Life Buoy Potion

As #secretsofselfpreservation / Apothéké progresses, one week's potion is beginning to have a dialogue with its predecessor.

This week's continues a thought which making last week's Piggy Bank Potion elicited; that self care is an ongoing process through which you save yourself every day.

So I have stitched, simply, "Save yourself every day", and accompanied it with a miniature life buoy. 

This is as much a feminist statement as a therapeutic one; in the age where we are fed drivel such Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey it is perhaps more pertinent than ever that women take their destinies into their own hands and seek self-salvation rather than waiting around for a knight on a white horse to come riding in (particularly if these fictional "knights" we are supposed to swoon over are thinly veiled abusers). I'm very glad I have left my years as a submissive, passive damsel in distress behind.

It's summed up in a quote I have seen floating around the internet: "I don't want you to save me. I want you to stand by my side as I save myself".









Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Flowering

By the eighteenth century, embroidery was referred to as “flowering”, cementing its importance in cultivating the image of the English rose, and the inseparability of needlework and floral motifs. So long as such stitching was undertaken for the greater good and was not an exercise in vanity, it was permissible. Vanity, after all, is self-regard; looking at oneself, and not letting men do the looking. Why else are selfies so reviled?

Instructing women to stitch for the church or their husband denied women agency over their creativity. If pleasure was sinful, then needlewomen, ever pious, were not permitted to take pleasure in creating their art. In The Subversive Stitch, Rozsika Parker suggests that “the endless assurances that embroidered objects were necessary and useful were prompted perhaps by the guilt women felt that they found pleasure in embroidery”. By the Victorian age, lived experience was all about repression, to keep up the appearance of the angel in the house. This, after all, was an age in which women were told to “lie back and think of England”. The ideal English woman was fragile as the rose that gave her her namesake, pure, and far too calm for anything as frenzied as pleasure. Her physical and emotional helplessness was a reflection of her status as a commodity to be acquired by men; women could not own property or money they had earned until 1870; before then their assets automatically became their husband’s upon marriage.

The fear of sinning through embellishing garments to adorn oneself with (which was so popular in the eighteenth century) may have led to the Victorian craze for embroidering for the man in one’s life; from slippers to the rather frivolous smoking cap, all men’s accessories were to be covered in stitches. This corresponded to the ideal of the self-sacrificing angel in the house, who existed “to soften and sweeten life”, as Mary Lamb put it in her caustic essay On Needlework. A literal softening and sweetening was taking place here; women were creating textiles, and covering them with sentimental stitches.

By the 1830s, the most popular form of embroidery was Berlin woolwork. And the most popular motif? Flowers. Little has changed there, then.

Here is the beginning of a piece based on Berlin woolwork (and on some of the ideas explored here) though stitched in cotton, not wool.

Slowly, the embroidery is flowering...
















Witches and Wicked Bodies

Supposedly higher sex drives are sometimes given, not so much as an excuse as a reason, for "men behaving badly" (whether that may constitute cheating behaviours or even sexual assault). However, the thinking in bygone centuries was that it was more difficult for women to "control their carnal desires". It was also thought that women were "more open to persuasion", and that these two sinful vulnerabilities were a result of intrinsic feminine frailty which made them "weaker vessels" than men.

To learned men of the day, this meant that women could be more easily seduced, both physically and mentally. And who is the greatest seducer of women - think of Eve and the serpent - the Devil. These ideas, inherited from Biblical depictions, led to the demonisation of witches, who were characterised as evil devil worshippers.

But even in pre-Christian societies witches were a prevalent archetype. Circe and Medea were characters of Greek mythology, and Medea was a priestess of the goddess Hecate, who was strongly associated with witchcraft and sorcery. Harpies and sirens were also popular adversaries in Greek and Roman myth. These two often interchangeable monsters are the first subjects of the Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition, at the British Museum until the 11th January. The siren harpies are depicted attempting to lure Odysseus to a watery grave on a Greek vase with a wide neck.


The majority of the exhibition, however, is given over to the witches of the title - and their wicked bodies. The exhibition ranges from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. The majority of witch hunts occurred during the Renaissance, and the exhibition is, in part, a chart of their progress. What is almost immediately apparent is the huge regurgitation of the same hysterical imagery. Compare these two prints: the contorted, grotesque bodies; the ghoulish, phantasmagorical horse-like creatures; the supernatural elements whipping up the witches' hair, flowing like banners behind them. The two prints are variations on a theme, and the exhibition is full of prints which are equally as similar.



Prints like these could be mass-produced and dispersed via the tabloids of the day. Indeed, they very much put me in mind of both the tabloid press and car crash TV; they are just as titillating, vulgar, and abject, with perverse acts, copious nudity, and drooping breasts, and they contain handy scapegoats for societal ills. During the Renaissance, it was storms and natural disasters which were blamed on witches; now, for example, the jobs market and housing are blamed on immigrants, but the principal is the same. Both groups - witches and immigrants, are, to differing extents, marginalised, misunderstood members of society, and most importantly, they are Other - then, ungodly, and now, foreign.

As Deanna Petherbridge notes in her book which accompanies the exhibition, "activities such as cooking, healing and midwifery", activities which for the most part excluded men (and Othered women), may have made men suspicious of women. As Petherbridge notes, these activities "gave women an unusual degree of power over their fellow human beings". This threatened the "natural order" of patriarchal society.


This challenge to male power is palpable in the prints of witches created by men in this exhibition. Many of the witches are highly androgynous, even masculine. In the Classical tradition, some of the women portrayed here are distinguishable from men only by the (sagging, distended) breasts which have been stuck on, not so much as an afterthought, but as a reminder of just how transgressive these women are. How dare they have breasts, this symbol of womanhood, and behave aggressively, take on men's role, even men's physical features? This is dangerous, and, combined with the occult, Satanic. It is a threat, not only to men, but to the figurehead of patriarchy, the ultimate father figure; to God Himself. All of which provides the motivation for the horrific persecution, torture, and murder of "witches" during the Renaissance, which is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of 70,000 to 100,000 people.



The most marginalised members of society, just as now, were the most vulnerable to attack. As Petherbridge writes, "early modern ideas about the essential vulnerability of women may have provoked concerns about the weakest members of the female sex, such as poor, old widows without social support or protection, using unnatural means to 'even up the odds'."

As we move to the end of the 18th Century, the images change, and become perhaps even more misogynistic. Certainly, they are objectifying; these witches fit the temptress template. Men have sketched and painted them nude or scantily clad, and then blamed the women as immoral seductresses, all whilst they and their audience feel a frisson of excitement at the scandal. It reminds me of John Berger in Ways of Seeing: "You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting "Vanity", thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure".




Their very bodies are sinful, and will lead to the downfall of man. And so we return to the idea of the fault lying with the very nature of the women themselves - to original sin - to Eve.

Between The Waves: Experiences at the 2014 Feminism in London conference

The Feminism in London conference made me feel uncomfortable. It also made me feel elated, disgusted, relieved and confused. And in that regard, I would say that it did its job. Feminist conversations are oftentimes uncomfortable.

