In 2013 I was in the fourth year of my PhD. I worked full-time as a professor while also the primary parent. I was burnt out and, in the search of a quick fix that would get me through the end of my dissertation, I saw a therapist. The first (and only) time we met she told me to get a hobby. Something easy and relaxing. Like painting. I left the appointment heart broken and in rage—how dare she suggest I do MORE work? Wasn’t I yet good enough? But, allowing for the slim chance that she might be the expert, I drove to the nearest Walmart and bought a Lego set. I put it together in my office: a mountain cabin by a frozen blue-brick stream. I built a desk for the cabin, found a look-a-like lego lady, and sat her at a 1980s Lego computer piece. It was a very relaxing hour.
But Lego is fucking expensive.
A few weeks later, while attempting a much cheaper hobby (cleaning the basement), I found the cross-stitch supplies I gave up years earlier since the precision of patter-keeping exasperated my anxiety.
I watched YouTube videos on chain and satin stitching, and started on my first vulva. It took me over a year to finish. I made it up as I stitched, and turned to it when I needed to breathe. The thread was quiet, and my brain became still, measured out in pricks and pulls.
A few years later, I finished my PhD and CanDesignLove on Etsy was born. I sell what I’ve already stitched, teach workshops on the joys of vulva embroidery, and take the occasional commission to fund feminist charities.
As one of my current thread heroes puts so eloquently: “Textiles are as essential to survival as food, shelter, water, and air.” (Sawatzky, 2018). Sewing, weaving, spinning, embroidery, crocheting, and knitting are an important part of our history—articulated through artistic expression, cultural evolution, and technological innovation. They also form a feminist legacy of women as makers. In the 21st century embroidery/embroidering can act, simultaneously, as a homage to our past and a rebellion against its mandated propriety. That tension—women gathered together to make pretty, delicate things vs. the forbidden subject matter of cunt and cum—have bewitched me. I stitch to remember and re-define what it means to be female.