Q&A with Belinda Brown

Editor’s note: Nancy Cox is the founder of Research Story Consulting and former CPG corporate researcher. Her work and play include words, sketchpads, cooking (not baking) and the occasional sock puppet .

Passions, hobbies, healthy distractions and even guilty pleasures – discover how the research community plays and how that plays out in their work life. In the Venn diagram of work and play, what happens when work and play overlap? Research colleagues share their work and play stories in this interview series by Nancy Cox. 

Hello to Belinda Brown, director of marketing and business development, Gazelle Global  

What is the “play” in your life? 

I’ve started doing embroidery and I’m sort of obsessed with it. This past summer, I was in an airport between flights. My previous flight didn’t have TV ─ I realized how reliant I had become on the tiny TV on the plane. I went into the airport bookstore where I found a little beginner’s cross-stitch kit. A something-to-do-if-you’re-bored kit. I loved it! Cross-stitch is only one stitch so once I learned that stitch, I could do the whole pattern. There was instant gratification.  

I’ve always been crafty – I’m not particularly athletic or sporty. But I wasn’t really a textiles person. My grandmother did crochet and knitting, all sorts of stuff with her hands. But I don’t sewcan sew on a buttonthat’s about it. My only other experience with a needle was as a child when I saw beading on a family trip to Santa Fe. I fancied myself a beader. That didn’t last long. It’s very hard. Tiny little needle. Tiny little beads. Very little progress. 

With embroidery, there’s this enjoyment of doing something successfully while learning it. Not true with other forms of play. For example, I’m a singer and I’ve tried several times to learn how to accompany myself with different instruments such as the guitar. There’s very, very long time when you’re terrible. Not great in an apartmentYes, you can learn some chords and pluck around, but you can’t produce anything in its entirety while you’re learning it. 

I like that embroidery stitches are really simple. My favorite stitch is the lazy daisy. Because it’s called the lazy daisy. I relate to being lazy in a good wayThere’s that quote – no one knows who really said it, maybe Steve Jobs or Bill Gates ─ I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will findan easy way to do it.” With the lazy daisy, you make a flower almost effortlessly. Your needle and thread come up from under your work, you leave a loop of thread as you come back down, then with your needle come back up at the tip of the loop, come back down once more and as you tighten that stitch – instant petal! 

As I stitch, I love watching how the color and then the image emerges. Embroidery is helping me to embrace color. My favorite color is still black – as a New Yorker I’m not sure where I would buy clothes that aren’t black. But now I’m finding myself also attracted to all the different yellows. Yellows are the happy color. Yellows attracted me to my current embroidery of sunflowers on a sky-blue cloth. Back to nature. I find that calming. You can also find really funky colors in nature, and I like knowing these colors are not artificial. They are naturallike the startling colors of fish in the sea. And since I’m embroidering such a small thing, not like color on a wall or a couch, I can be explosive in color. A bit rebellious. 

How has your play influenced your research work? 

Play and being creative have been shown to have positive effects on innovation. My embroidery helps my brain. I function better when I’m being creative even it’s just 15 or 20 minutes a day. This was validated for me – I love it when research backs you up – with a book called “Your Brain on Art” by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross. I like knowing that what I am doing is good for my brain.  

Embroidery makes me approach problem-solving as an opportunity. With every project, there’s this new color, new thread, new technique. If I don’t know how to do this stitch, I just figure it out. There’s intrigue and curiosity. Then that boost of confidence when creating something beautiful while you’re still learning. In business, there are things to get done when you’ve never been in that situation before – hello, global pandemic! Or AI taking over. But I can see them as opportunities. And yes, in business there are stakes, but you can decide to brainstorm for 10 minutes with no stakes.  

In embroidery, if the back of piece looks neat then you’re really good at the stitches. Well, my backs look ridiculous although they’re getting better! I thought I was being efficient by not cutting my thread, just taking a giant stich across the back to start in a new area. Instead, I was just making a mess and creating a whole bunch of problems. Which is totally reflective of what can happen in business. A shortcut can be great if you’re driving a car somewhere and it takes less time. Or a shortcut can lead to mistakes because you didn’t go through the proper process. I’m gaining new respect for process. 

I naturally give myself deadlines and create expectations of what I want to accomplish. With this craft, I’m trying to just embrace the play of it. In the past, I’ve given myself expectations, which is why I haven’t been so successful with the guitar. If I don’t feel like doing my embroidery, I don’t do it. It’s sitting on the coffee table when I want it. 

I find myself looking forward to embroidering during lunch or after work. I want to have play be part of my life every day. I’m making something out of almost nothing. That simple enjoyment is truly improving my day. 

What would you tell readers who want to know more about your area of play? 

Start with cross-stitch. It’s the easiest stitch. Buy a little kit. My first kit did not cost more than $10. Beginner kits come with everything you need, and are very self-explanatory, labeled with what colors to use where. Almost paint-by-number. The instructions show you exactly where to bring the needle up and where to bring the needle down to make the cross-stitch. You make the whole design with that one stitch. It’s realleasy. 

This is a craft you can pick up and put down. Do 10 minutes with morning coffee. In the evening, you can watch TV at the same time. You can stop in the middle of a stitch. It won’t come apart. Shove it all in a zippered plastic bag. The whole hobby can fit in a very small space. Mine sits on my coffee table until I want to stitch. It’ll be there when I’m ready. 

The learning is very cumulative. You don’t have to change things all at once to learn – skills carry over if you switch from a kit to embroidering a jean jacket. You’ve used the embroidery thread before. You’ve done this stitch before. You know how to use a hoop. Now you start thinking about creating your own patterns. And embroidery thread costs almost nothing.  

Don’t make it a job. Something you feel accountable to have in your life forever. No need for that pressure. Embroidery is something you can stop then pick up any time in your life.