During the Second World War, Red Cross care packages for hospitalized Canadian soldiers abroad included a cross-stitch kit: embroidery floss, needles and a muslin canvas traced with a maple leaf. Since then -- and especially in recent years -- the medium's aesthetic has evolved significantly. There are now more threads of wit woven into the meditative craft and it's being featured in fashion, art galleries, even publishing. Artist candy-coloured cross-stitch art is popular in New York galleries. There are dozens of hand-stitched fonts on design inspiration site and , the Calgary gallery, studio and popular graphic design journal has just released , a book highlighting the sweetly homespun needlecraft of Seattle artist .
If that image reads like something out of Jane Austen -- marriageable maidens toiling quietly over elaborate fireplace screens -- Penguin Books has run with the idea rather more literally. Last month, the publisher released , special edition covers of Austen's Emma and other classics. Each features an embossed cover photograph of Canadian artist original needlepoint art, and a clever twist: inside, the endpapers and verso of the French flaps are a photograph of the underside of the embroidery canvas. (The series continues next season with artist sampler-style cover for Little Women, among other titles.)
Before embroidery enthusiast Jenny Hart founded needlework pattern company in 2001 (with motifs that include skull tattoos and robots), the medium was often hearts, flowers and treacly sentiment. Now there's Julie Jackson's (one needlepoint reads: "Home Sweet F--king Home"). "When you see them, you're not expecting the phrases to be funny, and they're an enticement to get people to consider that craft again," says Vancouver native Leanne Prain, co-author of the bestseller , who has just written . "More than a bird or a duck!" she laughs.
Prain gravitates to embroidered textiles that bend the rules and defy expectations and make people laugh, or think -- often, both. "Craft still seems to be a dirty word for some people," Prain suggests; "I'm hoping that will change. Hoopla features more than 80 needleworkers in interviews and dozens of process photographs (and some helpful how-to, too). Prain cites B.C. artist Sara Haxby's new Canadiana series, which tweaks traditional themes with political commentary (one depicts two border guards as Holly Hobbies skipping rope). Several projects are provocative, such as needlepoint nipple doilies. They're entertaining as conversation pieces, "but I think there's also emotional worth. The young woman considered it a feminist act to create those doilies," Prain explains.
"I want to use embroidery as a form to express something greater than a punchy one-liner," Purdy continues, diplomatically. "Though that definitely has its place, I don't want to invest all that time in something that is a statement I wouldn't want to see as soon as I walk in my house, or look at every single day. I'm drawn to an honestly of place and time."
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