Saturday, March 3, 2012

Embroidery Samplers: A Study in Passive Aggression

I have a problem with most needlepoint samplers. To me they come off as condescending reminders to be polite, frugal, respectful, etc. No matter how delicate the script, or how many butterflies are stitched around it, there is no getting away from the fact that it's really just a smug reminder that you are somehow deficient. I see them and think, “someone spent hours stitching a passive aggressive note?”
I grew up with lots of samplers. In our house it always something vaguely threatening written in Norwegian (my grandmother is Norwegian and in addition to incredible talent she also has a lot of free time... hence the samplers). 
ok, i guess this is technically advice...
Anyway, I didn’t understand why there are so many of these until recently, when I started to really pursue embroidery as a hobby. The fact of the matter is, it’s hard to find practical applications for embroidery. Yes, you can embroider clothes and purses and other accessories, but that means you have to either find or make those things in the first place. The beauty of a sampler is that you just start with a blank piece of fabric and go from there. You never had to bother with that epitome of all frustration: the sewing machine. But then you’re left with the question, “what is this for?” 
I ask myself that question constantly. So far I’ve resisted asking it of any of my customers... but it’s been a close thing. I honestly want to know what people are planning to do with my random quote embroidered on plain fabric and glued to a hoop... 
Don’t get me wrong, I love making these and I’m happy they’re appreciated... but the question still lingers. I think that’s where the trend of embroidering bible verses or morality couplets came from. It gives your work a purpose... a pretty obnoxious purpose, but a purpose nonetheless...

Or maybe the people who make these things really do think that, without their help, you’ll forget how important it is to love thy neighbor or wipe your feet. Maybe they’re the kind of people who write angry notes about keeping the office microwave clean and try to hide their aggression by dotting their i’s with hearts. 
Of course, whenever there is a tradition, especially one as stupid as this one, there people trying to subvert it. Especially when that subversion is cute or funny or profitable. Take a look on etsy, there are plenty of (not so) surprisingly crude samplers for sale. I can’t decide how I feel about it. On the one hand, if it keeps my hobby relevant (or as close to relevant as it’s ever going to get) I’m all over it. On the other, this is a traditional art, one my grandma taught me and one that is still mostly appreciated by the older generation. I don’t want to ruin it for them. I also don’t want to be crude for the sake of being crude. That’s what junior high is for. 

But, then I remember those people carefully reminding me what a “stitch in time” can do, and I kind of want to write “BLOW ME” in beautiful, carefully measured cable stitch surrounded by delicate silk ribbon flowers. But I won’t. At least not yet. 

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