I guess I’m not totally sure what you mean. I kind of think I know; I’ve had some issues in the past where I’ve volunteered to do complex samplers or I’ve taken on ill-defined projects, and then have poked at them in despair for years, literally years, just not knowing how to make a nebulous idea into a concrete thing. Don’t ask about my nephew’s birth sampler; he was able to read his name before I got the damn thing to him. I started work on it the day he was born.
There are plenty of very accomplished embroiderers who never really do a lick of design work (and vice-versa, of course)– it’s perfectly possible to do amazing things with pre-designed patterns, or copying elements of existing works, and it’s not stealing or plagiarism really, because the main thing of embroidery is the handwork, which you really can’t fake. (I mean. Don’t sell things you didn’t design, clearly. But. No one will care if you copy some cool text art you saw, or embroider a design you saw on a t-shirt somewhere, or whatever.)
It’s definitely useful to just go on, like, Pinterest, or something, and just look at other people’s work. You can see how people utilize materials and different stitches and so on, and oftentimes you can even get good technical notes, like which stitches are best for outlines and which for text and what you do for tight fill and what for loose fill and so on. Personally, I’m very sloppy; I don’t know the difference between stem and outline stitch, and when I’m doing them I switch from one to the other mid-line, and it looks like hell if you know what’s what, I’m told, but I can’t tell the difference so it looks fine to me. I’ve also decided, personally, that satin stitch can go fuck itself, I’m not using it unless I’m forced to. (That goes double for padded satin stitch, it’s the devil.)
I will say that I do a lot of text art, and there are like, three simple rules for text art. #1 draw a bunch of straight lines in that blue washable marker so that your letters stay consistent in size and don’t wobble, #2 count the number of letters and spaces so you can lay it out from the center so you don’t wind up with the classic PLAN AHEa
issue, and #3 I go to somewhere like myfonts.com and put in the text I want in their preview window and do a search for fonts on random keywords (hippie, brush, modern, futuristic, script, etc) and scroll until I see something, then vaguely copy the approximate letter forms. That’s how I do all my signpainting anyway– I pick a nifty font and then draw something that’s approximately reminiscent of it, then adapt it to the limitations of my actual working medium. (Embroidery makes thick-then-thin fonts tough, for example, so I smooth them out and just go for evocative letter shapes.)
There’s never enough to be said about just experimenting, though. I have had some really boring dumb results, but I’ve also had a great time just doing a rough sketch straight on the fabric in washable marker and just going for it. If your text doesn’t stand out, whip another color through it (google whipped backstitch for an example).
Nothing wrong with just straight-up doing a sampler, too. Pick a quote you like, and then ornament it with every stitch you can think of.
Another suggestion might be to sketch out your ideas in colored pencils just so you can do a bunch of designs quickly and at low investment.
I’m horrible at following directions so I’ve never bought a kit before, but I know they’re easy to come by and are often pretty great– when I was a Youth they were uniformly horrid and cutesy (think geese in country bonnets, in pastel colors; that was all you could find, it was the 80s– and then in the 90s it was all, like, questionable Keltic faeries with their tits out) but now thanks to the Internet you can find amazing things, fannish things, badass things, hilarious things, beautiful things.
I’m afraid I don’t have any real resources beyond that; I do a lot of stuff just by feel or by the Aesthetics of it, and my aesthetic sense is nothing amazing but it is pretty practiced, by now. I can always eyeball the middle of something and I can freehand a pretty straight line, and from there, I do what fits, and sometimes it looks great and sometimes it looks a little wonky but people have a lot of tolerance for wonky handcrafts because that makes them look handmade, like they are.
Anyone else got any suggestions?