However, as I am what some people are terming a "fourth wave feminist", I sometimes feel caught between, or perhaps under the various waves of feminism. And I must admit, I'm not entirely satisfied with any of them. That perhaps, is also the point. Feminism must move forward as it encounters new barriers to the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

I felt particularly caught between these waves when listening to the opening speech of the conference by Gail Dines. She called for a return to radical feminism, which originated in the 1960s with the rise of second wave feminism. Radical feminism's fly in the ointment is patriarchy; male domination over all aspects of society. Now, as a modern day intersectional feminist, I have a bone to pick with this idea; for example, what about race? What about class? Sexuality? Trans rights? I would argue that as a white, middle class, heterosexual woman, I have more privilege than a black, working class, lesbian woman; I get a bigger slice of the pie. Intersectionality is about being mindful of this and supporting all our sisters in their struggles against the multiple oppressors they face.

 I also believe that men have their place in this too, and can effect positive change, so long as they don't attempt to dominate a movement that is primarily about women's rights. Case in point the recent cock-up with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg wearing "This is what a feminist looks like" t shirts which were allegedly made by women under sweatshop conditions. If true, this is certainly an  utter outrage, but to my mind also rather begs the question: what were these men doing making the feminist conversation about them? At which point we return to the issue of patriarchy. These men are the living embodiment of the word, taught to believe everything is always about them. It's up to "scrappy upstarts", i.e. the thousands of women who attended and supported the Feminism in London conference, to remind them that it's not. This is a message from the speeches at the conference that I wholeheartedly embrace: that feminist revolution is a collective effort. That we must pull together to make our voices heard.

There was a strong focus on the increasing "pornification" of our culture at the conference. The next day, I was idly scrolling through Tumblr when I happened upon a fashion editorial advertising a new line of Barbie-themed garments. One of the t shirts proclaimed the legend "This bod's for you." Many women today claim that they don't need feminism; some because they think feminist = man-hater, some because they believe there is equality now, so what's the point of feminism? Well, I would argue that when our own bodies are not for us is precisely the point at which we need feminism. That's not even taking into account the disparity in what men and women are paid for equivalent jobs, to give but one example of inequality.

A young woman who is painfully aware of this inequality is Freya Pigott. In Freya's own words: "I am a 16 year old student with a love for standing up for what I believe in." And what Freya believes is that injustices committed against women have to stop.


As part of The Art of Feminism exhibition which made an appearance at the conference, Freya exhibited a textile piece entitled I wish the content of this would age quicker than the fabric will disintegrate.

The mismatched fabric squares making up the work are machine embroidered with statistics related to gender inequality and observations on the misogyny Freya encounters in society today.




I found the below the most harrowing: More people would dial 999 if they were to witness animal rather than domestic abuse.






Creating this piece was a considerable act of bravery for Freya; some of her classmates criticised her efforts, asking what the point was, and stating that "it wouldn't change anything"'; as if art has never changed the world!

I was invited along to the Feminism in London conference by Catherine of Significant Seams, to document a discussion on how craft can change the world.

Catherine was joined by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective and Deadly Knitshade to present the talk Crafting Politics. Creativity couched as craft rather than art was important here; the speakers concluded that art is less accessible and more exclusive than craft, which is a form of creativity which transcends class, gender, and race divisions. Of course, the particular forms of craft discussed by the speakers, stitching, knitting, and patchwork, are to a large extent still gendered female, though "manbroiderers" such as Mr X Stitch are doing their best to debunk this. However, as Roszsika Parker notes in The Subversive Stitch, the very term "manbroidery" wards off the associations with "trivial" femininity embroidery still holds.



Through her work with the Craftivist Collective, Sarah Corbett has encountered some male activists who say of Craftivism that it's "crap"; that activists need to be angry, to shout, to effect change. Sarah argues that she is channelling her anger to reach the right audiences, and simultaneously creating joyousness out of anger. This reminds me of a glorious cross stitched quotation I saw once: "I sublimate my rage through needlework". Craft can be political in unexpected ways, partially as consequence of its "girly", "fluffy" associations.

As Deadly Knitshade noted, when you tell people that you are protesting or raising awareness through needlework or knitting, they relax and say "Oh, that's really interesting". In a similar way, colleagues in a school I was working in recently couldn't seem to reconcile the fact that I wear a lot of pink lace with the fact that I'm a "rampant" feminist; my feminism and Craftivism are thus both slightly stealthy forms of politics.

Craftivism is neither high (elitist) art or confrontational (scary) activism. It is Craftivism; activism using craft in a quietly beautiful way.

Returning to the theme of second wave feminism for a moment; Catherine argued that textile crafts were thrown under the bus by second wave feminists in the 1970s, just as research was beginning to indicate that they were the most effective hobbies for better mental health and deeper relaxation.

 I concede that during the second wave domesticity was in feminist firing lines, and needlecrafts were part of this domestic sphere (hello, the enduring phenomenon of Jane Austen). However, during the 1970s a number of feminist artists turned to textile craft as a means of self-expression and manifestation of "the personal is political"; the collaborative work of Judy Chicago particularly springs to mind. During each wave of feminism, craft has played its part; think of appliquéd Suffrage banners in the first wave; of Womanhouse and The Birthday Party (both instigated by Chicago) in the second; of Craftivism, and the reclamation of craft as an undervalued, gendered art form in the third.

In each wave, in each era, there is much to be proud of in the efforts of feminists, craftswomen, and women who fit into both categories (why, hello there). I think there will be much to be proud of in the waves which follow, as well.

Now I'm a Milk Thistle

I've had a bit of a lonely half term; my family were away, most of my friends were working, and Pip has been very busy with work and being a new home owner. I did manage to host a small gathering yesterday, with home-baked brownies and pumpkin pie, though; there are far too many sweet treats left lying around the house!

I may have spent a lot of time with Mad Men boxsets, but I did try to use the time semi-productively; whilst slobbing I was stitching, too. In fact, Milk Thistle is finally finished.

The book deals with sickness (and sickliness) and recovery, the subdued gloom of the English national psyche, weeds, delicate flowers, frailty, vulnerability, stereotypes and performativity of femininity, Romantic literature and poetry, and thorns amongst the roses. Milk thistle is thought to be good for the liver, so the book is also about bravery; about not being lily-livered.

Conceptually I think it's the most cohesive of my three artist's books; however, due to the thin fashion and quilting cottons I used for its cover and pages, it doesn't feel quite as "structurally sound". But I did get a chance to experiment with a few techniques learnt during my time at the RSN, as well as some new ones; Turkey rug stitch, Victorian cross stitch beading, and ribbon embroidery all make an appearance.

So here it is, the completed Milk Thistle, an idea it has only taken me two years to realise:


































The text of the book:

We are wilted English roses grown pallid and wan, wandering moors, moaning "Willoughby, Willoughby" at thin air for hours.

I'll twist my ankle attempting to commune with nature, and fall deep in the shaded wood, become a shrinking violet, growing smaller and smaller until one day I simply vanish.

Down in the thicket, the bright fairy bower, I am sickly and fey, I'm a delicate flower.

