Jamie: The one thing that is of interest right now is the Mr. X Stitch student needlework prize. Last year, I decided to launch a juried prize. Sorry, a judged prize. Judged prize. About needlework. And following the response of that, we decided to do a student prize as well. So we’ve got six judges.

There are four categories available, hand embroidery, machine embroidery, 3d textiles, and mixed media. And people have got until the end of March to get their entries in. You can get like ten pound to enter.

You have to have a student email address of some description to prove that you’re in the educational realm, whether it’s you’re doing, I mean, even kind of part of the embroidery’s guild or something like that. If you’re doing online learning, as long as you can say, I’m studying this stuff, then you can take part in the competition and people can submit their work there. And we’ve got like, prizes for the top three entries in each category.

So that’s really exciting. And doing the Mr. X ditch contemporary needlework prize last year was just amazing because we had like 160 entries, and some of the people who came through were people I’d never heard of before, but did absolutely sublime work. And what I love is I’m one of the judges, but with the contemporary prize, we had four other judges as well, from different backgrounds. The outcomes weren’t things that I would have necessarily predicted, but what they were was they were all amazing pieces of needlework and textile art. And with students,

I think there’s a certain need for them to be able to take part in competitions and exhibit their work, often as part of their course. So this kind of fulfils that agenda as well, while at the same time giving people the first opportunity, if you like, albeit digitally, to kind of put their stuff up on the wall and then wait to see if anybody points and laughs at them.

Information about My X Stitch 2024 ~Needlework Prize for all students

Gail: So that will be online. Well, it’s not a physical exhibition.

Jamie: Yes, it’s not a physical exhibition. People will submit their work online and then the idea is the judging period will be in April, and we’ll announce the winners in May, and then probably just showcase as many good pieces of work as we can via the Mr. X stitch Instagram, because that’s kind of what we did the last time. And it would just be really exciting to see because I was a judge on the hand and lock embroidery prize last year, and I’m a judge again there, and it’s just such a nice thing to do because you don’t know what you’re going to see. And a lot of the time you might see work that isn’t necessarily to your taste.

But then every now and again, someone comes along who’s just got a vision and something to say, and it blows your socks off. And when that happens, it’s so good. It’s so amazing to see. It just goes back to that thing about embroidery and textile art is that there are so many ways to express yourself, and it never gets dull. There’s always people making new and interesting things.

So I’m really excited about the student prize because I just think there’s going to be a lot of raw talent there, and I really hope that people take part and show what they’re doing. The barrier to entry is really low. The opportunities are really exciting. I’m sure it’s going to be great to see what happens there.

Gail: And how will people be able to access. Is it via your site? 

Jamie:  So they can buy entry tickets via the X Stitch magazine site. Because that’s a bit like my shop, so that’s the easiest way to do that. So it’s ten pound to enter. You buy the ticket there, then you complete a form, like an online form, and then that gives you a Google Drive link where you can submit your work. And then I share it with our judges.

We got some good judges. I’ve got Lizzie Chambers, who’s a coordinator of the hand and knock Embroidery prize. I’ve got Dr. Sarah Joy Ford, who is a needlework artist and a scholar. I’ve got Pete Tarrant, who works for a company called Digitech, who’s a machine embroidery and digitizer. Not only is he an evangelist, but last year he did some work for the king, King Charles. So we call him, like, machine embroiderer, to the stars or to royalty. We’ve got Danielle Clough, aka fiance Knowles, who is a very popular needlework artist. And then I’ve also got someone called Helen Adams, who goes by textile curator on Instagram, who’s one of the best textile curators present company, not excluding. And so I’ve got a really nice mix of people. I’m one of the judges as well. So between the six of us, I think it’s just going to be really great to see what rises to the top, what art people are interested in.

Gail: Yeah, fantastic. We must keep an eye out for that. Please do let me have the direct link for it, because I’ll make sure that it’s on our social media feeds as well.

