Turning My Heartbeat UP Potion


So tweeted writer Stefanie Gray on Valentine's Day last year. And for the most part, I agree. Gender is performative. There are no such things as "boys'" and "girls'" toys for example, only what we have assigned as appropriate for each gender, arbitrarily and in the mists of time. Numerous studies have been carried out where participants have been told one baby is a girl and another a boy (when quite the opposite is the case), and the disparity in their treatment of the two babies is shocking. I've written about "gender appropriate colours" and how they have changed over time before.

I'm also sure that being bombarded at this time of year with constant depictions of heterosexual couples, advertisements for engagement rings (yes, really), and a "romantic" film depicting domestic abuse and selling women their relegation back to subservient, literal punching bags as an aspirational fantasy is not going to make people whose sexuality falls outside man/woman binary pairings feel particularly normal or included in the festivities.

Besides, Valentine's Day is just a Hallmark holiday, right? Well actually, its association with romantic love dates back to the Middle Ages. 

I can't help feeling that wide-spread disdain for the day is largely because if you haven't got a significant other to shower you with/be showered with gifts, or a significant other at all, you're going to feel pretty rotten. I'm sure if I were single I would feel a little miserable and hope against hope for flowers from a non-existent secret admirer. So bah humbug-ing Feb the fourteenth becomes a defence mechanism against the societal pressure to couple up, and perhaps, if we're really honest, against loneliness.

And all that showering with gifts; a little materialistic, no? Is spending a whopper on lavish gifts really the best way of proving your love?

So I completely understand misgivings about the day.

However.

Two things which should be abundantly clear to regular readers of this blog are

1) I adore kitsch

and

2) I am a notorious romantic

A whole day dedicated to being all lovestruck with my boyfriend, in shades of pink and red, with more heart shaped foodstuff, homewares, clothing, and assorted flotsam and jetsam than you can shake a stick at?! Sign me up!

A phrase that I've been hearing a lot this week is "Valentine's Day is every day", usually accompanied by a rueful laugh to indicate that this is in fact not the case between the speaker and their partner. But it is something I try to live by.

And so, this week's Apothéké / #secretsofselfpreservation potion ingredients read "Nurture one another". On a ribbon printed with Love Hearts, several tubes of which Pip and I consumed this weekend. Accompanied in the potion bottle by red silk roses (yes, he did get me twelve, it seems we're fully paid up consumerists, time to do some hand-wringing). The label, which bears the potion's name on the reverse, is from my extensive collection of appallingly-punned 1950s Valentine's cards. Turning My Heartbeat Up is one of our favourite Northern Soul tunes to tear up the dance floor (or the kitchen tiling) to.

I feel very nurtured and loved every day in my relationship, but I think it is an ethos which could extend to all our relationships, romantic and otherwise. Even to our relationships with ourselves; how would your life change if you did the things which nurtured you? Definitely something for me to ponder.






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.

Tomorrow I will post pictures of the aformentioned #heartshapedfoodstuffs along with recipes. À bientôt!


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.

A Champagne (yet right-on) Socialist, and some blokes who sew

According to a 1908 biography of William Morris I picked up on my trip to Brighton, Morris (much like me) was "a born romantic". However, his romanticism was applied to "the hard facts of life"; he channelled his "sense of wonder" and "passion for beauty into the making of beautiful things which were eventually to become the starting-points for the wonderland of a new civilisation: in a phrase - the discovery of the romance of work." In short, Morris yearned for a socialist utopia in which great pleasure and pride was found in every type of work, and (in particular) in the decorative arts. 

This love of work is evident in, I think I can safely say, all the minor masterpieces of arts and crafts design that Morris and Co. produced.

William Morris
Morris wasn't merely a romantic artist and designer, however; as an article in the Socialist Review put it, he was "a socialist by design". He wrote pamphlets, gave speeches, edited two socialist newspapers, and was one of the first to join the Social Democratic Federation, in 1883.

In keeping with his socialist principals, "William Morris even envisaged a time when the sexual division within the domestic arts would vanish for ever. He anticipated the day when 'the domestic arts; the arrangement of the house in all its details, marketing, cleaning, cooking, baking and so on' would be in the hands of everyone"

In many respects, his dream has become a reality; no longer do domestic duties appear to be divided (quite so) strictly along gender lines. However, my dad may do the bulk of the ironing, but the cooking is still Mum's "job"; Dad lacks the confidence to try cooking anything more adventurous than his famous "baked bean shepherd's pie" (it's a culinary... experience).

As far as craft is concerned, more men do seem to be turning to the needle, although gender lines are more rigid here; Mum may do the majority of the DIY, but, at least in my household, it's the women who darn the proverbial socks.

"Manbroiderers" of the Jamie "Mr X Stitch" Chalmers ilk are trying to change this. I suspect the upsurge in male embroiderers is due to a few factors; the "invention" of the "new man"; the current vogue for all that is analogue and twee; and a similar vogue for the ironic and post-modern.

Throngs of men embroidering at craft nights, however, is something that, unfortunately, I've yet to see. It would be encouraging to have some brothers-in-arms!


Elusive male crafters at an East London Craft Guerrilla night

After all, there's certainly nothing effeminate about Chalmer's work; one of his most recent undertakings was a series of cross stitchings of the spam filtered out of his inbox, including the ubiquitous invitations to "sharpen your love sword"!



Richard Saja and "Johnny Murder", founder of the Manbroidery blog here on Blogger, are fellow male embroiderers. 

Richard Saja,  "... and a half-extinguished fire is soon relit", 2011
"Johnny Murder" doing his thing... bare chested... with a cigarette (very much putting the "man" in "manbroidery")

A section of male society who have taken to embroidery in force, perhaps surprisingly, is prisoners. Fine Cell Work is a charity which aims to "foster hope, discipline and self-esteem" through teaching British inmates to hand embroider. Their embroidery is then turned into cushions, bags, and patchwork kilts. The prisoners are paid for their work, and trained to a high skill level by volunteers from the Embroiderers and Quilters Guild, as the photographs below show:
Love Cushion, a Daisy de Villeneuve design embroidered by British prisoners
Beetroot design, embroidered by British prisoners

The enterprise is clearly vastly rewarding for the prisoners; Steve, an inmate at Wandsworth prison, is quoted as saying that he is "learning a new skill" which he "did not think possible. I also know that people do care about me and what I do because otherwise why would people take an interest in my fine cell work! I now believe what others think about me makes a real difference to how I conduct myself.”

However, it would be wonderful to see some more embroidery by un-incarcerated men! Come on guys! Get stitching.