Up in my garret, my ivory tower, I wax and I wane, I pale by hour.

Laid up in bed with the curtains drawn, lily livered and lovely eyed, stitching petals between pages, paper thin Honesty skin - quick! Sew up the gaps! Don't let the light in.

In the darkness thorny thoughts crowded my head and I thrashed in my flower bed so ineffectually, a delicate flower choked by creepers, bound up by pansy sickness.

Nobody brought me a bedside bouquet, but everywhere I wept, petals sprung, until I watered a meadow.

The White Lady came to me. She told me "Dab tincture of milk thistle under your weeping eyes. It's good for the liver and you need all the unlilying you can get. Remember you're a milk thistle; a tenacious weed."

I was an English Rose.

Then I was Rose Madder.

Now I'm a Milk Thistle.

I'm looking for somewhere to exhibit Milk Thistle, alongside my other two artist's books, if at all possible. If you're interested, please don't hesitate to get in touch!


No Baubles - British Folk Art at Tate Britain

When the Royal Academy was established in 1769, it emphatically stated that "no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shell work, or any such baubles should be admitted". Baubles were all very well for the drawing room; just don’t bring them into the gallery. 

One might well assume that this measure was intended to bar women from exhibiting; this a mere twenty three years before A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published. Art by women has long been devalued and placed firmly in the camp of craft, differentiating it from "masculine" high art; as art historian Roszika Parker noted "historians devalued it ("women's work") in the eyes of society which equated great art with masculinity, the public sphere and professional practice”. Professional practice, of course, was historically barred to the vast majority of women, and even today, the exposés of Guerrilla Girls indicate the extent of the glass ceiling which still exists in the art world. Work by female artists is often couched as female first, and art second, or simply and derisively as "decorative".



But it is not only women that the Royal Academy's proclamation barred; rejection of these "baubles" is in part a question of class. Many male and female artists could only dream of the Royal Academy, with its members wealthy enough to "drop out" in order to turn to a life of painting. Working class artists instead turned to whatever they had to hand for their materials; bone, scraps of fabric, letters and newspapers, pins and beads. Art made from the collections of the rag and bone man.



It is this patchwork art, made from scraps, from snippets of this and that, that we see at British Folk Art at Tate Britain. Literal patchworks are paper pieced with scraps of letters and newspapers. In a time when paper was scarce and expensive, this was the most economical means of hand quilting, even if sacrificing cherished letters was heart-wrenching. Throughout the exhibition we see thrift as evidence of survival and adaptation to trying circumstances, rather than it is often employed today, as guilty afterthought or proof of green credentials. This is make do and mend before the term came into use. The centrepiece is a cockerel painstakingly hand-carved from mutton bone by French POWs during the Napoleonic Wars. The intricacy of this sculpture repudiates the rulings of the Royal Academy almost half a century earlier. It is an astonishing work not simply for the delicacy of the carving, but for the sheer quantity of bones the POWs siphoned off; for the coral wattle and comb which presumably is dyed bone; for the hours it doubtless took to whittle and carve down the bone into individual feathers. The cockerel demonstrates the tenacity of the human spirit; the irrepressibility of imagination.



Time and again walking through the exhibition, the audience encounters art made during hardship. Folk artists have created when incarcerated; when recuperating from illness; when pining for loved ones across the seas.

Whereas needlework and textile craft was thought to be the preserve of middle and upper class ladies in recent centuries (and we do see examples of samplers in this vein), here we see men turning to the medium also, often when convalescing.



Injured sailors and fishermen created woolwork keepsake representations of their ships. Recuperating soldiers in the 19th and early 20th centuries were encouraged to create bright patchworks from their old uniforms. Some might think this emasculating; however, when one takes into account just how heavy duty the serge and twill fabric is, any feminine associations of needlework evaporate.

 An even more macho application of needlecraft is evident in a
frankly terrifying Jolly Roger which flew atop HMS Trenchant in the Second World War. In a gross understatement, the exhibition notes inform us that Jolly Rogers like this one featured "symbols referring to the vessel's various engagements". The "various engagements" are the sinking and capturing of German ships. Appliqué, as employed here, and other textile crafts, have become the site of subversion over the course of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty first century; we see an early subversive, piratical use here. This is textiles divorced from the drawing room and any shred of domesticity; made entirely masculine.  



Alongside the woolwork depictions of ships and “sailors’ valentines” are works of art of a more traditional nature; almost good enough for the Royal Academy.  Appropriately given the flavour of the exhibition, these paintings are by a rag and bone man; Alfred Wallis of St Ives. His naive paintings recall his youth at sea. Unlike the artists who neighbour his paintings, Wallis had some art world success with his work, mostly due to his friendships with the St Ives artists’ colony.

Another folk artist who had success during her lifetime was Mary Linwood, an embroidery copyist of Old Masters. She was not accepted into the patriarchal art establishment, doubtless because her naturalistic, immense silk shadings posed too much of a “bauble”, but nevertheless enjoyed considerable success. However, she fell from grace with the advent of “art needlework”, when, ironically, embroidery artists and designers aped a folk art, pre-industrial style.



As with all that is fashionable, art is cyclical; the Royal Academy may once have been up in arms about the daintily hand crafted, but contemporary artists such as Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry have made careers from borrowing from craft. Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller celebrates folk art in his work, and creates new folk heroes. Doubtless the time will come again when folk art falls out of favour. This would make it all the more vital to celebrate it for what it is; art by the people, for the people.

DIY Cultures

I'm still buzzing from tabling at my first ever DIY fair at the weekend. My dear friend Hannah Hill invited me to share a table and give her a hand at the second ever DIY Cultures Fair at the amazing East End cultural space, Rich Mix, and I was only too happy to oblige.

Hannah was selling a variety of her wares, from stickers to her Ghoul Guide patches to little ghostly brooches (I just had to snap one up at the earliest opportunity!) as Hanecdote. I joined her as Poesie Grenadine, displaying my pop feminist/body positive lino patches for sale.


I must say I think our products looked very cute together, in their colourful array. And, if it's not too smug to say, we looked pretty darn cute too, Hannah in her sugary tough girl get-up and me in my Ghoul Guides dress, bedecked in patches.


Even if I hadn't sold anything, I still would've had a lovely day; it's always a pleasure hanging out with Hannah and her hilarious boyfriend Gerrard, and Pip came along to watch the stall whilst Han and I listened to a talk about anti-capitalist fashion. The talks were really interesting and varied; from "De-colonize It Yourself" to alternative mental health care and the difficulties of trying to shop ethically. Lots of varied views to listen to while we presided over our produce!

Uber-cute Poesie Grenadine business cards that I gave out at the Fair.


It was great to meet other makers and have some chats about mutual interests. I've been watching my pennies a bit lately, but I picked up two zines; the first issue of Hysteria: A Collection of Feminisms, partially for the name and partially due to the fascinating conversation I had with one of the women running the stand, and Poems Underwater: essays and photographs from mermaid haunts around the east of England. I've been reading this zine today, whilst bedecked in my Caitlin Shearer dress, and it is quite unlike anything else I've ever read. Very inspiring.


