What springs to mind when you think: embroiderer?
Chances are, it’s nothing like the stylish 20-something fashion influencer and creative Sophia Athas. Nevertheless, when Athas, who runs Sydney creative agency Hatrik House, recently posted a beautiful, half-finished fragment of embroidery on her Instagram feed, the photo drew hundreds of likes, as well as comments from the likes of Bassike fashion designer Deborah Sams.
Perhaps it was the decidedly non-fuddy-duddy design that appealed to Athas’ following or maybe it was the thoughtful caption that she penned alongside it, which clearly resonated in these Covid-weary times.
“I forgot how therapeutic this was. If you have time today put your phones/screens/notifications away and use your hands to make something. Productivity is wild.”
The cold, hard Covid-truth is that the past few months have been difficult. Screen-time has been maxed, boredom has set in – and the need to focus on something other than ourselves and the stressful situation we find ourselves in is more pressing than ever.
So, it’s little wonder that crafting, embroidery and cross-stitch has seen a resurgence in popularity. Sales of sewing supplies at iconic London retailer Liberty are up 380 per cent, while hashtags like #quarinteincrafts and #covidcrafts are booming. In Australia, craft even has its own primetime reality show on network television: Channel 10’s series Making It Australia.
And why not? After all, the ultimate antidote to an overly stimulating, increasingly digitised world is a task that’s manual and requires all-consuming concentration.
That’s according to my grandma, at least. “Not even the world’s best stitchers can cross-stitch without looking” were her wise words to me when I was nine, and attempting to cross-stitch a cat for a pincushion while also watching TV.
That crafting occupies your mental and physical focus is the key to its anxiety-relieving qualities. The effort, the multi-sensory engagement, the repetitive actions and the anticipation of the satisfaction that comes from making something entirely new all feed the neurotransmitters that promote joy and well-being.
Of course, this is not the first time, even in our adulthoods, that embroidery’s been hot.
Ten years ago, the feminist cross-stitch movement appropriated and slyly subverted what was once considered the ultimate in ‘lady-like’ hobbies by producing traditional-looking designs featuring rebellious slogans.
Forget ‘Home is where the heart is’. These throw cushions packed a more political punch. “I’m so angry I stitched this just so I could jab something 3000 times’ read one popular embroidered work, produced soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
But this revival is different.
“I think 10 years ago a lot of the stitch artists we knew used the medium subversively because it was still viewed as a traditional craft and there was stigma around being viewed as a craft artist,” says Maricar Manalo, one half of the Australian twin sister-run design studio Maricor/Maricar. The pair set up in 2010, and have since been booked by big brands like TOMS shoes or Oprah magazine for their signature watercolour and brush-work style embroidery.
Early on, the pair tried to avoid being pigeon-holed as crafty. “We tried to make the stitches as polished and clean as possible, trying to make it look like ‘not embroidery’. But more recently craft is no longer a dirty word, the work we see ranges from conceptual to playful.”
Professional creator Kitya Palaskas agrees, adding that there is a “new and refreshed” stitching movement emerging. “It’s exciting because it’s bringing these traditional techniques into the mainstream even more, in particular as a mindfulness or wellbeing aid.”
She believes that the pandemic has also encouraged people to find new ways to decorate their home space. “I think the pandemic has brought the idea of nesting and creating a customised, comfortable dream space to live in into the forefront of lots of people’s minds, so it’s really interesting to see how people are embracing this trend by using embroidery and stitching in their projects.”
Inspired to pull out the needle and thread?