I’ve been working on an article for a magazine cross-stitch as contemporary art, and I recently gave a talk at the Hack Circus Christmas Party about my project, and putting what I’m doing into words has been a really good experience.
One of the aims of my project is to change the perception of cross-stitch in contemporary art. It is considered twee and quite an easy form of needlecraft, and the more I research into it, the more I’m inclined to agree.
Cross-stitch never seems to have shaken off its humble origins. Once a form of embellishment for clothing and household linens for the lower classes, cross-stitch was the ideal way of adding decoration to linens on which people were able to count the coarsely woven fibres to form simple repetitive patterns. It has never been a form of high art in the way that other forms of embroidery are. Even today, all that is needed to create an image, even to recreate a masterpiece of art, is a pattern and the ability to count. In the mid 20th century, cross-stitch kits even had the pattern printed onto the fabric, so that all that stitchers only needed to fill in within the lines, rather like a giant paint by numbers.
The recent resurgence of interest in craft and cross-stitch has given rise to the subversive cross-stitch movement, with some hilarious results. Even this though, is still a parody of cross-stitch’s more traditional roots, rather than fine art.
However, the ability to cross-stitch is a skill, and to create a piece of work also takes time and a relationship with the materials and the medium. That is where my interest lies. I believe that the difference between cross-stitch as a hobby craft and cross-stitch as fine art comes from how the materials are viewed in their own right, making use of their own properties to create artworks unique to the medium. The Aida shouldn’t be seen as a blank canvas which needs a picture on it, it should be seen as a tool; and the threads shouldn’t be seen as a way of colouring in, we should be looking at breaking the rules and working with what we have to create something new and exciting.
For example, the restrictions of the grid format distorts any image you try to create, in the way that 8 bit images in computer games are distorted, but if we accept this, and work with it, amazing patterns and images can be created. Also, the idea of hiding the threads away at the back of the fabric to leave a nice picture, which may as well have been painted, seems a little redundant when thinking about the materials and their properties. Why not show your working and your skill in the work?
I think that, to rescue cross-stitch from the no-man’s-land between craft and art, we need to start pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules. Hopefully people will start to think about what could be achieved when working on the DNA pattern to create something together which is genuinely a work of art.
If you know of any artists out there who are working on contemporary art projects, I’d love to hear from you.
To get a copy of the DNA pattern, and to take part in the exhibition for FREE, please visit my website.