‘Subversive’ cross-stitch is cool
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
I remember watching my grandmother knit all the time as a child. I was always in awe at how she could turn a pile of yarn into basically anything—hats, sweaters, even some overalls for my baby cousins. When I attempted it for myself as a preteen, all I could put out was a pretty basic scarf with rows that were either too tight or too loose. Since that first unfortunate experience, I’ve largely stayed away from craft-like activities. Until recently, that is.
Cross-stitching is one of the oldest forms of embroidery and is found in traditional textile arts in cultures all over the world. For the uninitiated, it is a counted-thread embroidery, which basically means the artist makes their design on a fabric with a grid weave by counting out x-shaped stitches to form an image. In the past, images I have seen have either been large-scale landscapes or the more common picture frame-sized work often with a phrase embroidered in the center and bordered with flowers. The latter is usually some homey, family-oriented phrase you’d seen hanging in your aunt’s carefully curated kitchen: Classics like “Live, Laugh, Love,” “Meals and Memories Made Here,” or “Happiness is Homemade.”
For whatever reason, several of my close friends have recently taken to cross-stitching in their free time. Curious as to this sudden rise in the needle-working arts, I asked a few of them their reasons for picking up such a seemingly random hobby. I got pretty basic answers for the most part, most just claiming it was something “to do.” One answer, however, both surprised and stuck with me: “I do it so I don’t play on my phone so much.” Cross-stitch, something I pretty much only associated with the generation of our grandparents, has become a way for us millennials to combat one of the biggest critiques of our generation.
Many of those new, young cross-stitchers are turning that aforementioned homey-ness on its head and are messing with the kinds of images and phrases they embroider, making them more relevant to modern popular culture. The movement is called “subversive cross-stitch” and often takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the craft. Pieces with “Bite Me,” “Shut Your Piehole,” or “Snitches get Stitches”—all with the traditional flower border intact, of course—are being sold in trendy craft fairs throughout the city. I think it’s that unexpected juxtaposition of very traditional and very modern that makes this movement so popular.
If you’re looking to get your own artistic aggression out in the oldest way possible, there’s an entire online company (conveniently also called Subversive Cross-Stitch) dedicated to providing would-be crafters with all the materials and patterns their snarky little hearts could ever want. The owner also has two books: Subversive Cross Stitch: 50 F*cking Clever Designs for Your Sassy Side and Subversive Cross Stitch: 35 Designs for Your Surly Side, titles which I think both perfectly hint at the type of pattern available.