One of the babes who picked up one of my most popular patches (Thunder Thighs Are Go, of course!) posted a picture of their haul on their Tumblr.
How fab does all that look?!

Speaking of fab, my adorable little Ghoul Guide takes pride of place on my Suzy Bishop dress.


A wonderful day of positivity, with a really strong, engaged female presence; I felt proud to be a woman, and an artist and maker on Sunday, and it's good to hold on to and remember that when there have been such atrocities committed against women recently, from the Nigerian school girls to the women gunned down in sheer misogyny in America over the last few days. If we can, through the phrases on our hand-crafted creations, engender pride in one's womanhood, if we can motivate, come together to create and talk and protest, then we are in some small way standing up to such horrors. We are women, and we will not be silenced.

Independent Women - selling my wares at the DIY Cultures Fair this Sunday

I've spent all day printing over thirty five lino cut patches from the comfort of my loft, with 6Music playing, bedecked in my pyjamas so my pretty dresses didn't get covered in ink.

This is all in aid of the DIY Cultures Fair at Rich Mix in Shoreditch on Sunday, where I will be sharing a table from 12 - 7 with my dear friend Hannah Hill, the designer/artist behind Hanecdote, an indie label that produces everything from silk screened feminist tees to badass Ghoul Guide embroidered patches. It's fair to say I'm a little bit excited about this opportunity. Below are the linocuts I will be selling at the event. Hope to see you there!










Radical Ma'am

My addiction to lino printing rages on, with many trips to Hobbycraft to satisfy my cravings. This latest print is based on an embroidery I did a couple of years ago.



 Now for sale in the Poesie Grenadine Etsy shop for £5. I shall be adding some more vintage threads to the shop tomorrow.






Thunder Thighs Are Go

Despite currently suffering from a throbbing thumb where I've gouged a chunk out of it with a blade, I've become addicted to lino printing! It's so immediate and fun. I think I'll be taking a trip to Hobbycraft to pick up some more linoleum in the next few days!

I couldn't resist printing a lino patch of one of my favourite slogans I've ever embroidered, "Thunder Thighs Are Go":





Learning to love my thunder thighs is an ongoing process for me, so I feel this patch is particularly poignant. I hope it speaks to some of you, too; it's now up for sale in the Poesie Grenadine Etsy shop, alongside my "You Didn't Cry" trophy lino patch.

Hell hath no fury like a woman subjugated

I stitched up this piece for a little feminist exhibition I'm hoping to have as part of a wider event (more information to follow if all goes well!)

I put a feminist twist on the famous William Congreve quote (which is, of course, always misattributed to Shakespeare), so I suppose it's literary stitchery too!



The real credit for this piece has to go to the original needlewoman (I'm assuming it was a needlewoman, not a man, and that's incredibly presumptive of me) who cross stitched this ornate floral and fruit, Grecian inspired design. It's an even more incredible feat when you consider that it was rendered on plain cotton rather than cross stitch aida; all those neat, tiny stitches! And without the aid of a drawn-on design, too! I'm in awe of my predecessors, sometimes.


I felt the rather chintzy "surroundings" of the phrase lent a nicely ironic air. A satisfying little stitch to produce while I'm working on bigger things.

Thinking Through Pink




When we were kids, one of my brother's favourite colours was pink. I, on the other hand, loathed it; a rebellion against the ubiquity of the colour for little girls, and a loyalty to my tomboy nature (I was the girl always climbing trees and enthralled by creepy crawlies). Where did it all go wrong? Why do I now own at least seven pink dresses, and am happy to be snapped prancing around in a salmon candy-striper frock?


My parents tried all they could to evade gender stereotypes (my beloved bright yellow Tonka truck attests to that), but it seems I've waltzed right into one; I've turned out decidedly girly. And what do I blame this disturbing phenomenon on? Why, on the young modern feminist art movement, of course!

Tumblr is awash with young feminists "reclaiming their girlhood"; as Beth Siveyer, founder of Girls Get Busy, writes in the fourteenth issue of the zine, "I can be strong and feminine, and it doesn't matter what people think (...) I'm 24 years old and I'm finally ready to be pretty in pink."

Image of Girls Get Busy #14 - 3 for £3

When I was discussing this with my Mum the other day, she commented that she'd recently had to buy some gardening gloves for a group of young people she would be working with. The gloves came in two colours; pink, and blue. In the end she had to go with the blue gloves, because, she conceded, the boys in the group simply wouldn't wear pink gloves. I'm inclined to think that this would not be because of an aversion to the colour, but an aversion to what the colour represented; an aversion to perceived femininity. Why is femininity so reviled? Why is "stop being such a girl" such a terrible insult? 

I would hazard a guess that it's because, historically, women have been the second sex, subjugated and weakened by a patriarchal society determined to keep men on top. This has lead to the impression that women themselves are intrinsically weaker, and so "feminine" behaviour is a sign of weakness. One need only take a glance at the Everyday Sexism Twitter feed, a deeply depressing but vital read, to realise that we are a long way from gender equality, and that a culture of "keeping women down" is still a very real and present danger (and I don't use that word lightly).

But, as Beth Siveyer writes, femininity can be a source of power. So too can pink. It is an audacious colour, a passionate colour, a sexual colour. A colour as varied as women themselves.

DENIM Feminine Is Not Anti-Feminist Patch featuring Rarity- My Little Pony
"Feminine Is Not Anti-Feminist" patch, by albinwonderland on  Etsy

However, pink can also be nauseating. Case in point, that ubiquity I mentioned; now more than ever, it seems there's almost no other choice for little girls than pink clothing, accessories, toys... the list goes on. As this article notes, "All the other colours of the rainbow will be washed away in an unending saccharine sea."

The backlash to this trend has resulted in the Pink Stinks campaign, focusing on combating the "dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl" and the ways in which "pinkification" of girls leads to sexism and gender stereotyping, and an obsession with consumerism and body image.

 In my opinion, this is most certainly a laudable cause, though the name of the campaign does sound like an assault on the colour itself, rather than its use as a reductive marketing tool. A member of the modern feminist movement makes the suggestion (via Tumblr, of course) that the Pink Stinks campaign changes its name to Rethink Pink. Though this is a subtle change, I think it is a wonderful one; one can remain critical and aware whilst embracing the colour, that, for better or worse, has come to symbolise femininity.


It was not ever thus; indeed, in the early 1900s in the United States, a trade publication proclaimed that "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." It is interesting that here, pink is associated with strength, just as I posited that pink can be a powerful and audacious colour. However, strength is associated with masculinity and delicacy and daintiness is associated with femininity; why can't one be both strong and dainty? This combined strength and delicacy is what I feel I emanate when I choose to wear pink.

By a happy coincidence, one of my very favourite artist's thoughts on the matter chime precisely with my own. In an interview, Lily van der Stokker speaks about "the strength of pink curlicues"; there is strength in this apparently "weak" feminine softness.

