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May 4, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

A Sewing Revolution!

Sewing, knitting, stitching, craft… are these activities feminists should be embracing today? Women have been involved in clothing the nation for thousands of years and feminists fought to enable women to move out of their traditional roles in society and have an equal place in civil and political life. So are women of the present involved in craft taking a step backwards?

Knitting and craft have reinvented themselves in recent times. Today’s women involved in craft are not just mute maidens mindlessly sewing in a corner. Instead women today are snatching back craft, transforming it into something very different and somewhat ironic and rebellious. In this article I will refer to cross-stitch and knitting—couple of old crafts reworked with postmodern ideas and values.

Cross-stitch has turned into a way of people expressing themselves, relaxing and has become a cathartic activity expressing the sewers wit and sarcasm. Julie Jackson, author and creator of the Subversive cross-stitch craze, said she began subversive cross-stitch in 2003 as a form of anger management during a bad patch at work (Jackson, 2003). Jackson ended up transforming her rage into a business starting her site which sells cross-stitch patterns very different to cross-stitch sampler packs your Granny may have given you as a child. A few of the cross-stitch packs include such statements as “Will Stitch for Cocktails”, “Of Course I Care” and “WTF”. These are very tame packs in comparison to others Jackson has created.

Subversive cross-stitch has now grown into an international phenomenon, with bloggers posting photos and comments detailing their latest creations. I have even come across a blogger who has stitched her text messages from a recent love saga, taken photos, and posted them on her blog; there are 20 of these texts from her lover in total! In this sense sewing makes a much cheaper alternative to therapy.

Subversive cross-stitch has even spread to New Zealand, with brands such as Stitch’d Ink selling cross-stitch kits based on-old school tattoo art. There are also other New Zealand blogger/entrepreneurs such as NZ Cupcake Queen selling ironic cross-stitch—“Eat Cake, Worship Satan”—to help promote her cupcakes. This small statement and helps to highlight the ridiculous norms and ideas women have to deal with in order to have the perfect body and how it has led to vilifying a small act such as a woman eating a cupcake.

The craft revolution has not just hit cross-stitch, it has also embraced other crafts, such, as knitting. The world is being swept with a new form of graffiti called ‘Yarnbombing’, where knitters wrap their work around trees, signs, poles, fences and other public property. The innocent act of knitting has taken on a new persona, being associated with vandalism tied up with the usual spray can graffiti or tagging. Yarnbombing has literally wrapped itself around different locations in our fair city, I am sure many of you have walked down Cuba Street and noticed the colourful addition to many trees that have already been prepared for our chilly Wellington winter by our city’s own Yarnbombers. In a recent Wellingtonian article, a knitting tagger said she chose her locations carefully around areas that contain conventional graffiti to challenge peoples perceptions of both art forms (Meyer 2009). This helps to show postmodern women participating in craft are not just mindlessly knitting they are using their work to question ideas in society.

Knitting and other such crafts have been known to have many health benefits for the people who partake in them. People in the medical industry are saying that knitting can help reduce stress (Blixt 2007). A study has also been carried out by the University of Toronto which found knitting helped mental strength and helped knitters achieve a balanced lifestyle (Blixt 2007). Apart from these aspects, knitting and other such craft is also directly helping to fight the obesity epidemic—I don’t know about you but I find eating and sewing impossible!

So for those looking for health benefits, anger management, deep thinking about societal issues or simply just for a little fun there is a Wellington Knitting Group “Holy Knit Batman!” that meet on Mondays 7–9pm at Southern Cross Bar, 35 Abel Smith Street, Te Aro, Wellington. They invite beginners and knit nerds alike to join their group.

Also as a part of Womens Fest 2009, all ladies are welcome to come and make their own subversive cross-stitch. So for stress relief from assignments, a chance to meet some new people and to get involved in an old art thats been reinvented, please see the details below. Casting off…


About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

Comments (8)

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  1. Stella says:

    This is a timely article, because I think many of today’s feminists are confused about skills like sewing, baking and cross stitching. These skills aren’t per se incompatible with feminism. They’re just a way to provide yourself with yummy home made bikkies, or express yourself. These things are only anti-feminist if you feel you have to do them because that’s what women do.

    Personally, I love sewing. That’s because I can make myself almost anything I want, usually for a fraction of the cost of buying it. And because I’m a Goth, a lot of the things I like to wear are hard to get in regular stores. So I make them, and my sewing machine has opened up for me whole new worlds of subversive self expression.

    Remember ladies: if it’s not subversive, you’re not trying!

  2. Kerry says:


    Try this website for more info:

    or FB group here:

  3. stiX says:

    Any Welly based knitters/crocheters/crafty activisty sorts that want to get involved with OutdoorKnit, please please please let me know! The knit graffiti thing includes a social element too… :D

  4. Awesome article, thanks so much for including me :-) Keep it crafty ladies!

  5. Agnes Nz says:

    I completly agree!!!

  6. Zeb says:

    Fantastic article, and a timely one. As someone who enjoys cross stitching, it annoys me when people go “Isn’t that something OLD women do?”
    Its not just about the hand towels and doilies darlings!

  7. Beanie says:

    Yep, and isn’t feminism and every other activism about winning the right to do (or not do) something because you want to, not because you have to? I’ve just discovered knitting and I LOVE it – I’m making meself a jersey and I really don’t care that this is *not* a subversive twist on a traditional theme. I’m going to be toasty warm!

  8. Kat says:

    I appreciate the jist of your article but think you’re really not doing our grandmothers a favour when you refer to them as “mute maidens mindlessly sewing in a corner”. Also the idea that cross stitch has evolved into a way for people to express themselves – how can you say that women who have been cross stitching for years and years are not expressing themselves? Just because they might not be using a hilarious “subversive” slogan such as WTF doesn’t mean they are not being creative and awesome too.

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