Hoopla, by the co-author of 2009’s bestselling Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet & Knit Graffiti, showcases those who take the craft of embroidery where it’s never gone before, in an astonishing, full-colour display of embroidered art. Hoopla rebels against the quaint and familiar embroidery motifs of flowers and swashes, and focuses instead on innovative stitch artists who specialize in unusual, guerrilla-style patterns such as needlepoint nipple doilies and a ransom note pillow; it demonstrates that modern embroidery artists are as sharp as the needles with which they work. - Arsenal Pulp Press
Leanne Prain, author of Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery, took some time out from preparing for her Toronto launch/”stitch n’ bitch” (Tuesday, September 27 at 7pm at Type Books, 883 Queen St. West) to answer a few questions for Shameless about her book and subversive crafting.
Shameless: Can you explain what the subtitle of your book, “The Art of Unexpected Embroidery,” means for those who have never heard of this before?
LP: The subtitle of the book ‘“unexpected embroidery” was to emphasize that Hoopla really isn’t an ordinary embroidery book. There are patterns in the book but they are unconventional and they have been written in such as way that if you don’t follow all of the rules, that’s okay. Just create something, even if it doesn’t look anything like what is in the book. Hoopla also features 32 different profiles of artists who do really unusual things with a needle and thread - they make performance art with embroidery, protest banners, stitch graffiti lettering, map communities, run mediation groups with stitching mantras, create stitched animations, and replicate the DNA sequences of viruses. I wanted to focus on the “unexpected” work within the art form to hopefully expand the appreciation of the art form and inspire people to use stitchwork to propel their own ideas and sentiments, be it personal, social or political.
Shameless: Isn’t embroidery a more common hobby among older people? Are there young people getting into this?
LP: Embroidery was a common hobby among older people. In many ways, you could say that in our collective consciousness it is a disappearing art. We are no longer taught to stitch. For hundreds of years, a woman’s worth was often dependant on her ability to stitch. In the western world, the ability to embroider was the sign of a useful and obedient wife. Stitched linens were listed on household registries as assets, along with grain and livestock. Stitch work and women have a long, complicated history. I think that we are now living in a time in history where it is possible to reclaim stitchwork as a method of expression that is uniquely our own. I have a great interest in embroidery as a communication method and there is some really interesting work being done by young feminists like Rosa Martin, whom I interview in the book. I also have enjoyed getting to know some of the key figures in the “manbroidery” movement. These are men who embroider. I love that the art form is currently pushing and changing gendered stereotypes about handmaking.
Shameless: How can embroidery be subversive? Can you give some examples from the book of how activists can use embroidery in their work?
LP: Embroidery can be subversive when it changes expectations of the traditional art form. I think that some of the people that I’m interviewing in the book are doing this very well. Many of them are self-taught stitchers, they have never stitched a sampler or copied a pattern. They’ve not only made up their subject matter, they’ve even developed their own method of making stitches. Some of the interesting examples in the book include Rosa Martin’s performance art video of women’s first experience with menstruation, Jenny Hart’s detailed stitching of rock legends of Iggy Pop, Johnny Murder’s outspoken cartoon characters who are saying some uncouth things, and Richard Saja’s subversion of traditional toile, turning Victorian prints into strange flame-haired people and animal-human hybrids. I think that in the general public consciousness, embroidery is this boring wallflowerish thing - these artists prove that it certainly is not!
Shameless: Any tips for beginners?
LP: Have no fear. You can’t do anything wrong. Pick up a needle and thread, and just try it! There really is no such thing as a mistake in subversive crafting, just happy accidents that need, ahem, embellishment. Pick a subject to stitch that is meaningful and relevant to you, such as a favourite quote or a portrait of someone you admire.
If you’re in Toronto, check out Leanne’s free launch at Type Books, Tuesday, September 27, 7pm.