Lily  van der Stokker, I am an artwork, 2004

But is it softness? For all its sweetness (indeed, because of its sweetness) van der Stokker's use of pink is nauseating, even abrasive. Pink can be harsh, abject, confrontational. It demands to be seen. Van der Stokker is certainly not ashamed of the femininity that pink implies, even if it horrifies the fine art bubble; she unabashedly proclaims girlyness to the world. 

A show of strength indeed.

I too, am happy to proclaim my femininity to the world, and to prove that it does not make me weak but in fact stronger. Since becoming more involved in the young feminist art movement, a number of my embroideries have started to explore themes of feminine strength, defiance of  gender roles and societal expectations, and incorporate pink into their colour scheme as a symbol of this.





I will continue to wear pink with pride and as a reminder of my feminine fortitude; I too am ready to be pretty in pink.

Got My Goat


Aside from yesterday afternoon, I honestly can’t remember the last exhibition I went  to. Working at Significant Seams, I am somewhat (almost literally) cocooned in the comforting, cosy world of craft, and could at times almost forget that I have a background in conceptual art, and would indeed primarily consider myself a conceptual artist.
Of course, the line between art and craft is forever permuting. In  A Transatlantic Dialoguethe exhibition I visited at the Ben Uri Gallery, the exhibition notes explained that projects directed by artist Judy Chicago involving craft aimed to elevate this “woman’s work” to its rightful place as art.
Chicago’s career spans more than 5 decades and encompasses a multitude of media, but she is perhaps best known for her work The Dinner Party, first exhibited in 1979, and (in part as a product of The Dinner Party) as a feminist artist.
The Dinner Party, which has remained in residence at the Brooklyn Museum since 2007 and visited London only once, was a project on a grand scale of both skill and imagination. Chicago asked master craftswomen to execute her designs for place settings for an imaginary dinner party which famous historical and mythological women were “invited” to. The craftswomen included potters, ceramicists, embroiderers and seamstresses. In inviting these women to honour women “erased” from history, I feel that Chicago was honouring both the foremothers of modern women, and female craft traditions which have a long lineage and continue to be practised today, whilst placing them in a contemporary art context, thereby forcing society to take a second, much longer look at “women’s work”.
Chicago has been accused by critics of reducing all women to “just vaginas”; that her paintings, drawings and sculptures use the hackneyed female forms of flower-as-butterfly-as-female sex organ. And indeed, there was little subtlety on display here, and this was as much evident in the work of the other transatlantic “speakers”, Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois and Helen Chadwick, as Chicago’s! However, there was no doubt that here were four strong, gutsy, fearless women, as vulnerable as their diaristic artworks betrayed them to be.
Reading Emin’s “C.V.” of her tragic early life leading up to her gradual acceptance into the art world and her career gaining momentum was moving, powerful, and inspiring. I was equally touched by Chicago’s Autobiography of a Year, a catalogue of the highs and lows, the mundanity and the ecstasy, of an ageing, but successful, woman artist. In Autobiography, Judy Chicago worries about her husband finding her unattractive, and her ability to make “good” art, amongst other things. I found her emotional honesty deeply endearing and comforting; if this icon of a woman is sometimes weak and fragile (or worse), and yet simultaneously so strong and driven, then I reason that I too can succeed!
Chicago’s line in Autobiography reflects her emotional mood and urgency; intricate yet delicate sketches of trees and flowers accompany texts of calm, and her anger at “the hand that makes bad art” is slopped on to the page with blood red ink. Her sense of colour and its symbolism, and the way this runs through the ebb and flow of the year, is astounding (and I would certainly agree with Chicago that orange is the colour of anxiety!)
The exhibition was so multi-layered and comprised so much of a whistle-stop tour of four prolific artists’ work that it will all take me some time to digest (and I must do some more research on Helen Chadwick’s work!)
On a less cultural note, on our way to the gallery we met a new friend, who was very interested in my boyfriend’s Skittles; a pygmy goat in a school garden! I was adamant that she (I was convinced it was a she; perhaps this had something to do with the exhibition we visiting?) was coming home with me.
photo (1)photo (3)photo (4)
Unfortunately I didn’t get my goat; maybe next time.

Afternoon Twee

I'm afraid this post is very text and image-heavy, but it's well worth a read/glance, I promise!

The past week was amazing. I honestly can't remember when I've been happier. I love my "job" (and my workmates), I've met new and very interesting people, spent plenty of time with loved ones, and I'm feeling hyper-creative (with an emphasis on the hyper!)

Saturday was a packed day - I took my cousin Emily in to Significant Seams with me, with the intention of us "holding down the fort"; perhaps fortunately, there was no fort to hold down, as Wood Street Plaza got all the foot traffic, and I didn't have any major disasters.


Emily the Entrepreneur

Slow day at work = sneaky photograph of my outfit
I had it far, far easier than my colleagues, in fact; Mark and Debs were busy demonstrating extreme knitting under a gazebo on the Plaza.






They had a captive audience of small children, but unfortunately I missed the younger knitters' efforts!

Em and I were then dismissed from our duties for the day, and after scoffing a venison sausage each and trying on dresses at Gigi's (me as potential outfits for graduation, Emily for shits and giggles - both equally dangerous, the owner is the most accomplished saleswoman I've ever met!), we proceeded to Lady V's for a cream tea.










As you can see, Lady V's is a veritable tiny, twee, chintzed-to-the-rafters paradise. It was even set off by menus bound in antique book covers and a gently tinkling toy piano track. It's well worth a visit if you're ever down Walthamstow way (it's located in Wood Street Indoor Market, as is Significant Seams). Lady V herself also hires out her bone china for films and parties. I may have to look on putting on a performance of some kind there with a few of my arty friends...

Having suitably lined our stomachs, Em and I nipped over to neighbouring Hackney to the Girls Get Busy zine festival. This was my first Girls Get Busy event, and it was absolutely fantastic. Although I was always very keen to go along to a GGB do, the main purpose of my visit was to meet the artist Hannah Hill, who I wrote about in my previous blog post.

With Girls Get Busy's founder, Beth Siveyer, and Hannah. I was a bit tipsy and nervous and made a bit of a tit of myself in front of Beth. Ah well. (Photograph courtesy of Roxanne Werter).


Hannah and I have decided to start a collaborative project together, which will most probably take the form of a zine. And that's all I'm willing to betray about the matter at the mo!

I picked up one of Hannah's cute-as-a-barrel-of-puppies Girls Get Busy t shirts, and a handful of zines. Here's my swag:


Photograph courtesy of Hannah Hill


It was so inspiring talking to the girls at the event; young women truly doing it for themselves, making things happen, and reaching out to (and supporting) one another. Definitely something I would love to get involved with, and will be going along to again in the future.

Yesterday was more family-orientated. I took Emily and family along to the newly re-opened William Morris Gallery, where Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry is currently being exhibited. It's so much bigger and richer in detail than I ever expected. I love Perry's subtle but biting sense of humour, and the busy-ness of his work.

Unfortunately I forgot to take along a camera, but I'm sure I'll be back soon. Fingers and toes crossed, Significant Seams will soon be working on a project in conjunction with the gallery, and crossed even harder, possibly I will too...

