Embroidery: A Reclaimed Medium for Female Artists

By Gabrielle Madewell – Contributing Writer

Editor’s note:  What do you picture when someone tells you their go-to art medium is embroidery?  Perhaps a character from a Jane Austen novel, stitching some sort of elegant handkerchief?  Or a silver-haired grandmother, carefully cross-stitching alphabet samplers?  Read on to learn about five contemporary female artists who are taking a stand for embroidery and cross-stitch as an art-form and creating something remarkable, empowering and often hilarious.  

Photos courtesy of Hannah Hill (@hanecdote)

Hannah Hill

Hannah Hill, a 22 year old, London-based art student uses her art to bring awareness to subjects such as body-positivity, mental-health awareness and feminism. She uses the unique medium of embroidery to bring to light issues she sees in her own life.  One of these issues is the lack of recognition women receive for embroidery as an art form because it is often deemed to be merely “woman’s work.” Late last year, social media spread a new meme “Arthur’s first” which commemorated a nostalgic TV show and provided a funny way to caption someone feeling frustrated or angry. Hill has been recognized and applauded for reinventing the meme in her own way, which took her 15 hours to complete. This piece of “feminist art meme,” as she phrases it, has been shared by public figures such as Planned Parenthood and The Huffington Post as being a modernized and comical call for social justice.


Photos courtesy of Jess de Wahls (@jessdewahls)

Jess de Wahls

As stated in her biography, Jess de Wahls produces art which “tackles subjects as wide ranging as Misogyny, Objectification and Fetishism in her prolific output.” Her work shows very intensely detailed images ranging from feminist pop culture icons from Broad City’s Ilana Glazer to a reference to David Bowie through an outline of ovaries as his eyes, a piece she accurately refers to as “bovaries.” De Wahl’s art closely captures her idea of feminism, gender equality and intersectionality and also has fun with references to modern day icons she sees as being empowering. On her blog, she shares the following statement about her work: “[Inspirational human beings] influence on myself as a modern woman, Feminist and Artist, on Feminism as a whole, and on their position as role models to young girls growing up in a society that has, no doubt, come a long way in liberating its women, but has yet a great length ahead of it.”


Photos courtesy of Shannon Downey (@badasscrossstitch)

Shannon Downey

Shannon Downey, a Chicago resident, who regularly goes by the handle “Badass Cross Stitch,” produces art that embodies just that. Her work consists of different empowering messages, either written satirically, depicted through different icons she and many others find empowering (such as Michelle Obama and Jane Goodall) as well as through simple yet meaningful messages she generates. Her more simplistic designs are nonetheless still impactful, similar to a message in her instagram bio: “The resistance will be stitched!” One of her more popular pieces has been shared on the internet on over 10 different well known websites for her creative and comical 2017 Women’s March sign. The piece itself was highlighted by well known sites such as Buzzfeed, Elle, and Slate and stands as one of many creative yet powerful pieces she has produced.


Photos courtesy of Valeria Molinari (@Valeriamolinari)

Valeria Molinari

Valeria Molinari is an illustrator and designer, currently based in Madrid, Spain. Her work captures both beauty and activism in a very graphic way, incorporating things like typography, negative space, and modern yet empowering sayings. Although she has a background in different art-mediums, she has shared that “playing with a classic medium like embroidery in a contemporary way has been one of my favorite experiments yet.” She says her work is very much inspired from her “activism and [her] love of words.” While her work doesn’t have as large a following as other embroidery artists, her unparalleled combination of beautiful designs and empowering words demonstrate her skill and social advocacy.


Photos courtesy of Deroui Safae (@d_safae)

Deroui Safae

Deroui Safae is a young and self-taught embroiderer who is gaining more of a following on social media for her detailed and warranting designs. She continues to practice the art through embroidering different illustrators’ detailed images which she finds meaningful. She has replicated pieces relating to intersectional-feminism and Rosie the Riveter, as well as familiar television icons such as Bob’s Burgers’ Tina Belcher. While her more complex pieces seem to replicate those of other artists illustrations, what she chooses to memorialize are very empowering and individualistic pieces of art. On her own, she has managed to pick up a skill and make it look easy to create and replicate beautiful illustrations.  She has also designed more simplistic pieces on her own, which read popular feminist sayings like “GRL PWR” or recite Beyonce’s “who runs the world: girls” lyrics.


2 thoughts on “Embroidery: A Reclaimed Medium for Female Artists

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  1. Great story! I love the variety of projects. I’m more of a cross-stitch person myself, but I’m in awe of the skill here.

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