Call it subversive stitchery. Alternative embroidery. Today’s home samplers include everything from Kanye West tweets to tattoo designs.
Jamie Chalmers, a burly, bearded fellow who lives in Bedford, England, calls himself a “manbroiderer.” He runs a blog and wrote a book, Push Stitchery: 30 Artists Explore the Boundaries of Stitched Art (Push Stitchery/Lark Crafts, 2011).
“About 12 years ago, I bought a cross-stitch pattern as something to do while on a long plane journey. I was motivated by the juxtaposition of being a big man doing a tiny little cross stitch, but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I started Mr. X Stitch as a way of showcasing contemporary embroidery from around the world, challenging the common paradigm that stitching is just for little old ladies.
“One of the reasons people like learning from me is that I’m big, bald, straight and tattooed, and if I like embroidery, then anyone can like it,” he says.
Pop culture translated into cross stitch may be edgy, irreverent and funny.
Picture a sampler stitched with lyrics from Stephen Sondheim or Snoop Dogg; scenes from Poltergeist or Harry Potter; portraits of Lena Dunham or Grumpy Cat; cross-stitched burgers, asparagus, cupcakes or kimchi. You get the idea.
Singapore-based artist Teresa Lim stitches scenes from her travels – a bridge in Prague, a park in Tokyo, a field of German sheep.
“Embroidering a place instead of taking a photo makes a difference. When you take a photo, you don’t notice the small details. But when you draw or embroider, your eye picks out so much more detail,” she says. “After I complete a piece, I feel like I actually KNOW the place.”
Jacqueline and Christopher Gable of St. Catherines, Ontario, run a blog called Wee Little Stitches. They’ve found a niche rendering the casts of movies and TV series like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and The Big Bang Theory into pixels for cross stitching.
Why pixels? “The neat thing about pixels is that they translate exactly in to cross-stitch designs – in fact, it could be said that cross-stitching is the original pixel art,” laughs Jacqueline.
“I think my favourite is the Golden Girls pattern. I have such fond memories of watching the show with my grandmother,” she says.
Emily Peacock stitches alphabets and phrases like “Think Happy Thoughts,” using colorful, groovy typefaces with a happy-go-lucky vibe. The artist, based in Buckinghamshire, England, says her background in graphic design, and fascination with fonts and uplifting themes inform her ideas.
“I love the vibrancy of folk art and the simplicity of mid-century design. I have an idea, sketch it out and then turn up the volume so that the effect is eye-catching and immediate – I like designs that demand your attention as you enter a room,” she says. “I play a lot with colour and can feel a sort of ‘yes’ moment when the colour balance is right. Then I know I can start stitching.”
Want the entire Game of Thrones Westeros map in cross stitch? That’s the top-seller at Jen Eggleston’s Etsy.com shop. Eggleston, of Vancouver, British Columbia, also has riffed on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Mad Men. She recently completed an ambitious design that shows the self-destruct sequence on the spaceship in Alien.
There are lots of downloadable patterns like these online for a nominal cost – designers provide colour and measurement guidelines. Online tutorials show how to design your own chart.
If you just appreciate the cross-stitch motif without picking up needle and thread, consider the Stitches collection from Danish firm Menu. There’s a pretty jar, candlestick and vase done on white porcelain with grey stitch trim. Here too is Gry Fager’s vine and leaf cross-stitch pattern printed in soft grey on a crisp white plate.
Hungarian artist Zsanett Szirmay uses cross stitch to create multimedia art. Using a laser, she transfers old-style, Eastern European, folk-art embroidery patterns onto fabric strips, which can then be “played” in an old punch-card music box. She calls it “soundweaving.”