God, I love swearing. I mean, I really love swearing. It’s calorie-free, additive-free but delivers the fat endorphin rush that athletes apparently dream of. A well-executed f-bomb is a thing of beauty. I don’t care what your Year-9 Geography teacher told you. Swearing is big and it is clever.
Unsurprisingly then, Julie Jackson is a heroine of mine. A goddamn crafting visionary who pushed the art form in a radically new direction. Her subversive stitching movement was a revelation for those of us who loved cross-stitch but loathed cottage roses and doleful puppies.
Jackson’s work was ballsy, witty and fresh. It brought established stitchers out of the (stash) closet and inspired others to pick up needles for the first time. So when Jackson’s latest book hit the stands, I felt I’d been handed the golden ticket…
As I opened the first page, I was poised for words of fury and protest. But ironically, the woman who gave us licence to stab our wrath into fabric comes across as remarkably zen. She equates cross-stitch with catharsis and waxes lyrical about the peace that comes from focusing intently on a project. “It’s all about FLOW….It’s downright magical.” She asserts. “Enjoy the process and don’t worry about perfection.”
I’ll be honest, this is not the fist-shaking rebellion I was expecting. It’s more ‘kick-back’ than ‘kick-box’. But her words are so reassuring that I’m all in. I feel like I’m in therapy and briefly question if Julie Jackson should be available on prescription.
Jackson is also generous about sharing her expertise. The ‘Tools and Techniques’ section in the book is particularly thorough, explaining everything from the count size of aida to washing out scorches from over-ironed pieces. She provides free alphabets to enable people to customise designs to their own potty-mouthed specification.
In fact, Jackson doesn’t seem remotely precious about owning the concept of subversive stitching at all. Her philosophy is ‘there’s room for everyone’, and it’s this combination of encouragement and wisdom that makes Super Subversive Cross Stitch is an extremely accessible book for those new to the craft.
The pattern charts stick to Jackson’s classic formula – pithy quips that lurk unsuspectingly amongst traditional motifs. Within the confines of that framework, Jackson does try and cater for a variety of tastes. Yes, there is blunt rage and cursing, if that’s your cup of tea. But the book is more nuanced than that.
There’s the incredulity of “What Fresh Hell Is This?”, the hedonism of “Shut up and Drink” and the downright silliness of “My Life is Dope And I Do Dope Shit.” Humour is a subjective and tricky beast to nail, but I guarantee that everyone will find at least one ‘must sew’ project in here. I’ve already got mine lined up. (Page 114, in case you are interested. “Spark Joy or Get Out.”)
To the uninitiated, the chutzpah of Super Subversive Cross Stitch slaps you squarely round the face. If there’s a problem, it’s that very few people are uninitiated at this point. The movement has been so widely celebrated and imitated that it’s become mainstream, and in doing so, has lost the power to shock.
Consequently, whilst the book is fun, it doesn’t offer anything new. Jackson has become a victim of her own success – she’s the platinum songwriter struggling with that tricky second album. It’s hard to see where she can push the genre from here.
That said, Jackson’s legacy is more than a couple of pattern books – she has created a community. Her social media pages are testament to this with legions of loyal fans gleefully sharing their work for the amusement of others. And perhaps her now-familiar style is a good thing.
In this crazy, COVID-infested world the absurdity of subversive stitching might be exactly what we need to get us through the day. There’s comfort in that there snark. So, yes, I would absolutely buy this book. I’d gift it to all the glorious weirdos and dissenters in my life, God bless them.
To badly paraphrase Marie Kondo, Super Subversive Cross-Stitch sparks a f*ck-load of joy. And, in the end, isn’t that what’s important?