Boasting the cliche “bless this house” or the obscure “not all those who wander are lost,” cross-stitch has adorned every type of fabric-based decor from kitchen towels to pillows.
Characterized by its X-shaped stitches, symmetric patterns and pixel-like appearance, the stitch is being reclaimed by a number of younger and cheekier designers.
Subversive cross-stitchers aren’t afraid to twist conventional sewing etiquette on its head. They juxtapose the traditional flower motifs that characterize classic cross-stitch with phrases like “whatever,” “not today satan” and the simple “fuck.”
“There’s something liberating [in] taking something that has this historical quality and kind of rebelling,” said Minneapolis cross-stitcher Melanie Seifert, who runs the Etsy shop "RebelleCherry."
“I think that generationally my mom [and] her mother … were kind of put in this position where you have to be a little bit more proper. Women [today] feel more empowered to have a voice … and [using] it doesn’t necessarily degrade you as a woman,” Seifert said.
Finding a community on Instagram and Etsy, “subversive cross-stitchers” are revising the traditionally homey cliches.
As the word "subversive" suggests, these sewers disrupt the established norm of what should or should not be cross-stitched.
Instead of stitching teddy bears and hearts, many sew pop culture references, funny puns and political commentary into the fabric.
The owner of the Etsy shop "CussStitching," Naomie Nix says the subversive cross-stitch movement represents a bigger cultural shift in the art community.
“Cross-stitch and embroidery and needlepoint have always kind of been looked on as crafting and hobbying, and I think that’s because it was categorized as ‘women’s art,’” Nix said. “I think a lot of it [has to do] with the #MeToo movement [and] reclaiming women’s’ stories that have been brushed aside for so long.”
For many stitchers, the repetitive and orderly patterns of cross-stitch offer a way to detach from their busy lives and focus on something meaningful.
Brenna Jachymowksi, of Etsy shop "Plays Well with Needles," likes working on pieces that are empowering to her — like her popular design “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”.
“I think if you surround yourself with positive [phrases] and empowering [messages] you start to feel that way. Your environment definitely affects you,” she said. “Just the intent behind [a piece] sends a really powerful message that you care enough to put this much time and effort into something.”
Like many of these artists, Wone and Youa Vang were taught how to stitch by their mother and grandmother. The sisters hosted a subversive cross-stitching workshop at the Minnesota Museum of American Art last weekend.
Wone and Youa, who co-run the Etsy store "3DRD," an acronym for "Third Daughter, Restless Daughter," have commissioned several large-scale pieces for museums and restaurants around the Twin Cities. One piece, titled "Not your grandmother’s cross-stitch," is made from chicken wire and yarn as opposed to fabric and embroidery floss.
Although the sisters prefer a needle and thread, cross-stitch allows them to add a little humor to their life.
“Art is your view of the world,” said Youa. “If you’re upset [or] you’re happy, that’s what you put out into your piece.”
Wone said they watch a lot of comedy specials and get inspiration for their designs from everyday life.
“We like to laugh a lot,” she said.
“You have to see humor to get through life,” Youa added.
There are only a handful of prominent cross-stitchers in the Twin Cities. However, the sewers say there’s a robust community on social media, which makes sharing patterns and finished pieces relatively easy.
Youa said subversive cross-stitch has introduced the pattern to a new generation.
“They’re finding joy in that they can do this and it doesn’t have to be old and boring,” Youa said. “A lot of young people and younger generations are saying, ‘Oh, I can make this my own.’”