Unwrap the whitewashed heritage of cross stitch


When you close your eyes and think about needlework crafts – cross stitch, embroidery, quilting – what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Maybe this is one of those patterned, yellow stained, itchy pillows your grandmother had scattered around her house. Or maybe the picture is deeper, informed by age-old practices like making quilts in Gee’s Bend, the small Alabama town famous for a tailoring legacy that stems from surviving slavery.

As the great millennium the aesthetic has taken hold in many of our homes (think decorative ashtrays, mixed flower wallpaper, and antique tea sets erected as living room art), as has its fabric counterpart. Cross stitch, a type of sewing, grid embroidery, or decorative needlework that uses X-shaped stitches to make a patterned stencil, is officially entering a new and improved iteration, which at the same time subverts the patterns. traditional and reflects those that have historically been excluded from trade. “The misconception is that [cross-stitching] is an all-white art form, ”says Lisa Woolfork, founder of the Black Women Stitch fashion group. Lisa didn’t want her love for what she described as a “beautifully structured craft practice” to be hampered by the “filters often required of blacks in predominantly white spaces” – a sentiment she shares with so many. other blacks crossed. stitchers.

“I was exploring pages [of patterns] when I started out and thought, “My God, this stuff is so white,” Miasia Osbey says of her introduction to cross stitch. “I remember seeing this elaborate piece of patriotic designs and knowing that I could never sew this flag because it is stained with the blood of my ancestors.”

Miasia categorically rejects the idea of ​​spending more than 40 hours on a motif that appeared in the 1770s on a plantation porch. So, like Lisa, Miasia did what many black creations are forced to do in response to whitewashed creative spaces: she created her own version. After purchasing cross stitch design software, she started designing patterns for her black colleagues. With grids that spell out “Black Voters Matter” and X’s that blend into a black national anthem symbol, Miasia hopes to leave a mark on the family that comes after her. She even parallels her needlework messages with those of the Underground Railroad quilt codes that communicated direction to her ancestors when they fled slavery. (She covers them too.)

For Sara Trail, founder of the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), infusing cross stitch with its historical value – which is often left out of conversations that take place at local Marshall – is also integral to her practice. As someone who has been sewing since the age of four, the utility and pleasure of needlework is not lost on her. But when Trayvon Martin was assassinated, Sara began to pursue activism more explicitly through her profession. However, when her new work – which literally weaved into stories of injustice – was rejected by the same communities that had previously welcomed and promoted her, she redoubled her efforts to create her own sewing community.


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