Activist embroideries

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #1

I’m very excited to share the first interview in this new series, where my sister Helena explains the background behind her amazing activist embroideries. I really enjoyed the afternoon we spent during her visit to Amsterdam making the photoshoot by the warehouses, and she was a great model as I was trying my hand at a subject other than close-ups of flowers and plants:)  Enjoy the read and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I first started after watching a vulva embroidery tutorial video on the online magazine madmoizelle. The author of the video embroidered a vulva on a T-shirt to make women’s genitalia more visible in the public space, fighting the taboo around female sexuality. I’ve been a feminist for a few years now, and really liked the combination of art and the activist component. It inspired me to stitch a clitoris on a T-shirt I would wear to give more visibility to this other body part that is also too often forgotten.

I bought a simple white T-shirt, a wooden loop and some thread and needles in a specialised store and started my first embroidery. It turned out to be a cheap and fun hobby to take up!

 

How did you learn this skill?

I turned to the internet, as I didn’t know anybody around me who could teach me (although our mom said that maybe I hold embroidery in my genes because our great grandmother was a skilled embroiderer!). I mostly learned with YouTube videos. Articles can be helpful but videos are usually better because showing a complex stitching movement is easier than describing it. There are many videos out there, made by women across the world (unfortunately this is still a very gendered hobby…). Some of them I don’t even share any language with, but the visual is usually enough!

For the rest, it’s through trial and error that I learned (and I’m still learning) what kind of clothes can be best embroidered, how to draw the designs onto the cloth, how to do new stitches (I try to learn a new one in every project)…

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Where do you find your inspiration?

Most of my ideas are linked to feminist topics, and I get them from media I consume: the news, youtube videos, songs… Music can be good at making ideas stick. That’s how the t-shirt with the middle finger and the Spanish one came to be. “Cerrada de amor, cerrada de pussy” (closed from love, closed from the pussy) are lyrics of a song by Ladilla Russa. It’s about men who are too insistent with their sexual or romantic goals, while sometimes as a woman, you just want to enjoy other things in life, like dancing in clubs or tap dancing, without having to deal with those who don’t take no for an answer.

 

What effects have your pieces had?

My embroideries are often a conversation starter, which was what I was hoping for! For example, people often don’t recognise that the clitoris is a clitoris, because they think of that organ as just the external part. That gives me a chance to drop some fun facts about it, in a light but hopefully instructive way!

Among skeptics against feminism, though, my embroideries have led to tense discussions! It’s not always enjoyable, but I also don’t want to just preach to the choir. Presenting a radically different opinion than theirs is a good way to reopen conversations, maybe plants some seeds of thought and brush up my debating skills along the way!

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

Embroidery has helped me work on my biggest flaw: perfectionism (this is not only a job interview flaw-that-isn’t-a-flaw, it really exists!). The risk of failing has been paralysing in many areas of my life. With embroidery, I do take time to start each project out of fear, but once I start, I face all the imperfections that come with such a precise manual task: the thread is secretly building knots on the back, letters are not the same size, the chalk drawing is disappearing too fast…There are so many factors that I cannot fully control, that I am forced to accept the imperfection. And even though I’m usually dissatisfied with my work during and shortly after each piece, I tend to warm up to it after a while!

Practicing letting go of imperfections through stitching has helped me in other areas of life, to tell myself it’s ok that I made my stew to salty that one time, or that I’m not the biggest loser of all times just because I said something dumb in a conversation!

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

I have too many ideas, and too little time! My next embroidery will be a reference to the great youtube channel Contrapoints (you should check it out), and the following one will have an activist message about napping! Stay tuned 😉

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A huge thank you to Helena for being my guinea pig (or should I say my gerbille!) to test out the questions and format, and for her inspiring and well-written answers. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better start!

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Not-quite-end-of-year book recommendations

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The first snow has made its appearance in Amsterdam this weekend, and it is the perfect weather for cupping a warm cup of tea with two hands with a good book in my lap. It’s not quite time to review the statistics about all this year’s reading, so for now I’ll just share three recommendations from the last months, as inspiration to read during the cosy evenings of the Christmas holidays!

All the birds, singing – Evie Wyld

I came across this book at the library by chance and it kept me in its grip for the few days I spent reading it.  The story telling is well done and you can really feel the heat of the Australian bush as if you were there. It brought back very clear memories of a trip we took with my family over 25 years ago to a farm in Australia where we saw sheep being sheared, it’s amazing how those images remain ingrained in some deep corner of the brain after all those years!

