Focus. The One Attribute Essential Our Students. Embroidery can help.

As I have been teaching embroidery to students for many years I have been in a perfect place to notice how learning embroidery affects 7, 8 and 9 year olds.

Firstly, as is probably obvious, putting a needle, thread and fabric in the hands of a child creates in each a variety of different emotions. And as I give out the materials I can see these emotions on their faces. What do I see? Mostly I see curiosity, excitement,( this is a bit out of the ordinary…what’s going on?) Alongside those emotions I see concern, worry, and in a few cases panic.  But the overriding atmosphere in the class room is one of intrigued anticipation. ( What on earth does she want us to do with this stuff?)

In order for the student to make a success of their embroidery they have to be able to listen to instructions carefully, follow directions exactly and focus completely on the assigned task….to make one stitch.

Some students do not find these three requirements a challenge. they can listen, do and create without too much difficulty….to their delight. Some students for whom any one of those three is difficult will struggle to complete even one stitch. It is these students for whom embroidery is a slowly opening door.

If they cannot listen then they cannot follow directions…or complete the task.  If they listen but without the needed focus they cannot follow the directions or make a stitch and if they can listen and follow directions but lack focus to finish the task as directed they cannot do this either.


This task cannot be completed without the focus that this student is showing


This is focus in action.

Education will have to go through a serious revolution if it is to prepare our students for their working lives. Their future promises to be one of constant change, lifelong learning and adaptability to a workplace which not even the smartest among us can forsee.

Ok…I hear you say…what does this have to do with teaching embroidery to a class of third graders.

Dr. Daniel Goleman wrote a book entitled Focus, the Hidden Driver of Excellence. In his excellent book he describes in detail what it takes to develop focus and how important this attribute will become to our future citizens.

Over the years I have watched embryonic embroiderers grow, develop and master the needed focus to complete their assignment.  Embroidery teaches focus. I can see it in action. The students tell me that as soon as they stop focusing they make an error. They are aware of their work, they are thinking about the way they do what they do. Any error is very obvious and very annoying and they are therefore very incentivized not to make errors. How do you not make errors? Answer……….Focus.

I Know Something Most Teachers and Administrators Do Not Know.


Up until now this blog has been mostly about teaching young people to embroider. Counted thread embroidery is always the focus as it is kind to the learner ………and the teacher too actually. I will not stray far from this subject matter in this post but I have come to realize after reading Tom Friedman’s description of what a blog should try to do ………..that I need to do more, say more, require more of my readers, if there are any, and generally stick my neck out; educationally speaking .

So…what is it I think I know, that most teachers and administrators do not know.

I know that embroidery in the classroom is an amazing tool to teach so many different skills simultaneously. I cannot understand why embroidery is not embraced as a mandatory, curriculum addition for second and third grade. Well, yes I can understand it, because most teachers and administrators are looking at different things. Time is short, tests are hard, expectations are high, reading is essential, math is fundamental, science is our future.  Who in their right mind would think that embroidery in the classroom was a good use of the students’ time.  Me. And I am in my right mind.

Here’s what I know: I know that when I put fabric, needle and thread  in a student’s hands I have their absolute undivided attention. I know that they are learning with their hands and their hands are teaching their brains things that cannot be learned any other way.

I know that in order to thread a needle and make even one stitch requires total focus. That the student’s spacial awareness, ability to visualize three dimensionally, and to follow instructions are all at full stretch…..there is total silence in the classroom as the students engage their hands and their brains to make one simple cross stitch.

I know that to make one stitch is a huge deal and elicits squeals of delight at a new skill. I know that because embroidery is really repetition that if a student can make one stitch then they can make a thousand stitches. And I know that repetition and its predictability makes something  that felt horribly difficult suddenly manageable. The feelings of accomplishment are palpable.


I know now that having mastered the skill to make a stitch the student feels empowered to continue. I can see the excitement on their faces. “Now I can do this what else can I do?”

I have a ready answer for that. I know that when a student takes their new skill and learns to apply it to a charted design then the learning really takes off.

The little trees at the top of this post are the first projects of the third graders. In order to achieve this result they needed, focus, dexterity, persistence, accuracy, math, spatial awareness and above all focus. Embroidery trains the brain and builds the neural pathways needed for achievement at everything else….and the students don’t care about any of that….they are just have a wonderful time being creative.