When I was a child, I read a lot. As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t any better way to spend my time. I’d check out stacks of books so high they towered over my head and I became good friends with the school librarian, Mrs. Kinney. At one point, Mrs. Kinney asked me if I had any other hobbies and suggested I take up cross stitch. My mother and I remember this very differently. I remember Mrs. Kinney being concerned that I had no other hobbies besides reading and suggesting that maybe I shouldn’t spend all my time with books. My mother remembers Mrs. Kinney simply suggesting I might enjoy cross stitch because it would suit me, not as a replacement for reading. Either way, cross stitch, with its orderly rows of little X’s, never really sparked my interest.
Nearly twenty years after Mrs. Kinney (and at least one well-meaning aunt) suggested I take up cross stitch, I saw a snarky message perched in my friend L’s apartment. She explained a friend of hers was inspired by a book of off-color cross stitch patterns.
There’s something appealing about subversive cross stitch. Taking that centuries-old craft and corrupting it, twisting it, there’s something delicious about that. Samplers of alphabets, proverbs and family trees are replaced by snarky sayings and rude phrases. Though, I have to admit, I’m not too keen on the rude sayings or curse words. I’ll take wit and subtlety over outright crass phrasing any day. But again, that’s part of what makes this idea so wonderful – anyone can do whatever they want with the medium, appropriating an art that in the past represented the education and molding of young girls into proper woman and allowing it to expand and evolve to reflect the diversity of interests and express the creativity of modern women and men. Many of these cross stitchers use resources such as the Antique Pattern Library and period samplers as inspiration.
There’s a flickr pool inspired by Jackson’s book where people showcase their creations. Some are truly beautiful and creative examples of needlework with a subtle twist. Some are really just hilarious or rude, and my favorites are delectably nerdy. I mean – the Royal Tenenbaums characters decorating part of a pop-culture sampler? Yes, please!
I have provided links to work that I want to share but is limited due to copyright, but I highly recommend exploring the flickr pool and Julie Jackson’s website. There are also many artists who take the concept of needlework to a new level, transcending thread and fabric to create artwork that deals with the topics of gender, culture and fashion. But that’s a topic for another day.