We’re loving National Embroidery Month! Join us later this month for an inspiring webinar with Mr X Stitch Jamie Chalmers. And read on to learn more about the world of artful embroidery and for a chance to win a batch of inspiring embroidery books for your sewing space.
Founded in 2008, MrXStitch.com is THE place to go online for cutting edge stitching inspiration — everything from cross-stitch and various kinds of hand and machine embroidery to bead embroidery, quilting, felting and more. From political topics and other charged imagery —content usually left to other mediums — to rich historical and cultural traditions to amazing feats of embroidery from skilled artisans and experimental makers alike, the site is provocative and inspiring. In addition to art pieces, the site includes regular columnists, like Ruth Singer’s “Pinning the Past,” which explores historical and modern textile stories across a variety of mediums, and special interest coverage on organizations like Fine Cell Work, a UK based organization that trains prisoners in needlework.
The fearless leader behind the blog is Mr X Stitch, perhaps the most unlikely cross-stitcher in the UK. An avid cross-stitcher and regular columnist for Cross Stitcher magazine, Jamie Chalmers founded the blog as a place to showcase new talent in textiles of all kinds and the kind of cross-stitching patterns he wanted to stitch but could not find.
Through the blog, his work curating exhibitions and books, and various teaching and speaking engagements, including a recent TED talk, Jamie Chalmers is out to prove that stitchery — and cross-stitch — is an art form worthy of serious critique and acclaim, with tremendous capacity to heal, to express and to empower.
CME: You’re not a typical cross-stitcher, are you? What reactions do you get? Has that changed over time?
I guess I’m not the first type of person you imagine when you think of the term “cross-stitcher,” and, although we live in a fairly broad-minded world, there’s still an element of surprise. It’s a curiosity that the gender bias in embroidery remains; however, if there were a lot of manbroiderers out there, I’d not be talking with you now!
CME: You founded your site in 2008. Has the embroidery as art landscape changed since then? Do you think embroidery is being recognized in a different way these days?
I think the embroidery as art debate is going to remain unresolved for quite some time. Despite there being a ton of amazing embroiderers creating art that is inspiring and astonishing, it’s rare that you see embroidery as an art form in the same way as oil painting, sculpture and such like. It’s only when existing artists of note like Grayson Perry or Tracey Emin choose to use textiles that the art world seems to pay attention. It’s quite frustrating as I’ve had the privilege of seeing hundreds of fantastic textile artists over the years, and yet their appearance in the large familiar galleries is scarce. Maybe that will change in the end, but anyone can pick up a needle and thread and potentially change the art world, and that kind of democracy undermines the value structure that underpins the extortionate world of art. So it’s not a popular idea.
CME: What are you currently working on?
This year I’ve been mostly concentrating on my forthcoming book – The Mr X Stitch Guide to Cross Stitch – which will be coming out this July. It’s shaping up to be a fantastic book that will not only teach you how to cross-stitch but will show you all aspects of the form, from craftivism to the art debate. As well as exploring how to design cross-stitch, the book features outliers whose work will inspire you. It’s got sumptuous photography, and I think it’s going to be a cracker!
CME: Where do you do most of your stitching?
These days I mostly stitch while travelling. I moved into a new home this year and a lot of spare time is taken up with DIY, as well as things like allotmenting, dog walking and spending time with my wife. Because I also have a full-time job, the time I have around that is spent doing all kinds of Mr X Stitch-related stuff, so getting time to actually sit down and stitch is a rare treat. However, traveling time, whether on trains or planes, is the perfect chance to listen to some good podcasts or audiobooks and get some stitching done.
CME: Time constraints aside, what would you make?
What I’d like to do, if I had the time, is learn Japanese embroidery. It’s the most disciplined embroidery type, but the final outcomes are stunning, and I’d love to create work where people couldn’t fault the technique, and then see what boundaries could be pushed in terms of content.
CME: What artist is currently blowing your mind?
One of my favorite machine embroidery artists is Meredith Woolnough, who uses machine stitch to create organic looking forms. She stitches onto soluble interface, building up layer upon layer of stitches that, when the interface is dissolved, create freestanding structures that are simply stunning. Her work is so delicate and so clever – they really are fantastic.
CME: Do you find that embroidery kits, motifs and machine embroidery designs these days have opened up from cottages and kitties?
There’s a real duality between the mainstream retail offerings and the kits that you can buy online. The internet provides smaller designers the opportunity to create and sell kits with more interesting designs and with edgier content. However it’s rare that these producers can scale up to meet the needs of the bigger craft stores, and so those stores are reliant on the designs of the big companies. The big companies can only produce so many designs and their production schedules don’t necessarily give them to the scope to quickly react to new trends. Magazines have some influence, in that they give people designs to stitch, but the complexity of major publishing houses makes them somewhat risk averse, so it’s rare that you see new innovative ideas from them. So there’s a kind of slow inertia, and while the cross-stitch audience might be growing tired of kittens and cottages (although they’re both really nice things), the world of cross-stitch production is taking a long time to react.
CME: What first steps should someone take if they’re interested in doing more customized and artful machine embroidery designs of their own creation?
The good thing about the world of machine embroidery and digitizing designs is that the learning curves are getting shorter, so it’s easier than ever for people to command their machines to create interesting designs. I’ve been fortunate on Mr X Stitch to have two fantastic machine embroidery columns — Gear Threads by the gang at Urban Threads and Ghost in the Embroidery Machine by Erich Campbell — and there’s a ton of inspiration and wisdom to be found in those archives. Read as much as you can about the basic principles of machine embroidery and what variables are important. Once you understand the basics, you can begin making magic. The only other thing I’d add is to just design, and design, and design and design. As with any skill, you have to put in the hours to get good and it’s the same with design. By continually pushing at your own creativity, you can discover your “voice” and start to produce work that reflects who you are.
Looking for some artful embroidery inspiration? You’ve come to the right place, friends! What’s the most involved thing you’re ever embroidered? What kind of embroidery are you interested in learning more about? Comment below for a chance to win Rebecca Ringquist’s Embroidery Workshops and Stitch Draw by Rosie James, two inspiring collections that will get your creative juices flowing.