The stairs to Emma McKee’s Wicker Park apartment are lined with dozens of hip-hop concert posters, ranging from 2011 – the year McKee first moved to Chicago – to 2016. The flyers feature Chance The Rapper, Kids These Days, Vic Mensa, Mick Jenkins, a makeshift cannon from Chicago’s brightest young artists. Many of those featured are McKee fans as well. The St. Louis native has found a niche of cross stitch pieces primarily for street performers, musicians, and the hip-hop community at large, both inside and outside of Chicago.
McKee’s pieces deviate sharply from the picky aesthetic that traditionally defines cross stitch. When her English mother tried to interest McKee in form as a child, she had little patience for it. “I saw it as some kind of outdated art form that was used to keep women occupied so that they didn’t have to exercise other faculties,” McKee told The FADER, “just like something to do at home “. After giving the medium a chance, she realized how much she loved its calming effects. “I have a very active mind and I am constantly changing things, I am too stimulated. The cross stitch allowed me to be calm and focused. ”
The first cross stitch she did was in 2014, an adaptation of Will Prince’s work for Chance the Rapper’s “Hey Ma” which took her five months. Then there was a play for street artist JC Rivera, Chicago’s “Bear Champ”. From that moment on, his work exploded, as more and more rappers, producers and artists inquired about the pieces. McKee won’t cross stitch for just anyone – what she calls “quality control” – and she doesn’t sell her work. She only does trades, mainly for art or music.
Below, Emma McKee talks about the intersection between hip-hop and cross stitch, why Chance the Rapper is so inspiring for its art, and how its barter-only system works.