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 Lemonparty.org 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?
- Han Stitched First: The Star Wars Needlework Web Site (craftzine.com)
- Portlandia Cross-Stitch Pattern From Subversive Cross Stitch (craftzine.com)