Shock stitch

When Jane Bostocke first picked up her needle and thread back in good old 1598, she could scarcely have imagined what the future held for cross stitch. Now, some 500 years down the line, the content of embroidery has changed so much that there must be hundreds of WI members up and down the country fainting into their vats of strawberry jam at some of the work appearing on the scene.

Subversive stitching really began to come into its own thanks to companies like Miso Funky, which in 2005 started producing samplers with quirky phrases like In Case of Emergency Breakdance, Make Tea Not War and Home Sweet Fucking Home. Another group doing similar work is Subversive Cross Stitch, which focuses on lewd and crude insults such as Shut Your Piehole, Go Fuck Yourself and Don’t Make Me Cut You.

And don’t forget Mr X Stitch, a company that sells samplers bearing choice phrases such as Rock Out With Your Cock Out (complete with a natty little picture of a cockerel), Eat Farts and You’re Gonna Love My Nuts (again, accompanied by two red squirrels). However, while outlandish pictures such as these no doubt shocked all and sundry when they first came to the attention of the wider sewing community, cross stitch now seems to have moved on to break even newer, more disturbing ground.

Jamie Chalmers – perhaps better known as Mr X Stitch himself, most recently seen competing against the best of them at the Yorkshire Show in Channel 4 series Kirstie’s Handmade Britain – recalls some of the cross stitching he found truly shocking, taken from photos on sites and Goatse (web pages decidedly not for the faint of heart) of three gay granddads having sex and one interesting individual pulling his butt cheeks very far apart.

This type of art will certainly provoke all kinds of reactions, probably mostly negative, but Chalmers welcomes experimentation in this way, saying it also “pushes boundaries and opens up the field for creativity”.

However, the 37-year-old – himself no stranger to making an impact with a needle and thread, given his size (over six feet tall) and strong resemblance to a Hell’s Angel – prefers to feature clever puns and witticisms in his work rather than being rude for the sake of it.

As he explains, he doesn’t take offence if people do “drop the c-bomb or the f-bomb when first doing cross stitch” since they will likely grow tired of it and, if they continue their stitching careers, will soon be keen to progress to other subject matter.

Regardless, Chalmers does concede that a “real tension about patterns” exists, with some older women potentially getting upset about the topics currently being covered on canvas. By contrast, those aged between 20 and 40 years old are grateful for these new, modern patterns being made available. “Stuff that makes them laugh makes them want to have a go,” he remarks. “Creating things is really important for people’s development. I just want to stop people thinking that cross stitch is not for them.”

Given that so many time-honoured pastimes are dying out in the face of emerging technologies, with people increasingly choosing to become passive receivers of information and experience over being proactive and constructive, should contentious subject matter be a concern for cross stitch traditionalists? Surely it is more important that this increasingly popular art form is here to stay, hopefully continuing to survive for at least another 1,000 years.

Do you think crafters should continue to break new and shocking ground with cross stitch or should they stick to the traditional patterns of old? Sexualised granddads versus prayer samplers – which camp are you in?

11 Responses to “Shock stitch”
  1. Claire says:

    Thanks for including us in your article, Sarah, it was a good read! All art is subjective and it’s definitely not for everyone but each person we help to bring to cross stitch and back to craft in general through a new and interesting take on a traditional medium, I count as a win! 🙂

    • Sarah Adie says:

      Hi Claire. I was happy to include you – I love the stuff on your site! I agree, if subversive art encourages people to take up a craft then it must be doing more good than harm!

  2. Maria Ho says:

    I really love the combination of the prim cross stitches and the subversive saying or phrase, preferably witty as well :).

    • Sarah Adie says:

      Yeah, I think the juxtaposition of imagery works really well and is part of the appeal of subversive cross stitching. Although I am with you – I would prefer the output to be witty/clever as well as shocking.

  3. I’ve never been one for swearing/being outrageous for the sake of it, however trendy it may be sometimes. That isn’t to say I never use naughty words in my stitchings though 🙂 I don’t think there is a wrong or a right way to cross stitch, that’s like saying there’s a wrong or a right way to use paint, or sculpture. My personal love for this medium is precisely the way in which it blurs expectations. I love to see new twists on tradition (see also this blend of Morris dance and hip-hop); it’s just another way of keeping the old skills alive, long may it continue!

  4. Valerie says:

    Well now I am 65 years young and once I get over the initial ‘shock’ of some of these, I actually kinda like them…well some that is, ha! I wish I could be so creative with what is being produced by these types of cross-stitch artists! I think some are very cool. In fact, I keep reading and waiting for one that I really do want to do and display for myself! And also some I might want to do for my husband and grown children who are in their 30s and 40s. I say good for you! And why not?!

    • Sarah Adie says:

      I agree entirely! I’ve only just started doing cross stitch but I’m sure I’ll head down the more subversive route at some point. I think it’s great that more people are getting into this craft and if slightly risque material is the way to encourage them, then I’m definitely all for it! There are some computer programs out there you can use to design your own patterns, so maybe you could come up with your own shocking cross stitches for your husband and children!

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