The rest of yesterday was dedicated to chatting, eating, drinking, making merry, and sewing, all taking place in our back garden. A large contingent of the Rolison (well, Swift; my mother's side) extended family was present, all having a jolly good time.

Some of my younger, more distant cousins became acquainted with my final university piece, On Being Soft:



The award for Cutest Moment of the Day goes to my little cousin Louis, who fell asleep wrapped up in the picnic blanket next to our dog, Rosie. She kept edging closer and closer to him for comfort!


And the award for Least Sociable Cousin goes to... me! For sewing/blogging/working through the entire gathering.


I'll post the fruits of my stitchy labour up soon. Until then,

Take care

K x






The Girly Gang

The other night, while idly surfing Tumblr (yes, I have one of those now too... my social networking problem really is blossoming), I had the most wonderful surprise; I came across a young artist who has utterly inspired me.

Clitoris Patch on Flickr.



Hannah Hill is a seventeen year old textile artist and illustrator from North London. Most of her artwork deals with feminism and female experiences.

Unsure

There's often a wonderfully biting sense of humour to her work, but it's also shot through with a tender, naive vulnerability.

Textiles Worshipping Cult on Flickr.
(I reeeeally want this one on a t-shirt)





Hannah's style reminds me of another, older favourite: Scarlett Barry.

Scarlett seems to have dropped off the (online) radar for the moment  (and I do miss seeing her breathtaking work), but she was a major inspiration for me, particularly when I first turned my hand to cross stitching.



I was particularly drawn to Scarlett's immediate, honest, and simple style.

This is reflected in her drawn work, with its clean yet overlapping lines, often in brown gel pen:


She also cannily uses found objects in her work, in a way which seems almost natural:

Did I mention that she's also gorgeous and a brilliant writer? You can check out Scarlett's highly original art here.
Another fem(me)ale artist whose work I first came across on the online community Livejournal is Jenee Larson.

Jennee's work perfectly straddles (ooh-er) the line between twee and erotic art. And if you don't believe that's possible, check out her Flickr photostream.

Personally I prefer her earlier work to her current haunting (or haunted?) portraits of saucer-eyed femmes fatales, but she is certainly a dab hand with glitter! 

baby moon by meme

Jenee's work is whimsical and strange, as proved by her series of weeping and love-making unicorn-people(not both at the same time, hopefully!)

artosity:

I can dig it

hey i drew this! too bad it didn’t have a credit :(

Around the same time I discovered the work of Scarlett and Jenee, I was sucked into the whimsical world of Joanna "Bunny Mitford". Joanna is another artist of this generation who has completely dropped off the face of the internet, but she always was a mysterious girl, and I imagine this was a carefully concerted part of her charm. The small glimpses of her life that she gave us led me to believe she was as magical as the girls in the children's stories which she used in her art.




Her photography and sense of light was warm as twilight.

Just like Scarlett Barry, Joanna's writing was captivating, perhaps even more so.

She loved the arts, music, paints, nature. Hans Christian Anderson, Van Gogh, Tchaikovsky. They were her favourites. She loved Tchaikovsky because he made his sadness into warmth, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Symphony No.6. She loved Vincent because she felt his loneliness in his paintings. But she couldn’t look at his sunflowers for too long, the yellows stung her eyes. Feeling too much Feeling is too much sometimes. She told me how she thought it was weird you know, that all these people who created such beautiful things were so sad. How sometimes the sadness was so strong that they ended their own lives. Their last work of art.
She said she thought that most geniuses were lonely. I said I thought everyone was lonely. That even the Moon is lonely, and that’s why it pulls on the tides.

I miss her, much like you might miss a friend you've lost contact with over the years. Which is strange, because I never really knew her. 

The final member of "the girly gang" is a bit of a departure from the others.

Chelsea Dirck, at the tender age of 22 or 23, is a veteran of the American punk scene. Her zines, scribblings, type-writings,textile art, and illustrations are a  visual diary of a life lived state-hopping, missing friends and loved ones, listening to music, and having her heart broken.







I've bought quite a bit of Chelsea's work and I urge you to do the same. She's a lovely person and very generous; you may find a little  extra gift or hand-written note in your package.

Why have I introduced all these ladies to you? Because I hope their art will inspire you the way it inspired (and continues to inspire me). All of these artists are young women at the start of their careers, but I believe that each of them is truly "one to watch".

I see these women as my contemporaries, and would be honoured if even one of them felt the same for me.

Craft and Feminism

My mum flagged up last Saturday's omnibus edition of Woman's Hour for me, as there was some interesting discussion about the role of craft and creativity in women's protest movements.

Beginning with brief interviews of female members of the current protest camp gathered outside St Paul's Cathedral, Jenni Murray spoke with Dr Deborah Thom, (Fellow and director of Studies for the faculties of History and Social and Political sciences at Robinson College) and Ann Pettit (a founder of the Greenham Common camp)about the history of women's protest.

Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp came into being on the 5th September 1981, when the Welsh group Women for Life on Earth marched to Greenham Common in Berkshire, with a view to challenge the RAF's decision to site nintey six Cruise missiles there. When the women were denied a debate, they set up camp around the military base, with only a nine mile fence seperating them from the base itself. They were joined by more women, and the protest (and camp) lasted for nineteen years.

On Woman's Hour, Ann Pettit described how, at Greenham, women came together to transform the nine mile fence into a work of art and a site for protest, embroidering and weaving into it.

The nine mile fence at Greenham Common in the 1980s, woven with a message of love
Dr Deborah Thom went on to explain that this creative spirit was also present in the Suffrage Movement, from embroidered banners to smaller-scale embroideries and knitting.

Women sewing stars on to a Suffrage banner
 I have written before about how embroidery was employed by the Suffrage Movement for a subversive cause, and later reclaimed by the Feminist Movement in the 1970s. Domestic handicrafts had long been considered just that; merely domestic "women's work", and not "high art". Many feminist artists of the 1970s set out to challenge this notion, transforming this "women's work" into "high art", embracing the femininity of craft, "shedding their shackles, proudly untying the apron strings—and, in some cases, keeping the apron on, flaunting it, turning it into art" (Lucy Lippard, Household Images in Art).

Miriam Schapiro was one such artist who embraced femininity through her art. In the 1970s she began creating sewn collages from scraps of fabric which she christened "femmages"; these femmages recalled the woman's craft of quilting. In fact, Schapiro wrote of her femmages that she "wanted to validate the traditional activities of women, to connect myself to the unknown women artists who had made quilts, who had done the invisible 'women's work' of civilization. I wanted to acknowledge them, to honor them."

Miriam Schapiro, Explode, 1972

Schapiro was also involved in the Womanhouse exhibition of 1972; an installation and performance space situated in a deserted Hollywood mansion. Each participant in the exhibition was given her own space in which to operate inside the building. The exhibition was conceived by Schapiro and her colleague Judy Chicago (together the pair founded the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts). The exhibition explored the concerns and mundane stereotypes of female existence; from the household chores of washing, ironing, cooking and sewing, to menstruation (as in Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom). It makes me a little sad to think that I'm too young/live in the wrong part of the world to have experienced this exhibition!

