26 Going on 90
By Alexandra Klein
Student at McGill Faculty of Law
Embroidery has a long history as “women’s work”: often unpaid and done in the privacy of the home. Consequently, it has historically, and still today, been characterized as “craft” rather than “art”. While I think that in many ways it is still looked down upon, this is changing. What I find fascinating about embroidery is that the materials and techniques have hardly changed over time. I, and so many others, have a direct connection to the past. What have changed are the context and the subject matter. There has been a great resurgence in hand embroidery, and people—primarily women—have flocked to the art as a form of modern, and often political, expression. I have yet to see an explicitly non-feminist piece. I believe that, by virtue of the way in which embroidery is being reclaimed, most pieces, although perhaps not overtly feminist, are still so. This could be a result of self-selection; I have little patience for artists spouting the opposite view. I wouldn’t say that I am at the forefront of this movement (a quick internet search will uncover many other artists producing radical, impressive, and beautiful work) but I am proud to be a part of it.
In reality, I used to be very uncomfortable telling people that I had an embroidery business. I’d prefer to believe that this discomfort did not originate in internalized understandings of embroidery’s history and place in the world, but it probably did. I thought people would make fun of the medium and devalue my business because of its status—and some people did. And, too bad for those people. I will never support myself with this business alone, but I’ve reached a level of success that I didn’t think was possible—my barely-thought-out business name (Alex’s Embroidery) is a testament to how doubtful I was that people would actually buy my work. However, my confidence in both my work and its value has grown. I have also accepted and embraced that I am a 90-year-old grandma trapped in a 20-something year-old’s body. I will never be good at self-promotion—just try and listen to me stammer through pitching my art—but now I do that stammering proudly.
Embroidery has become a core part of who I am and how I relax. When I started law school I knew I needed to keep making embroidery as a creative outlet for what I imagined—correctly—would be a difficult three and a half years. Between balancing school and work, finding time for my art hasn’t been easy, but it has helped keep me sane. And it’s a way to express myself. My favourite part of the process is selecting the colour palette, and I am particularly drawn to my most colourful and vibrant pieces. While I don’t see myself as a colourful or exuberant person, my work allows me to explore that side of myself.
I don’t plan on stopping embroidery anytime soon. I will continue to create art and express myself through my embroidery. Embroidery has evolved into a means of empowerment for myself and for so many others, and I’m excited to see how it will continue to grow. And on that note, stay tuned for my upcoming line of totes, t-shirts, and magnets ;)