Jamie: Definitely. And I mean, other than that, the balls just keep know the X Stitch magazine comes out once a quarter. Mr. X stitch posts come out periodically, and we’re always sharing stuff on Instagram. And then needle exchange, the, shall we say, the second best textile podcast you could listen to. Right now.

Gail: Oh, aren’t you sweet?

Jamie: But yeah. Needle exchange comes out every Monday, and I tend to do interviews with artists and then split them into two slightly shorter interviews. And I’ve got quite a long list of people queued up for that. So if you like listening, if you’re listening to this, then you’re going to love listening to needle exchange.

Gail: Yeah, no, I’m sure. And finally, I noticed when I was having a look at a listen that should be to some of your podcasts, that you are starting a section of your business that helps coach others in business. Would that be the correct way of putting it?

Jamie: Yeah, I’m trying to sort of set up because, like I said, right, well, fairly early on, I’m in this weird interface where I’m not an artist and I’m not a designer, but I’ve had so many conversations with people about their work and their creativity, and obviously I’ve done an awful lot of marketing and those kind of realms that a lot of the time when I talk to people, we end up talking about this stuff, whether it’s pushing them past their own creative anxieties or whether it’s trying to work out the best medium for them to focus on in terms of marketing.

So I’m sort of offering up a mentorship opportunity where people can pay, and for three months or ongoing, if they really enjoy it, we can have a monthly meet up, we can have a conversation to see where they’re at in terms of their business, and then I can just help be almost like a critical friend and help them drill down.

Because one of the things I suffer from is there’s 10 million things to do. And sometimes it’s quite hard to work out what the best thing to do is right now in terms of what takes the best step forward. And so with the mentorship, it’s kind of an opportunity to just lean on me, have conversations, and let’s see what steps you should take forward, because I think that sometimes you just like having people to talk to.

Like I said, gary and the fiber Talk podcast, oh my goodness, the amount of talking we could do, just being the men with the Needlework podcast, and it kind of goes from there. So kind of what I’m offering, I’m not saying I have all the answers, but what I’m saying is I’ve been around a long time and I’ve had a lot of conversations, and I’m pretty sure that by talking to people, I can definitely act as a sort of sounding board and offer, like, structured suggestions on what they could do, because I.

Gail: Think being in business, any business really can be quite lonely. It can feel quite isolating sometimes. I think you retice to talk to other people about it, particularly people that have businesses themselves, because it almost feels as though you’re poaching a little bit. It can feel a little awkward. So therefore people struggle on, on their own, don’t they? Not always to great advantage. And that’s a shame.

Jamie: Yeah, I think so. I think sometimes as well, we look on people’s Instagram and see their polished versions of events and just think that everyone’s doing a marvellous job. Whereas the minute you get underneath the surface, we’ve all insecure and we’re all inadequate and we’re all not doing a good job as we can do.

I could give you fantastic email marketing advice that I’m not taking myself. We can all do that sort of thing. And so I do think sometimes I wish we could just all be a lot more honest about the reality of things. But at the same time then you run a risk of getting into a bit of a Debbie downer kind of mentality. So there’s a balance to be found there. But I think that, as you said, just talking to people.

I recently did a Facebook live event just from my office on a Monday evening, because it had been a long time where I’d actually been in a real space talking to people, because I just end up in my office a lot of the time and sending out emails and all of that sort of stuff. But with the Facebook Live, I only had like twelve people, but I did have someone from Croatia, someone from Australia, and someone from Florida. It was completely bizarre. But just having that kind of throughput, having that chat just made you again feel like you’re part of a community, that we do need those things to energize ourselves.

Gail: I agree. I mean, we enroll our students four times a year on an enrollment day and they sort of express their interests beforehand. But just before we get to the enrollment day, we have a meet the tutor session.

We usually do ours on Zoom, although I think we will change to Facebook next time. It’s really interesting to chat to people, to see them face to face, and as you say, they can be from anywhere, all over. We try and vary up the days and times so that if someone is in Australia or they are in the states, they can still join in. But some of their concerns or the things they raise are not at all what I would have imagined. And I think that probably means that I should perhaps do that a little bit more often.