A selection of work from Womanhouse, 1972 (including crochet, an example of craft)
The reclamation of craft for political purposes by women continues into the present day through the Craftivism Movement. Reading up on Craftivism on the internet, the ubiquitous Wikipedia reminded me that craft has long had links with subversion, even etymologically; firstly, in the Old English, the word craft actually means "power, physical strength, might"; a far cry from the "passive, gentle" feminine craft as envisaged in the 19th Century! Also, as Wikipedia points out, "to call someone crafty is to identify them as clever and cunning. In Greek, one would say to “spin” a plot. Similarly, the French word for trick is tricoter, which means to tie or knot together".

Craftivism is closely linked with Third Wave Feminism and the Riot Grrrl Movement, and continues the practise began in the 1970s of reclaiming craft for subversive aims. In Craftivism, crafters take the traditionally domestic pasttimes of, for example, crochet and knitting, and bring them into the public sphere. For example, on May 23rd 2006, the Anarchist Knitting Mob held a Massive Knit in Washington Square Park, New York, in remembrance of Jane Jacobs, an activist who helped prevent the construction of an express-way through the park. The participants covered every possible surface with brightly coloured yarn.
Participants in the Massive Knit in Washington Square Park
I don't think it would be possible for me to conclude a blog post on craft and feminism without writing about Tracey Emin. During my A Levels I wrote a dissertation on text in feminist art, which featured Emin rather heavily! I have written about her before on this blog, as she explores the theme of this project (love) through writing and sewing. Emin may have the Marmite effect and be known almost more for that famous appearance on Channel 4 than her art, but she undeniably considers herself a feminist and I would argue that she is one.


Despite the often raw and unsettling aesthetic and subject matter of her work, the materials and colours Emin chooses to produce it in are often described by the media as “feminine”(though arguably this is a somewhat hackneyed term the art world tends to use when describing the work of any female artist). Like Miriam Schapiro, Emin recalls the lineage of woman's craft through her hand-appliqued blankets; they are not dissimilar to quilts. Also like Schapiro, Emin's aesthetic is (like her subject matter) raw and unpolished; in this way she subverts the femininity inherent in craft.

Tracey Emin, The New Black, 2002

In subject matter, too, Emin is a feminist artist; she records the experiences of her emotional life as a mirror by which to reflect the human (and, in particular, the female) condition. In my opinion, having visited her most recent exhibition, Love Is What You Want, Emin’s work has a universal value, rather than merely being an indulgence of the artist’s narcissism, as many critics have derided it as; many if not all women would be able to relate to the emotions expressed in one of her blankets. She certainly carries out the old feminist rallying cry of "the personal is political".

Emin follows in another female lineage, this time a feminist one; like the feminist artists of the 1970s, she has said that she does not use embroidery "like a craft, but like high art".

A few thoughts on my interview with Joetta Maue

Much of what Joetta wrote in my interview with her chimed with my own thoughts on the process and connotations of embroidery, and with many of the contexts I am exploring through this project.


For example she wrote about the therapeutic quality of sewing, both metaphorically, in that sewing on fabric is reminiscent of suturing flesh, and literally, in that the quiet, meditative, repetitive action of embroidering soothes. 



Joetta at work
 (Just because I like to be contrary, I have to note that this, at least at first glance, appears to jar with the feminist artist and embroiderer Kate Walker's view that "passitivity and obedience (...) are the very opposite of the qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in needlework". However, in the interview Joetta goes on to write that, rather than using what is "thought to be a very passive form of expression" to "keep idle hands busy and docile", she uses her "hands and the medium to celebrate the vulnerability and strength of the female experience".)

 A fellow blogging embroiderer and Londoner, Emma Parker, goes by the online alias of Stitch Therapy. The banner at the top of her blog states that "A stitch in time saves your mind".


I certainly found sewing both soothing and (thankfully) absorbing during my long recovery from an illness.



Emma's banner for her blog Stitch Therapy
 



Joetta also wrote that one of the things which first attracted her to embroidery was its history as a woman's craft. Joetta grew up around embroidery and craft, and, like me, grew used to seeing her grandmother sew from an early age.


As she began to incorporate embroidery into her practise, she relished its ties with the domestic and thus chose to embroider on vintage linens. Like me, she feels that previously owned linens "bring their own history of women's voices and hands as well as the history of the homes they have lived in".


However, as Joetta is a professional artist and sells her work, she feels uncomfortable sewing on "inherited fabrics", whereas I sew almost exclusively on linens passed down to me by my grandmother, thus adding another layer of historical and familial context to the Cure for Love project. Joetta, however, sews on acquired vintage linens, but in a subversive fashion, while simultaneously acknowledging "the roles of the home and intimacy within the identity of the modern female". 


Though my intention in the Cure for Love project is not specifically subversive, I have created subversive embroidery in the past and imagine I will do in the future (particularly considering that a friend and I are now discussing creating a feminist zine... but more on that at a later date).


Don't Be An Art School Arsehole, an example of my slightly more subversive embroidery

Joetta also had some interesting thoughts about how "being feminist" does not mean "that you cannot embrace and choose to be feminine". She argues that the point of feminism is not "to force women to feel like they must do it all and succeed at it all and judge themselves on if they are being "feminist" enough". This nagging doubt is one I can relate to, as, being an artist writing and making art about love, I sometimes worry that I come across as some soppy dippy moonstruck teenager (which admittedly I am, save the teenager part). My current body of work is not overtly feminist, other than reclaiming a trivialised and traditionally feminine craft for contemporary purposes.


Drink Me In, one of my contemporary embroidered love poems reclaiming women's craft

Another of the points Joetta made is that autobiographical, introspective art (such as Tracey Emin's) is no bad thing, as it is often this that is most raw and universal. For example, Joetta's own work is about the universal experiences of "experiences of love, loss, joy, doubt, etc". This universal quality is something I aim for with the honesty of The Cure for Love.

Lots of interesting food for thought in my interview with you, Joetta. Thanks again!

Interview With Joetta Maue

I wrote this blog post on Joetta's practise back in late August, and now she has very thoughtfully and (hugely) thoroughly answered some questions on her work for me. Thank you so much Joetta! Your interview makes for an engrossing read.

Why and when did you begin embroidering?
I began embroidering about 5 years ago while in graduate school. I was working to finish a previous body of work that I had been doing for a long time and wanted to do one FINAL piece freeing me to move on.

At the time I was experimenting a lot with medium and being quite conceptual about my medium choice. This previous work was based on an experience of trauma and I liked that embroidery could be a metaphor for healing both in the literal suturing act of the stitch but also the quiet meditative act of the process. I assumed that this would be a one-off piece, I had never embroidered before, but I ended up totally loving the process and got addicted. From then on I kept making excuses to keep working in embroidery. My background is as a photographer and I have no formal training in embroidery at all.


