Julie Jackson's Subversive Cross-Stitch

Julie Jackson's Subversive Cross-Stitch

Published on Wednesday, September 26, 2012.

An interview with Subversive Cross Stitch author and creator Julie Jackson.

Julie Jackson is the talented and funny woman behind the website and book Subversive Cross Stitch. Since 2003, Jackson has been encouraging people to let off steam and express themselves through cross-stitch, a somewhat surprisingly humorous and therapeutic outlet. Jackson has been featured in The Washington Post, Nylon, and ReadyMade.

In honor of her 10-year devotion to spreading the cross-stitch gospel, as well as the redesign of her website, we asked Jackson to offer some insights on the evolution of a hobby into a business, and to speak about the way subversive needlework has amused and empowered people.

Do you have any favorite books - either related to cross-stitch, craft, or others?
Yes! I love the book The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker, it’s a fun read about the history of subversion in needlework. I love The Museum of Kitschy Stitches: A Gallery of Notorious Knits by Stitchy McYarnpants. It is hilarious, and she is one of the funniest people I know. I also love the kit book Making Paper Flowers by Laurie Cinotto. Even I figured out how to make some of those fancy flowers, and the materials included are very nice.

On your website you talk about subversive cross-stitch beginning as a personal outlet. Would you describe the process of turning your hobby into a business?
I was working in a conservative office after the dot bomb in 2003. It was a bad environment for me to be in and my boss was a horrible bully, so I was miserable and at my wit’s end. I went by a craft store one day on the way home and picked up a very ornate, flowery cross-stitch kit. Instead of stitching the name of the bride and groom, which the kit was designed for, I stitched the word fuck. This made me laugh so much that I subverted a few more kits and brought them into the office because I thought it was so funny and would provide some comic relief, which it did. A few months later, the site was picked up all over the internet, so I quickly put together some kits and started selling them. I was was just in the right place at the right time, it was amazingly lucky.

You have many wonderfully snarky designs in your book and in your store, and the Flickr group features many original designs of people who have taken subversive cross-stitch as inspiration and put their own spin on it - from pop culture to geek culture and many subjects in between. What are some of your favorite themes?
That’s my favorite part, how people take on the idea and make it their own in so many different directions. A lot of people will get dirtier than I do, too - I won’t cross political or religious lines and there are a few words that I just won’t touch. There is a joy in Subversive Cross Stitch, a silliness, that is not meant to be crass or angry, so I have limits to what I’ll do. I love the internet memes, the geek speak, and also to see pieces stitched in foreign languages. My book was translated into Dutch a few years ago, which was a riot. The publisher provided me with literal translations of the Dutch idiomatic phrases that I couldn’t have made any funnier if I tried. The themes in the Subversive Flickr pool have changed over time as people become more daring, I think. They’re pushing the limits, which I watch with glee from the sidelines.

Speaking of the Flickr group, how has the internet shaped this movement, this community? Has the community changed over time, or as different tools for sharing online have emerged?
Yes, it really has. Flickr has waned somewhat but in its place are the hashtags on Instagram, which is an entirely new way to interact with subversive stitchers. Also, even though I was slow to embrace Facebook and Twitter, I love that I have such a simple way of instant interaction with my customers. I made a chart which I put on my new blog and site that is a simple graphical presentation of how you can interact with me depending on how much you want to know. Since my other project, Kitty Wigs, has calmed down a bit I have much more time to just chat with people who are following me and sending back ideas a suggestions. I LOVE IT. We’re in our tenth year and I finally have time to step out from behind the curtain and get to know people better. Since I work in my home office alone, this is something I relish. I’m not just creating in a vacuum anymore.

Do you have any favorite stories about connections you have made through cross stitch, your website, or your book?
There are so many and most of them surprise me and make me laugh. My customers continually entertain me with their confessions of how stitching something for a surly elementary school teacher made them snicker or how strangers reacted to a piece they were stitching in public. Then there are amazing stories of how stitching “Fuck Cancer” helped someone through chemo, or made the nurses laugh, or brought some much-needed laughter to someone in their last days of battling the disease. Those are just heart-wrenching but it makes me so happy that the idea is out there in the world having a life of its own and helping people get through the worst times with some humor. I lost a brother to cancer a while back so, yeah, fuck cancer.

Are there other crafts or projects you enjoy?
I love photography too much. As for crafts, pretty much everything... I’m always trying out something new. Though I wish I was better at knitting. And I enjoy cross-stitch more than I thought I would - I used to do little kits in fifth grade, but now when I’m stitching a large, challenging piece on linen, I really get into it. And if someone had told me 20 years ago, I never would have believed them. It really is meditative and therapeutic.

A weekly shout out to the printed word, From the Stacks highlights what's new and what's loved in the American Craft Council Library.