These Cross-Stitch Works are about rethinking craft as art, craft as feminist and craft as a tool to address contemporary women’s issues; reproductive health, body image and gender roles. My art aims to modernize the feminine identities and ideals commonly portrayed within embroidery. They seek to reclaim cross-stitch as a tool to promote progressive ideas about modern women’s issues.
I started cross-stitching when I was ten years old. Like many young girls from centuries past, my mother taught me the crafty medium, but for me it’s also a folk craft that ties me to my Ukrainian heritage. Needless to say, it’s been an important part of my life for twenty-plus years; however, only recently I’ve realized how much embroidery is tied to women’s identity politics.
The months before I headed into my MFA program at SMFA in 2011, I started abandoning the store-bought kits from AC Moore or Michaels and started experimenting with free form cross-stitching. I wanted to know if cross-stitch could abandon its exiled life in commercialized, lowbrow art and become something more.
At the same time, Obama was pushing for free birth control; men were convening to decide if women should be allowed it; people were attacking Sandra Fluke for being a slut. It was becoming clear to me that the way in which many people saw the roles of women, mothers and wives conflicted with women’s biological and medical needs.
I was also developing my website, www.TheFeministBride.com, which examines wedding and marriage traditions in order to inspire couples to walk down the aisle as equals. My research into this topic revealed that almost all wedding traditions are rooted in sexual double standards, unrealistic sexual moralities and obsolete ideas of what it means to be a woman today. Furthermore, most of these traditions are implemented through textiles, crafts and products, for example the white wedding dress for virginity. Historical cross-stitching samplers functioned similarly; adolescent women used samplers to attract a husband. A technical proficient one showed how well she could darn socks for him, the image indicated her religious values and education. The themes in cross-stitches have not changed much aside from including Thomas Kinkade landscapes. These events inspired me to create the series, In Control.
Cross-stitch has always extolled the virtues of being a wife and a mother, but it never included the physical needs of women to fulfill those roles, nor did they ever represent alternatives identities outside of wife or mother. My cross-stitch artwork aims to subvert traditional embroidery and to include the personal, biological and medical needs of all modern women.
What’s amazing is that the controversy surrounding women’s healthcare has not subdued from the personhood act to tighter restrictions on abortions to rape on US college campuses, etc. The Hobby Lobby verdict couldn’t have been a more ironic (but horrible) result for my work and of course women’s rights, but these events only add fuel to my artistic fire. My goal is to stitch every product related to reproductive freedom.
“PreNatal Vitamins,” (2014). Thread and cross stitch fabric. 3.5 x 3 inches. Courtesy the artist.
While I started this series as a way to push an often underappreciated medium in the art world, the series has taken me on a very powerful journey about what it means to be a woman today and how there are just too many traditions, products and opinions that perpetuate obsolete ideas of womanhood. I wanted to modernize cross-stitch but my series In Control greater role has been in challenging tradition, identity politics, medical issues and civil rights.
More on Cross-Stitch Works:
Historically, embroidery played an important role in preparing a woman for marriage. Young, single women cross stitched “samplers” to show off their domestic skills, scholastic knowledge, cultural values or religious morals to prospective husbands. Samplers exemplified these desirable traits to potential husbands who sought a woman with the right skills to establish a household. Our predecessors needed to stitch to attract a husband or keep a household. My artworks reject the typical, domestic functionality of samplers, taking into account current events relating to women’s health and reproductive debates. It takes a fully comprehensive look at the body and reproductive tools available to women, and the commercial packaging and weighted political underpinnings too. By using traditionally domestic mediums, like cross-stitch, I hope to address and change the conversation about the role of women and mothers, highlight ideas of what it means to be a modern woman today and to maintain this historical craft practice.
Cross-stitch was used to advertise and represent women’s role as a female and a mother but bodily functions, roles and autonomy was not part of this textile practice. Until the invention of the pill, women were expected to only have children within marriage and a wife’s sole purpose was to bear children. The contrast between the historical domestic cross-stitch, its implied gender role and the birth control lies at the heart of why women’s reproductive rights are still a hot topic issue – reproductive health is still not wholly considered appropriate in such a feminine sphere. This role and function changed entirely with the pill and the passing of Roe v. Wade. My series not only challenges the domestic sphere that has contributed to so many ingrained discriminatory and limiting social reproductive mores, but takes on a bipartisan approach by showing how both can positively operate together in order to support women’s reproductive freedoms.
Words by Katrina Majkut
Katrina Majkut (My’kit), located in Brooklyn, NY, is a research-based internationally exhibiting artist dedicated to understanding and exploring feminine narratives in aesthetics, media, history and personal experiences, with a particular specialization in marriage and wedding traditions. Her cross stitch artworks were recently reviewed in Art New England Magazine. Majkut holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Babson College, Wellesley, Mass., and a Post-baccalaureate certificate and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University. She also founded the website, www.TheFeministBride.com that inspired her artistic topics. Her writing on The Feminist Bride is now represented by the Carol Mann Agency in New York City. She writes, lectures and exhibits regularly on feminism and women’s topics. You can view more of her work at www.katrinamajkut.4ormat.com.