Comforts, 2008, yarn; an example of Joetta's earlier textile art


Why do you work in embroidery rather than another medium? How do your photographic and textile practises fit together?
I love the history that embroidery brings to the table. It is often considered a female practice and my work is very much steeped in the female experience and the domestic space, so conceptually the medium brings a lot.

I am also attracted to the fact that it is essentially a "useless" craft; something done for purely decorative reasons(rather then a practice like quilting or knitting where you can make something utilitarian). The decorative nature of it places it in a category of leisure and pleasure that attracts me. To me being an artist is this; it is the privilege of being alone with your thoughts and then communicating them through your medium, leisure and pleasure. It also gives the embroidery the special place of being done simply for the joy of doing it.

Technically speaking I love how it is "hand made" and therefore the hand of the maker is so present in the work, i.e do they do neat careful stitches, or messy large stitches. I love how the hand made embraces the natural flaws that exist.

I utilise my photography as the inspiration and source for my image based work but when I was asked this once before this was my answer: I fell into embroidery as an artist. In graduate school I decided to make a piece with embroidered text, because I liked the idea of embroidery as a metaphor for healing.

Unexpectedly I fell in love with the process and medium; while trying to figure out the next direction for my studio practice and work I began to explore embroidery as a medium of expression.

The medium felt very natural to me as I grew up around fabric and crafts, through my mother and grandmother, and my work had always been made from an overtly feminine point of view.

As my new work began to grow and my love towards the process of embroidery deepened I began to enjoy the subversive quality of the medium, how what was expected from a hand made embroidered piece could be so easily manipulated and yet the viewer always comes to it with the same expectation. I began to utilise the expectation of embroidered works and domestically placed linens to further my concept of exploring the roles of the home and intimacy within the identity of the modern female.


This Is Bullshit, date unknown

I was particularly drawn to how traditionally embroidery was thought to be a very passive form of expression done simply for decorative purposes but through my hands I could use the medium to give a voice to women. Instead of subverting that voice by keeping idle hands busy and docile, I used my hands and the medium to celebrate the vulnerability and strength of the female experience.

As a photographer, I mostly spent my time thinking about what I wanted to capture, and then, since I work mostly through a form of documentation, having the patience and awareness to capture that moment as it arrived. My camera was always loaded and ready to still the moment of light and life that stopped my eye. Embroidery has completely transformed my studio practice. I now spend hours and hours in my studio slowly building my work upon a linen, surrounded by thread and piles of linens and fabrics, working in a very tactile way where as when I do photography my tactile senses are not as satisfied.

Even though photography is a very fast medium, taking only a 1/15 of a second to capture your image and less then 5 minutes to print it, and embroidery is a very slow and labor intensive practice, I do not find them as different as you may expect. They both require immense patience; in embroidery the patience is in the labour intensive practice and in photography it is the waiting for the light or the right expression. They both allow for a significant amount of quiet, contemplative time. As a photographer you spend hours in a dark quiet room all by yourself waiting for your paper or film to develop, going through the same simple repetitive steps to get your print, and in embroidery you repetitively make the stitch, working hour upon hour, lost in your thoughts and quiet as your work slowly builds.


I love that both mediums leave me so much time to meditate upon the images that I create. Though the mediums seem quite dissimilar in practice, they actually share quite a bit.

After They Left, 2008, C-print; an example of Joetta's photographic practise


Why do you work on such a large scale?
I have always liked working on a larger scale- I like how one can enter the work and physically relate to it more this way. I also enjoy how one can experience the work in a different way from far away and then up close.

What leads you to choose a particular word to embroider in your text pieces?
My emotional space. Initially my text works were diaristic statements; as a life-long diary keeper I just started to embroider my statements instead of write them. Then I went through a process of writing cathartic statements, things I felt like I needed to say out loud and make tangible. Now I am interested in honoring experiences and moments. But in general they are statements that come to me in my daily life and I catch them and put them into a work.
Be Strong, 2009, one of Joetta's text pieces
Do the fabrics you use to sew on have any sentimental value?
They are all found fabrics. I have worked with inherited fabrics but since I sell my work I do not feel comfortable doing this anymore. But to me the fabrics still have sentimental value in the sense that someonemade them, someone took the time to embroider lovingly onto them, or add tatting to their edges, and they lived a life in someone's home. I love the stories they tell; are they pristine and preserved, are they stained and used, are they rotting and disregarded, are they unfinished... All stories can relate to our relationships and homes and I try to make the linens make sense with the final work that is stitched onto them.


Why do you choose to embroider on found, vintage linens?
As I have said before, they bring their own history of women's voices and hands as well as the history of the homes they have lived in. I feel like I am giving voice to this.


Some feminists would be disparaging about celebrating the domestic role, whereas you say you wish to connect with a domestic lineage. Do you think the domestic is solely the prerogative of women, or do you think a man could produce work like this?
I do not think that a man and could produce work exactly like this but do think a man could produce work about the same subject from a different point of view. When I exhibit my work it is often the male viewer that is most moved and touched by my work. Historically speaking the domestic is the domain of the woman and therefore my relationship to it as an identity, place, and role is different then a man's.


I do not know that I am "celebrating" the domestic "role"; I am more investigating what occurs within the confines of the home and the relationships, moments, and emotions that are held here.I am interested in the complicated roles that contemporary women must play.

I do get frustrated at how the roles of being a homemaker and mother are looked at as not enough and not feminist. To me the idea of feminism was to give women the option of choice, giving them the opportunity to do whatever they wish. It was not to force women to feel like they must do it all and succeed at it all and judge themselves on if they are being "feminist" enough. I also do not think that being feminist means that you cannot embrace and choose to be feminine. I do think that in general men and woman are different and think that celebrating our differences and embracing all of our sexuality is a good thing. I am a very strong and independent woman but I also love nurturing my son and honouring my husband and do not in any way think that these things need to be mutually exclusive.

The domestic space is not a space for only women but it is the space of the family and intimacy; this is what my work is about.I simply embrace the history of that space and the fact that my point of view comes from being a woman.

Eight Months, 2011


 Why do you choose to focus on yourself and your family as the subject of your work? Some might argue that this is rather introspective!
I have always worked autobiographically and have always been drawn to other artists that do this. I once heard a writer talk about writing and they said that "you have to write about what you know". What I know is my life and my experience so this is what I make art about. I like art that has a raw honesty to it so the only things that I can be truly honest about is me.

With that said I do no think my work is so specific; what I actually makework about is universal experiences of love, loss, joy, doubt, etc... I think that often the more personal you let yourself become the more accessible the work becomes.
And I would never take being
introspective as a criticism. I think that many could benefit from being a little more of this.

In addition I think art in general is a somewhat narcissistic act no matter what you make. You are making something to express your point of view on something and communicate it. Being this is part of being an artist.

Have you considered combining text and image together more often?I have. This is something I have been wanting to do more of for a long time. But I work very intuitively and so far the work has for the most part stayed separate- though it is always exhibited together.Generally my image based work is about one side of intimacy and love and my text work is about the other so often they need to exist as separate works that have a conversation within the gallery. But I imagine more combining of these will come as I continue to make work.

Waking With You, 2010, a piece in which Joetta combined text and image