To celebrate World Embroidery Day, 2021, I’d like to introduce you to the first in a series of needlepoint/canvas embroidery pieces I am creating. I call the group, “Look Her Up.” The idea came to me from two sources. First is my 40 years teaching, researching, writing, and speaking about U.S. women’s history. The women I plan to feature are those who I admire for their beliefs, their commitment to human rights, and their spirit. Second is the presence in the embroidery world of two trends: craftivism and “feminist” sayings. Both came in existence long before the COVID pandemic, but they blossomed in the last year or so as a result of the growth in interest in embroidery as a way of working through lockdowns and stress. Craftivists make small embroideries with statements meant to change public policy, especially concerning workers’ rights and climate change, though all issues are on the table. “Feminists” use common expressions to make small pieces reminiscent of samplers. I put the term in quotes because I feel that feminism is much more serious and political than these pieces express, but I like them nonetheless.
Looking at these small pieces, all with the purpose of sending out a message, I came up with an idea which would combine my Women’s History background with my earlier embroideries which I called “political posters.” Some of these 25 pieces now belong to the New York State Museum in Albany, New York. The others are, for the time being, still hanging on my walls, but eventually they will move to the museum. I call my new works “Look Her Up.” My intent is that folks will see a quote from a woman I consider very important in U.S. history and then use the internet or (!) books to learn more about her. First up is Jane Addams. You will find tons of information on her both on line and in print. You can also go to my website (htpps://harrietalonso.com) and click on “Jane Addams, Hull House, and the Devil Baby” for an interesting episode in her life.
The Jane Addams “Look Her Up” measures 10” x 10” and was stitched almost entirely with Rainbow Gallery’s Splendor silk thread on 18 mesh canvas. I chose to do it in basketweave/tent stitches to reflect Addams’s strength and resiliency. The colors echo the suffrage movement’s use of purple, gold, and white (and green if you’re British). Green is also symbolic of hope and peace. The border incorporates the women’s symbol, the women’s equality symbol, and the peace symbol. The women across the bottom reflect Addams’s commitment to both women’s rights and human rights. The quote says it all. The background is done in Splendor S802, an off-white that seems not to want to photograph as it appears in person. The background is actually a nice, clear slightly off-white.
Of course, each piece will take some time to design and stitch, but I hope that before the year is up “Look Her Up” number two will be ready to display. In the meantime, celebrate World Embroidery Day by stitching, reading, and thinking.
I love how the colors glow. It was the brilliance of the various threads that first attracted me to embroidery nearly 50 years ago. I find it hard to believe that I’ve been doing it that long.