The historical connections between radical activism and crafts are both strong and important. Before women were able to vote the guise of home crafts was often used as an excuse to get together and plot. The Arts and Crafts movement of 19th Century England was a direct response to the soul-less Industrial Revolution. Crafters have used their skills to inspire action and revolution, especially through the creation of flags.
There are many stories about the use of quilts during the abolition movement in the United States not just to raise money and awareness for the abolitionist cause but also to aid the passge to freedom. There are stories in family herstories about quilts with secret code built into the pattern to act as a map, showing the safe roads to freedom. There are also stories of certain types of quilts being hung up on washing lines to indicate that the house was a safe one. (Note: this is heavily contested as to the truth of these stories. I’m not sure who to believe yet so this is staying here until I make up my mind).
Throughout history there has been the need for women to discretely organise and handicrafts always provided a useful cover. Unfortunately the radical potentials of crafts seem to have not been fully explored over the last few years. Sure there’s been a resurgence in crafts such as knitting but the application of these crafts has been pretty limited to practical needs.
What we are underutilising is the potential for crafts to express our rage at the stupidity of the world, demonstrate our vision for how to do things better and at the same time honour our mothers, grandmothers and great-great-great grandmothers. Women (and men) are rarely getting together to create community based craft projects designed to express a creative vision for a better world.
For those of you who don’t know what cross stitch is the best place to start is the wiki page. You could try places like crossstitch.com but there’s way too many fluffy bunnies and home sweet homes over there you’ll probably start retching like I did.. The wiki page has an excellent description of everything you need to know like fabrics and threads and stuff. Julie at Subversive Cross Stitch has a good how-to page. Or you could just go into Spotlight and randomly pick stuff off the shelf and hope, like I did. Alternatively, you can check out web forums like Craftster. There’s a good list of tutorials in the Needlepoint section.
How do you make cross stitch radical?
If you spend a minute searching cross stitch patterns you will see that 99.9999 percent of the patterns are of wanky slogans, awful farmyard scenes or nauseatingly revolting marriage commemorations. There are a couple of exceptions and you can see their links below. What is needed is cross stitch with imagination and a message. How that’s done is of course up to you as we are all beautifully creative creatures. On this site I’ll put up some of my patterns (and the finished result when I get around to them all…) and hopefully some of yours when you get all inspired to make your own.
How do I make patterns?
There are tons of programs out there that make patterns. Of course most of them you have to pay for but that wouldn’t be very radical now would it… So ones I recommend are:
For basic stuff use Dark Lilac. This is seriously cool. It is web based so you don’t have to download any programs and you get a saved, printable pattern. The only downside is that the files need to be pretty small so you can spend a while pissing about with the picture before you run it through and you can’t really edit it during the process.
For slightly more complicated patterns I’ve been using PC Stitch demo version. You can’t print or save these patterns but there’s always the print screen option…
There’s a Mac Stitch here which also has a demo version but you can print from it with patterns that you don’t alter. Which is very useful for small basic patterns! And it’s for Mac’s which are of course, far superior
If you’re doing stuff that doesn’t require a complicated pattern, just use a blank grid and go nuts.
It’s always good to make things a wee bit pretty. There is one super amazing website with literally hundreds of patterns and alphabet charts and it’s the Antique Pattern Library. It has all sorts of old patterns including knitting, crochet and lace making. All of us here at radical cross stitch use this website as a resource. You should too!
There are more out there which I’m slowly trying out. Will add more reviews as they come to hand.
UPDATE: Found this awesome summary at Laden With Stitches. Yay now I don’t have to do it But will probably add reviews…
OK I’ve got my threads, now all I need is inspiration…
What gets me excited is the art of our political mothers. I find the propoganda posters and slogans of the suffrage movements and the women’s liberation movement to be a great starting point. But as with any DIY movement it’s much more staisfying if you come up with your own ideas. Use the past as inspiration for your own creation today.
Check out my Gallery to see the work Cross Stitch Ninja and I have completed.