Jamie: I think it’s like when you go and do a cross stitch workshop. I’ve taught cross stitch loads of times, and you get past this point of when you’re actually teaching people, and then everyone’s in the zone and they’re practicing, and that’s when you get underneath the surface and the other stuff comes out. And I just think that we all have to have those conversations more than once. I’ve got a friend called Annie who runs a cross stitch business called Stitchfinity, and she’s also a bit of a business coach. She has another project called Hustle well where she helps crafty entrepreneurs as well. And she and I meet once a month for like an hour on Zoom and just talk around the houses. And it’s like business therapy.

It’s like we’re both therapists for each other because we’ve both got loads of experience and we just talk about whatever’s on our minds, and it’s just been so good to do that. And we don’t necessarily come away with any tangible realizations, but just the fact that you’ve talked about stuff and people have helped you triangulate and make you realize that you’re not going mad by yourself, even that’s a worthwhile exercise.

Gail: Absolutely. And I think most businesses, particularly craft businesses, do have the same basic concerns. How do I contact people? How do I get my product or my name out there? How do I cost? All those sort of things are quite universal, aren’t they?

Jamie: Yeah. How do I fight the algorithm when it makes me do stuff that I don’t do? And what are the truths that hold out? If I may offer one solid piece of marketing advice to anybody listening, it’s get an email list. If you’ve got a business and you want to connect with customers, have some kind of sign up form on your website or a link via your social media? Because that’s permission marketing. That way you’re talking to people who want to hear from you, and those are the people most likely to be your, let’s call them, 1000 true fans.

That philosophy that says you don’t need a million followers. I’ve got over 40,000 followers on Instagram, but I don’t make 40,000 pounds a year. So effectively, it’s like, not worth it. But my email list is people who are interested in what I have to say and are more in tune with what I’m offering. And so for any person, it doesn’t matter if you do one email every six months to four people, those four people are going to like to hear from you. And I think that’s an old school truth that still holds true today.

Gail: I think it is. And I think speaking to our students, because we do have professional practice modules in our higher courses, so we ask them to put together a business idea to cost it and that kind of thing. And speaking to them, I’m always amazed really that they think that for every action that there’s somehow a quantifiable amount of money that comes back, because there isn’t. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and hope that you resonate with someone. And of course, as you say, you can narrow that down somewhat. But really it’s very hard to say. I know if I spend all afternoon, for example, recording a podcast that it will bring me an x amount of pounds. It’s just not quantifiable in that way, is it?

Jamie: Yeah, no, I think you’re right. I think sometimes we get just this false idea as well. Like I can talk about the Kickstarter success that I had when I launched the magazine and how I sent out the first email and I woke up the next morning, I’d have raised 1000 pounds and my goal was 6000 pounds. But in the end I raised 14,000 pounds. And that all sounds marvellous taken out of context, but it doesn’t talk about the preceding ten years.

I’d been kind of like posting things and trying to send emails to people and all of that sort of stuff. We all have this sort of naive idea and I think sometimes it is really hard to qualify these things. Like you say, podcasts in particular are quite a sort of amorphous thing where it’s almost like you’ve got to think of it as a bit of a hobby because it’s the only way you would carry on doing it because it’s such a long term game.

If you’re lucky, you can align yourself with some sponsors who might pay you to do it, but it is very hard to make that tangible link unless you’re. I think sometimes the only people who I think do well in this kind of game are people who are selling kits because at every single layer there’s a little margin to be made.

You can make a margin on the materials and often that will offset a lot of things, but for most people you got to know that you’re going to do a lot for no return for a long time. But with things like your email list, you will accumulate people who resonate with your creativity and those will be the ones who you can ask. I think that’s the other thing as well, is another thing, is to always try and ask the people who connect with you what you can do for them. And that’s not to say what you should do for them, but it’s to find out what they’re interested in to see whether that informs you. In a way.

