Jamie Chalmers, aka Mr X Stitch, sat down with us to talk about his new book, Push Stitchery. It brings together the work of 30 artists who use traditional needlecraft techniques...to surprisingly edgy (and occasionally sexy) result.
When did you start practicing cross-stitch and embroidery? What drew you to it?
I started cross stitching about nine years ago, when I was seeking something to do on a holiday to Canada. Initially drawn to cross stitch because of the juxtaposition of a man of my size doing an intricate craft, I discovered that cross stitch is an extremely pleasurable pursuit, and before I knew it I was hooked. I'll tell you now, cross stitch is a meditative act of creation and it's wonderful. It slows you down, it allows your mind to process the world around you while you make something that will last forever. If you haven't tried it, you haven't lived. After failing to find any cross stitch patterns that really interested me, I began creating my own graffiti cross stitch patterns, and subsequently started selling them online. Everything else has evolved from there!
When did you decide to start this blog? How did you get the idea?
The blog began in August 2008 as a way of promoting the patterns I was selling. After prattling on about cucumber sandwiches and the Zen approach to drying clothes, I began to seek out other embroidery artists to see what inspiration lay around. Once things got going, I began to realize that there weren't many embroidery websites out there, and so I researched how to make the best of your blog and began the journey to where we are now. It was only when Bridget Franckowiak, aka Beefranck , came on board in February 2009 that things really began to take off. Bridget is super intelligent, fantastically funny and shares the same passion for stitch as I do. The combination of our forces has led to the blogging behemoth that is Mr X Stitch.
I'm cutting a long story quite short, but it didn't take long before Bridget and I realized that we could make a valid contribution to the world of embroidery, and do our bit to showcase the new and interesting pieces people were making. Hopefully we've done some good, and I'm immensely proud of the achievements we've made and the fantastic people we've got working with us on the site.
Do you think needlework is off most people's radar? Why?
It's been quite a while since people were actively reminded that embroidery is a good thing to do. There are a myriad of factors that have contributed to this, from consumer entertainment to mass produced products, but the idea of embroidery as a pastime or a worthwhile pursuit has languished in the dark for a long time. I'm glad to say that those times are changing and more people are realizing the fundamental pleasures that can be found in needlework and many other crafts. The internet has enabled individual stitchers to share their amazing ideas with one another and sites like mine have brought these works to a wider audience.
What were you hoping to accomplish with 'Push Stitchery'? What are you hoping people walk away with?
I wanted to prove that stitchery is still a valid art form and showcase the outer edges of about what the textile arts has to offer. At the moment, it's fair to say embroidery doesn't hold the same status as most other art forms and I'm hoping that this book will help redress the balance. There are so many amazing ideas emerging in embroidery, and the book is designed to excite fans of stitch and hopefully inspire new people to pick up needle and thread and get their stitch on.
How did you find the 30 artists highlighted in the book? What about their art as a whole spoke to you?
I'd found these artists in my travels as Mr X Stitch, having written about them on my Cutting (& Stitching) Edge column. I selected artists that had changed the way I thought about the needle arts, be it through their technique or the content of their work. There's a huge range in the book, from charming pieces of hand embroidery and macabre applique to blackwork cityscapes and quilts from outer space. Chances are there will be something in the book you've never seen before.
What are some of your favorite projects in the book?
The book is filled with amazing artists whose work has changed my life. Alicia Ross will always have my heart for her electrifying cross stitch; Luke Haynes' quilts blow my mind. Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene's embroidery on car parts were a real game changer, and Cayce Zavaglia's portraits really moved me the first time I saw them.
Did creating this book and interviewing these artists generate any funny stories? Can we hear a few?
The only thing I will say is that I could easily do another book with the edgier content that wasn't allowed to go in this book--there's some hot stuff out there!
Any last words?
Stitching is good for the soul. Try it and then let me know how you got on. :)
For a sneak peek at the incredible artists profiled in Push Stitchery, check out this slideshow.