I’ve thrown together some patterns below including the motivation behind them. Or below that I’ve got some links to some seriously groovy cross stitchers that you can check out for inspiration. Please remember to check people’s licenses on their designs. Some people give them all away for free but some people try and make some kind of living out of their design work, so please respect their rights. Please read my license before using any of the patterns featured on this site.
The main thing to remember is to start off simple. Try and keep curvy lines to a minimum. And it’s probably best to start off with just one or two colours until you get the hang of it. Stencil designs are always a good place to start ’cause they’re designed to be easily cut out!
Honouring stonkingly cool women
I’m going to make a series of revolutionary women cushions made to honour all my most inspiring women activists. This of course depends on finding the right images to play with but here’s a pattern of Emma Goldman to give you an idea.
It’s an oldy but a goody. Had to make this one in four parts so it would be big enough. This one is for the dedicated and bored cross stitch posse members! Each corner is a different part of the pattern so click to see the big bit. You will need to exercise a small amount of creativity to piece this together. (secretly: this creativity test is here to confuse the infiltrators, shhh..). This pattern is designed to be applied to orange fabric or orange dyed cross stitch fabric. You could stitch the background but it would take you years.
I’m slowly making a series of patterns based on stencil art and other cool images I’ve collected along the way.
My favourite guest writer on this site Cross Stitch Ninja electronicalised this vintage pattern based on the feminist venus symbol. And it’s a good one to start with if you haven’t done cross stitch before.
NEW! And for those of you into a more traditional look, here’s one I made. The colour palette is below, but feel free to use your own colours.
This one is based on an image I picked up years ago, so can’t remember where. But it’s an image my inner geek quite likes..
This one I found on the net one day, and it’s pretty easy looking pattern. And it says it all!
I plagiarised this one from an image I found on the SchNEWS site. I was hoping to get it done by the G20, but I got distracted. Still might finish it one day!
In honour of the seriously cool people who let me camp out on their land.
And another one from SchNEWS.
A nice warm fuzzy one. Click on it for a big one.
I had to get around to making the trusty ol feminist logo, but it’s slightly more interesting than the usual.
NEW! This one was inspired by Oprah (ironically), story here.
Here’s some symbol fonts translated into patterns
SPACE INVADERS!!!!!! (I know it’s not radical, but indulge me for a minute)
The trusty ol’ Skull and Cross Bones for all ye pirates out there, arrr!
And finally some generic ones
The ever popular pattern for the Linux Penguin. Might shrink it and put it on a bib…
We all need them for stitching our favourite slogans on our backpacks. Here’s some:
This one is called Adventure Subtitles. It’s in upper and lower case. Click on the sample to get the full alphabet as a cross stitch pattern.
This next one is called Copasetic
Other Cool Sites for Inspiration and Guidance
Firstly check Subversive Cross Stitch don’t bother talking to me until you have.
Then you MUST see everything on the endfile site. The church cushions had me awestruck! Kate also has a very groovy link list which is where some of the next links came from…
If you’re looking for a good resource for conscious crafting which includes more than cross stitch, check out craftivism.com
Kate Westerholt does some cool stuff for those in need of a bit of funk inspiration.
If you want to support some good artists, craftrevolution.com is a good place to start
” … ‘indie’ is an informal version of the word independent.
… symbolize originality and forward-thinking, especially in music and design.
… not associated with a large company. Indie can also define the indie shopper, who chooses to support small business rather than big-box stores. ”
If you want some good ol fashioned political stencils to use as starting points, check out Stencil Punks, they have a great selection! Also I recently found Outlines of a Revolution which has heaps of stencils. And there’s Spray Paint Stencils. They’re not political but you might need a picture to go with your radical slogan!
Totally down with my philosophy of art and politics is the Open Source Embroidery Project. Show us ya back!
For something to do while traveling, try some random acts of embroidery with Ulrika Erdes. Go on, it’s good for you!
So that should be enough to get you inspired and get you stitching. I am constantly adding more stuff as I find it or as you send it to me. So get stitching!