I feel like I’m now conflicting what I said before about the artistic journey, but I think that there are two different things here. I think your artistic creative path is defined by you, but as a business person, you have to think about what your audience wants and whether there are ways that you can make those two things fit together. Doesn’t always work. And that’s where I think that sometimes people do compromise their artistic vision, or in my case, completely stop doing cross stitching because they’re serving the world of cross stitch, because that’s just kind of the way it has to add up. But you got to know if you’re willing to make those losses, if your artistic vision, and I’ve spoken to some people who are like, it’s the only thing that they can do, because that’s how strong their artistic vision is.

It’s like they have to be artists, and maybe they can make some business selling their art or selling prints and stuff like that, but it might be that doing tons of social media marketing and trying to flex those things isn’t for them because they’re doing the artistic thing. Whereas for some people, being a business person, facilitating, making sales through whatever means, selling products that are aligned with their creativity, maybe that works for them and they compromise their artistic journey a bit. I don’t think you can do all the things fully successfully.

Gail: No, I don’t think you can. And actually, when you have a lot of different things to learn, don’t you, when you start a business, you have to learn how to promote yourself, how to run an email list, where to run it. All those things are things that being a very good cross stitcher or a very good embroidery don’t actually qualify you for running a business in any way. So those are things that you have to learn if you want to, to make a success of it.

Jamie: Yeah, 100%. And you never stop learning, and you never stop making mistakes, and you’re probably not going to get it right. But don’t look at everybody else and assume they’re getting it right as well, because we all present these polished versions of ourselves. And I think that that’s where the illusion comes from. But I think that if you’ve got integrity, the other thing I think is just try and focus on one thing.

Obviously get an email list, 100% important. But for me, with Instagram, I can’t even remember when I started doing it, but I just made sure I posted one thing every single day and I did one post every single day for like eight years. And eventually you start to get the numbers of people coming in. As I said, how you then turn those numbers of people into cash paying customers is an entirely another matter. But rather than trying to do that and then trying to play the Pinterest game and then thinking, what about Facebook groups? And then thinking, should I be on TikTok? And then going, what is my YouTube strategy? And then going, how about postcards? I think you just got to go do one thing. Do one thing well, and then you’ve probably got half chance.

Gail: Yeah, no, I think that’s really good advice. Really good advice. Because consistency is key, but trying to be consistent across every platform, you wouldn’t have a life, really, would you? You’d just spend your entire time doing that.

Jamie: And I think the problem is as well, is I’m as bad at this as anybody, but you end up kind of almost getting carried away with productivity, efficiency. Know, you’ll see someone on YouTube will go, oh, I found this really clever way to kind of combine Twitter posts and turn them into LinkedIn posts or something. And you just get distracted by all of that stuff, do you know what I mean?

Because there’s always somebody who’s innovating in a certain direction and you can listen to the podcast about this and that and the other, and you can just run off in all these different ideas which take you further away from doing one thing really well and maintaining your own creative path. Because you’re like, I wonder if I can get my to do list to integrate with my Pinterest.

Gail: Yes, I agree with you. It’s the holy grail, isn’t it? Somehow managing to do three jobs while only doing one.

Jamie: Yeah, I mean, AI will probably destroy all of this or make it really brilliant. I’m not really sure which way it’s going to go, but I think, yeah, there were some really old school things and that’s why I think email just remains that thing. It’s permission marketing. Some of those things were old school and a bit of a daily practice of your own creativity, if you can manage that, or a twice weekly practice or something. Always keep that flame alive if you can.

Gail: Yeah. Jamie, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I have really enjoyed it. Thank you so much. For joining me today on the podcast.

Jamie: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Like I say, we’re in that situation where you and I have got very similar podcasts. So I feel like for another 4 hours, if we wanted, we would just have to do return episode.

Gail: Yeah, no, that would be great. I’d love to do that.

Follow Jamie Chalmers on Instagram or find out more by visiting his site

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