Subversive Stitch?

Miniature Landscapes web.jpg

Well, after the excitement of my son's amazing GCSE results a couple of weeks’ ago, the last week of the holidays was meant to be a gentle easing back into the usual school routine. sorting out the school uniform, making sure the kids have lunch money etc, etc. However, it's not turned out that way.

Red Dot Mini Print Exhibition

Red Dot Mini Print Exhibition

First of all I heard that two of my prints had been accepted for a touring exhibition organised by the Red Dot Art Consultancy. You may be thinking .... ‘I thought you were a textile artist what are you talking about prints for?’ Well, many moons ago, I first discovered printmaking when I lived in London and enrolled on an Etching Evening Class, the only textile art I had tried at this point was patchwork at school. I loved the process, but found it impossible to keep up the classes when I moved out of London. For me it was an addiction, though, and having found my portfolio of prints recently I was determined to find a way of taking it up again. And so, in April, thanks to the encouragement of a good friend, I found myself enrolling for a term’s printmaking classes at Parndon Mill with Tania Scott Durrant. I then found myself taking part in a group printmakers exhibition at Parndon Mill Gallery. Although the panic of making enough work to go on the wall proved to be quite stressful at the time, it was definitely worthwhile. The exhibition featured the work of 17 printmakers who all take classes with Tania in Harlow and was really well received - I even sold a picture!

Happenstance Print Exhibition at Parndon Mill

Happenstance Print Exhibition at Parndon Mill

Anyway, I digress … My new work features a series of miniature landscapes (see image at to of post) that I have developed to complement my black and white stitched landscapes series, and I saw an opportunity recently to apply for the Red Dot Art Mini Print Exhibition. Well, I’ve just heard that my work has been excepted for this touring exhibition, which will feature over 400 miniature prints. The tour opens at The Garage Gallery in Aldeburgh on 21st September. You can see more details on my Upcoming Events page.

Then, I speculatively applied to be a member of the brand new Society for Embroidered Work after I’d seen their post on Instagram (I love Instagram). Emily Tull and Cat Frampton decided to set up the Society after a conversation they’d had about the lack of inclusion of Embroidery and Textile artwork in the Art World. The aim of S.E.W is "to promote and support artists who have an element of stitching in their artworks, hand or machine and traditional or contemporary forms of embroidery".

Well, I thought, I’ll give it a punt. The list of existing members looked really impressive, though, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be accepted (you had to send images of your work and links to websites etc). Well, I got an email yesterday to invite me to be a member. Since then I’ve been busily following all the other inaugural members on social media and getting excited. It was very timely that this opportunity came up. I’ve been getting progressively more frustrated with the lack of coverage that any type of embroidered or textile gets. A lot of exhibition calls will only accept applications from more traditional, mainstream art forms - painting, sculpture, drawing. You often have to classify yourself as a 'mixed media' artist to get a look in on selling sites, and your work is described as sewing or just craft - in the worst sense of the word.

Meadow  -  machine & hand embroidery

Meadow - machine & hand embroidery

Just looking at the amazing diversity of the artists who now belong to SEW is quite astounding. Every artist has a very distinct, individual style and voice. The fact that we all choose to work in stitch doesn’t diminish us as artists, it’s just that we all love texture and colour too much I suspect to work with paper or paint.

It is no surprise, also, that all the inaugural members, except one, are women. Might gender also be a reason why our work is not recognised so readily? Perhaps this is an historical throwback to when embroidery was considered to be 'women’s work' - a gentle distraction, a way of keeping the wives and daughters 'occupied' and work that seemingly didn't require any intellect or original thought? It's quite noticeable that the very few modern-day textile artists and embroiderers who are male seem to command a cult-status. Despite there being plenty of women textile artists out there producing work that is just as original and skilled. These artists (for example Mr X Stitch - 33k followers on Instagram, Richard McVetis - nearly 6k followers on Instagram and Adam Pritchett - 46k followers on Instagram produce interesting, skilled work, but they seem to occupy a curiously elevated position of 'men in a women's world' with a certain kudos just from that.

Perhaps the difference is that a lot of the female equivalents are not as comfortable in taking on the 'guru' status and shouting about their work on social media? Even Lou Gardiner (6.5k followers on instagram) - one of the most prominent and talented contemporary women embroiderers takes more of a social-activist role with her Instagram content - promoting the empowerment of women as much as her own work with projects like the 'Stitch a Cloud' project where she invited women from all over the world to embroider blank felt clouds with anything they liked - words, imagery etc that meant something to them. These are all being incorporated into a cape for women to wear and feel empowered by the experience. Writing about this has reminded me that I must read Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker which discusses these very issues in the historical context of women's femininity and their social roles since the Medieval period. Perhaps this is just my own personal observation, or I am being overly-cynical? It would be interesting to hear other people’s thoughts …

Well, back to the newly-formed Society for Embroidered Work, it seems that plans are a foot for an exhibition in a London Gallery in the not too distant future, so I will definitely keep you posted.