Cross-stitch is the oldest form of count thread embroidery where a stitch formed of two stitches crossing each other (x-shaped) in tiled, raster-like patterns create a picture. In the United States, Loara Standish the daughter of Mayflower passengers Myles Standish and Barbara Standish made what is believed to be America’s earliest known cross-stitch sampler. Currently housed at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts; many imagine it was stitched while Loara sat in her doorway awaiting the return of a lover, lost at sea.
Artist, Ulla-Stina Wikander admittedly doesn’t cross-stitch; her work is helping uncover old stories set in thread, giving them new life within a different context. Ulla skillfully covers recognizable items whose functional use has evolved or been updated in found cross-stitching. Some of her more popular pieces pair household items with cross-stitch – both, these unchanging symbols of domestication whose correlation is not unlike stitching – it has not faded away, though it has seen a transformation in the way that people view it.
We caught up with Ulla to discuss her process & maybe confess our cross-stitch crush:
I enjoy how your work updates these older cross stitch pieces. You’ve given them a new life, managing to keep the essence of them – they’re still a source of expression. What makes the perfect cross-stitch for your projects?
When you source the cross-stitches – are you looking for any particular colors or patterns?
Ulla: The embroidery must be clean (and they usually are, because they are framed) I buy almost every embroidery I come across, but I do not use them if they aren’t well embroidered. I have some favorite motives and colors and I often use the same patterns for big installations. For example: Typical Swedish small red cottages in the countryside with blue sky and birches. It is a very common pattern in Sweden and a kind of national romanticism. Another type of pattern that I like is the wild animals, like elk, deer, and birds, often placed in the wood.
Do you make any of the cross stitching yourself?
No, I do not make any cross stitching or embroidery. I´m more interested in choosing embroidery and covering the items to see what is happening with the objects, how they transform. It takes some time to dress up the pieces, so I don’t have much time left to embroider.
It’s difficult for me to wrap my brain around your thought process on this project. I mean, I’ve never looked at an item and wondered how I could change the context of it by covering it. Can you tell us a bit about the first time you covered something?
I started to collect cross stitches ten years ago, but I didn’t know what to do with them. I found them beautiful, and I admired the work behind. Then my ordinary vacuum cleaner broke down, and I had this idea to cover it totally, and then put it against the wall as if I just had walked away. Then I invited some friends and let the vacuum cleaner stay in front, and it was amazing to listen to the reactions. Everybody just loved it, and they were at the same time a bit confused. I decided to try to cover things from the 70`s, a sewing machine, a typewriter for example, and it went well. It was like you saw the objects for the first time, and you weren’t sure of what you were looking at; In 2014 I had “My previous sewing corner” at Liljevalchs Konsthall, and it got some attention.
Did you realize the impact the items would have, or did it start out as a design aesthetic?
I realized the opportunities in an artistic way and decided to continue to explore how the different objects would transform when I “dressed them up.” It had to be ordinary things, which were related to women. I was not sure if it was regarded as art and that was not important, to begin with, it was more important for me, what it aroused in the observer.
I imagine, based on the types of items you choose to work with, that you are a bit of a purist when it comes to design — does that carry over into your everyday design?
Yes, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to everyday design, my home and clothes are clean and simple. I think that the artwork I do is more a bit like kitsch and sometimes ”too much.” It must also have a sense of humor and recognition.
Seeing the pieces in a gallery setting opens up the interpretation of the work. Each item technically has new life in a sculptural form, showcasing its functional design.
Do you think that viewing it this way places more emphasis on the way you select items now or the way you’d like to exhibit them in the future?
I love the fact that ordinary obsolete things that nobody wants can be placed in a new context and seen for ”the first time.” I build large installations as well, like armchairs, table, lamps and I would like to see my things in a large exhibition at an Art Gallery.
Can we talk about how seamlessly you cover these items? Where are the seams? How are you achieving that?
I am very meticulous when I cover the objects. If these women made perfect embroidery, I would like to make the ideal covering, and I make that by sewing and gluing. It is my way of showing respect to these women whose embroideries I cut apart (that hurts, every time).
Ulla’s work is now at Paradigm Gallery + Studio for “Stitched,” an exhibition focusing on artwork that makes use of embroidery and stitching techniques.
Enjoy these great links to more information on Wikander:
- Catch our brief preview of Ulla’s work in our previous article Ulla Stina Wikander: Everything Made New Again
- Ulla makes these playful bracelets that incorporate toy cars into the design check them out.