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.

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!

Subversive Stitchery

Contemporary needlework comes in many guises; from the twee to the political via the subversive and disturbing. Mr X Stitch, "the number one contemporary embroidery and needlecraft blog" showcases the breadth of these (including my own embroidery). Mr X Stitch himself, the blog's founder, is Jamie Chalmers, a self-styled "manbroiderer" who gets a mention in Rozsika Parker's book The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine.

Recently, subversive craft has really come into its own; taking the form of everything from sewn swear words to "craftivist" protest banners to knitted and crocheted graffiti.

Crystal Gregory's Invasive Crochet
Ami Grinsted, a recent graduate from Falmouth's Contemporary Crafts course, created an embroidered series on the Egyptian Revolution. Ami cross stitches on wilfully difficult surfaces; wood (which she drills holes into to sew through) and wire mesh. As a review of her work on Mr X Stitch says, "Ami chooses to increase the tension (of her sewn subject) by stitching through hard surfaces".



Embroidering a protest placard seems to my mind to be a reference to the old embroidered trade union and suffrage banners. Suffrage banners are a perfect early example of the "woman's work" of embroidery being employed for a subversive cause.



In the 1970s needlework was reclaimed by the Feminist Movement, for example by the fine artist Kate Walker. In The Subversive Stitch, Walker is quoted as saying that she has "never worried that embroidery's association with femininity, sweetness, passivity and obedience may subvert my work's feminist intention. Femininity and sweetness are part of women's strength. Passitivity and obedience, moreover, are the very opposite of the qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in needlework. What's required are physical and mental skills, fine aesthetic judgement in colour, texture and composition; patience during long training; and assertive individuality of design (and consequent disobedience of aesthetic convention). Quiet strength need not be mistaken for useless vulnerability."

My work (though possibly in a slightly more subtle way!) follows in the traditions of Julie Jackson's Subversive Cross Stitch.

A Subversive Cross Stitch pattern

My Don't be an art school arsehole embroidery

Though I choose to embroider on old linens, the sentiments I stitch upon them are new; this results in a fusion of past and present, acknowledging embroidery's lineage whilst keeping it contemporary. Like many other contemporary embroiderers, I take what could be a twee and cloying pattern and add a healthy dose of irony, with tongue in cheek punning and verse. In other pieces I embroider a line from one of my poems on love in the modern urban environment. I embroider on linens passed down to me by my grandmother, in turn handed down to her by my great grandmother. In this way I acknowledge embroidery's past as "woman's work" whilst simultaneously subverting it.

My work may not be overtly feminist (aside from the fact that it subverts what is traditionally thought of as "women's work"), but it is often subversive, sending up artist clichés in a humorous and self-deprecating manner.

One of my embroideries exploring and poking fun at the "tortured artist/writer" cliché
In The Subversive Stitch, Rozsika Parker explains how at one time embroidery was thought of as "almost a secondary female sexual characteristic". Today, "manbroiderers" like Jamie Chalmers and Richard Saja challenge that assertion.

Richard Saja's work
My embroidery is informed by that of my peers, particularly those, such as Iviva Olenick and Joetta Maue, who explore themes of love. I am incredibly grateful to the always supportive online embroidery community on mrxstitch.com, Flickr, and here on Blogger. They continue to inspire and encourage me.