The Cross-Stitch Cultural Cringe
In the late 1990s, I went through a bit of a funk. I’d returned from what was then a common rite of passage for twenty-something Australians, a two-year working holiday in the UK. Over there, I’d relinquished my interior architecture career to study footwear and accessories making. I had casually been offered a job by Jimmy Choo but, without a sponsorship, I needed to come home.
Back in Australia, I struggled to keep the creative spark alive. Single and in my now late twenties, I hated being back. Newsreaders’ voices sounded as course as Paul Hogan’s, and I was missing the hills of Hertfordshire and the buzz of London.
The Llewelyn-Bowen Effect
To take my mind off things, my textiles-teaching expert cousin introduced me to the therapeutic craft of cross-stitch. We formed a kind of cross-stitch club well before knitting clubs had become cool again. Somehow, I found myself knocking up highly detailed embroideries of St Alban’s Cathedral and gifts featuring cherubs and a mouse called Angelina Ballerina for friends who were having their first babies.
All this while we binged on early BBC home design show, Changing Rooms (there WAS no Netflix). We laughed at Linda Barker’s teapot shelf disaster and the extravagant designs of an eccentric young presenter we dubbed ‘Cuffs’, formally known as Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen. We agreed he could NEVER work on Australian TV. Lo and behold, almost 20 years later, he judges the Channel Seven House Rules.
The fully cuffed, handsome and young dandy Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen (left) transmits his designs onto British TV audiences and the home-maker DIY show is never the same again. Image credit. @dailymailuk
A few years later I found myself engrossed in the BBC adaption of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, starring the original Dr. Dreamy, Richard Armitage. A story of class, gender, and workers’ rights in a 19th-century cotton mill. Just as I had marvelled at the intricate process of creating a shoe a few years earlier, I now had an appreciation of the struggles to bring us something seemingly so innocent as cotton.
The Dark Ages of Stitch Craft
By the time I had my first bub in 2015, cross-stitch had been relegated to the back of the third drawer of a dresser in the spare room, that holder of shelved projects found in many an Australian home.
I still love anything that involves stitching, weaving, and embroidery, Back in 2000, however, all you find in haberdashery stores were teddy bears on crescent moons and gumnut clichés of the Australian bush. Now you can’t even find a haberdashery store.
The cultural cross-stitch cringe is real. Australian native animals enjoying a "Bush Smoko". image credit @artecycrossstitch
I like stitching... but I ain't nobody's subjugate
I knew that Australia had to go through its own stitch renaissance before the thread could be accepted as a craft not just for the Country Women’s Association’s Royal Easter Show entries or for the creative types who’d started selling subversive designs on a new site called Etsy. There had to be something in between. I remember I had thoughts of creating a website called Handmaden but it just wasn't the right time. Stitching, sewing and craft were still edgy and why bother when you could replace anything ready-made ultra-cheap.
" I wish for the dismantling of your patriarchal systems of oppression". Before a stitch renaissance could take hold, an ironic, subversive, feminist stitch revolution needed to take place in order to question the role of needlework in women's lives through the centuries and totally separate itself from the traditional image of the craft. Image credit @happyslothpatterns
Throw it Away
The rise of the throwaway culture was instilled in the noughties by clever marketers such as Zara, H&M, Primark in the UK and in the homemakers market by the one weekend reno reality shows and the giant warehouse Hardware stores. Similar giant craft stores followed and the little independent haberdashery or hardware store disappeared too. 9-11 happened and it became impossible to bring a 2 inch needle and miniature gold scissors and thread on a plane, so I no longer bothered.
My work trips to India and Asian factories and buying trips to Vegas, London, Paris and New York made me see the dichotomy of marketing ready made clothes and accessories and I grew ever dissatisfied with this state of affairs.
Rediscovering a Love of the Thread
During my travels, I would always find myself drawn to the thread on walking tours and in exhibitions. As a former interior architect, I marvelled at how the architecture of so many 1800s residences in Lyon, France - the birthplace of Jacquard weaving - was influenced by the size of the wide and tall looms.
In Peru, on a very basic but totally soul-satisfying homestay on Lake Titicaca, I purchased handwoven pieces that become cherished possessions. They now rest on my sons’ beds.
Enough Already. Stitch Overload.
Today, my Instagram feed is chock-a-block with too much inspiration, if that’s possible. I don’t know where to start. I think that’s a problem for many of us. I want to offer easy-to-start, easy-to-craft kits so that even if you haven’t touched a piece of raw cloth since Year 2’s needle and thread class, you will enjoy the process of stitching and woven crafts. It’s a skill so many of us have lost.
Men especially, as once traditional and passionate leatherworkers and leather ‘closers’ lost their craft in the past 30 years as ateliers and accessory production went offshore. A few stalls remain at Bondi and The Rocks markets but designs have changed little since the ’90s. COVID threatens their existence as they struggle to engage with consumers hibernating online all around the world.
A bunch of embroidery artists, who can now loudly and proudly pursue their embroidery craft with zero ironies, have a lot to be thankful for. In her hoops, for example, @violalpina creates little vignettes of everyday life in her Pi x 5-inch squared surface area of unashamed cuteness. No wonder each of her Instagram posts receives over 11,000 likes.
Thankfully, across all crafts and arts there are suppliers offering ready-to-craft kits to help you get your craft on either for the first time or once again.
Self-taught Australian craftspeople, such as John of J. Tanner Deconstructed, combines his love of leathercraft and a mission to allow anyone to experience the joy of stitching and finishing, or 'closing', one’s very own contemporary purse, bag, or wallet.
Finishing your own leather crafts is not out of reach thanks to
J. Tanner Deconstructed - image @jtanner.co
Contemporary craft kits including weaving, stitching, embroidery and leatherwork will be available on the Fora Studios store. Make sure you subscribe to the Fora Files as there’ll be plenty of promotions to help your creative nature unfurl.