By Erin Fae
It’s no secret that I love all things vintage. Show me a scene with 1950s gender roles, and I swoon. Put me in a library packed with books about Victorian mourning and indulge me in 19th century vice. I am in heaven. What I love even more, however, is turning vintage inside-out and upside-down. So, it’s no wonder then that I am extremely drawn to a recent trend in craft: naughty embroidery.
Embroidery has been around in one form or another for centuries. Essentially, it is the craft of thread decoratively stitched on fabric. Today, a number of artists are using needle and thread to craft an erotic world, often fueled by an interest in subverting traditional handicraft.
Amelia Raley of Austin, Texas, learned to embroider from her mother when she was six years old. Her first embroidery was a swan, but now she is more likely stitch a pin-up dear. She designs under the moniker of Tidy Cloths and her creations are “classy little lifesavers for anyone who has ever been on the giving or receiving end of a sticky post-coital situation.” She embroiders topless flappers, obscene phrases and ball-gagged girls on towels and cotton cloth. She has also been known to take vintage lingerie and add subtitles to the hem: “”I Only Fuck to Vinyl” and “Eat My Pussy,” for example. When I asked her about her work, she told me: “To nestle erotic images or bawdy cursive words in the folds of patterned handkerchiefs is to flip the tradition to it’s knees and give it the old what-for.”
Orly Cogan sees herself as a collaborator. She works with printed fabric and embellished linens from the past. Invested in exploring ideas of feminism and gender, she imagines herself in conversation with the women who most likely crafted the vintage textiles she uses. “The Fabric becomes the foundation for a fantastical, exotic extrapolation,” she says in her artist’s statement. “I mix subversion with flirtation, humor with power, and intimacy with frivolity.” The dialogues she creates are graphically erotic while still maintaining some of the whimsy or enchantment of the original fabric; in fact, her work enhances these qualities by playing with the false dichotomy of perceived innocence versus blatant sexuality.
With varying levels of intricacy and a liberal interpretation of color, Kira Scarlet (aka Scarlet Tentacle) creates stunning vulvas that highlight multiple embroidery techniques. These hanging wall pieces are just one example of how the artist weaves sex and stitching together. She uses traditional Redwork, a form of embroidery that uses a single color to draw outlines and simple details, to illustrate BDSM scenes and depict her favorite sex toys. She currently is exploring the “connections between hand embroidery, shibari, suspension and other forms and aspects of rope bondage.”
One of the tenets of embroidery over the last hundred years has been the ability to share and reproduce images. This is no exception in the world of naughty needlework. Sublime Stitching sells iron-on patterns so that anyone can cover their table[cloth] with the pinup girls of Gil Elvgren. Scarlet Tentacle sells digital patterns and kits for the more salaciously inclined.
Embroidery is a sensual craft, even without the erotic additions. Close your eyes and run your hand over a piece of hand embroidery. I know I get a certain pleasure in feeling French knots with my fingers…especially when those stitches are punctuating something sinful.