Tattoos on the heart: the power of boundless compassion – Gregory Boyle

I found this book in a little free library, and though it is written by a pastor it is not at all the ‘religious’ as I thought it may be. This book will warm your heart. It is a bundle of anecdotes from Father Gregory’s time working in Los Angeles in a neighbourhood with high gang activity and his amazing project to find concrete solutions.  It’s a powerful mix of down-to-earth, hilarious stories and deep reflection about hope and how to value every single person whatever their situation. It’s inspiring to read about the effects of acknowledging our common humanity and approaching it with unconditional love.

Vox – Christina Dalcher

This is the latest book we are reading in our book club (great suggestion by Paolo!), about a world very similar to ours, except women can only say maximum 100 words a day, after which they receive an electroshock for every extra word.  The frustration and anxiety you feel just reading about such a situation is a serious reminder of how precious our voices are and a powerful call to activism.

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Previous book recommendations: books I enjoyed lately, books about creativity, non-fiction books, discovering new voices.

After-dinner walks

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #76

I love this time of year when the evenings are getting longer, with beautiful light lingering later and later, allowing for after-dinner walks in the neighbourhood. It’s amazing how much good a short walk will do to clear my mind and boost my mood after a busy day at work.  I know this, however on automatic pilot at the end of the day to relax I will mostly just sit at the computer or on the sofa with a book, rather than go and get some fresh air.

Since I am noticing this, I would like to change this habit and make a conscious attempt to go for a stroll after dinner more often, however brief. I know it is always worth the effort of putting my shoes back on, leaving the dishes un-done and heading out.  On a recent post-dinner walk, I enjoyed watching a small brown puppy excitedly running in the evening light, took the time to observe the fresh new leaves growing in people’s gardens and even saw a gorgeous sunset…

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For previous evening walk adventures see: magic hour bird watching and spotting the perfect hideaway.

 

Discovering new voices

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Last year in the context of work, I discovered the power of data-driven decisions and started to apply it in other spheres of my life.  In 2017, I aimed to read more books and watch less series, so I started to count and make a list of the books I had read.  Half-way through the year, though I was happy to be progressing on my goal to read more, I realised a large proportion of those books were written by men.

While there is nothing wrong with books written by men, I strive for equality so I decided to balance out the trend. I paid closer attention and consciously chose books written by women, as well as looking out for some voices that were new to me, and in the end, 43,6% of the 39 books I read were by women authors.

Now for 2018 I plan that at least 56,4% of the books I read are written by women.  I’ll report back on how it is going throughout the year:)

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Here are some of my favorite books written by women from my 2017 readings, perfect for curling up on the couch in these days of icy cold weather:

A little life – Hanya Yanagihara

This is one of the best books I read last year.  I keep coming back to the story and its characters who I couldn’t help but care for deeply and their relationships.  Utterly heartbreaking and not for the faint-hearted (there are images of abuse and violence that I still find difficult to shake off today).

The buddha in the attic – Julie Otsuka

The story of Japanese picture brides who moved to the United States in the 1900s. I really enjoyed how their stories are told anonymously and at the same time so personally. It was gripping and fascinating as I had never heard of this part of history.

New people – Danzy Senna

A modern love story about racial identity and figuring out what one really wants in life. I enjoyed the sneak peek into a Brooklyn lifestyle in the 90s and got caught up in the shenanigans of Maria, the main character whose behaviour is both mindboggling and completely relatable.

Salvage the bones – Jesmyn Ward

Day to day life of a family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. So beautifully written and poetic. The characters are great and you really feel like you are there with them.

Recommended reading

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This weekend, whilst looking online for titles of books written by women to suggest at our next bookclub meeting, I came across this piece DEAR IJEAWELE, OR A FEMINIST MANIFESTO IN FIFTEEN SUGGESTIONS, by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I really enjoy how she writes and particularly liked this piece because it addresses many topics around gender inequality with a fresh perspective and has so many concrete examples.

It’s a long-read but well-worth your time.  I’d say sit comfortably on the sofa with a nice warm cup of tea, and let yourself be carried from one suggestion to the next. These suggestions apply to any human being really and can benefit both men and women.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned. Cooking – domestic work in general – is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women.”

“If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children we give them space to reach their full potential. Please see Chizalum as an individual. Not as a girl who should be a certain way. See her weaknesses and her strengths in an individual way. Do not measure her on a scale of what a girl should be. Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself.”

And after reading the article let it sink in for a while and read it again;)

Marching for equality

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #20

I’m grateful for the thousands of women, men, kids, dogs and their owners who carved some time out of their busy lives to come to the second Women’s March in Amsterdam last Saturday.

There were many wonderful slogans with puns and creative colourful banners, but the one above was my favorite. Simple, yes, but sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics, especially considering all the misconceptions around feminism.

There was a great atmosphere of solidarity at the march and it was heartwarming to see so many people who care enough to turn up and make sure their voice is heard for women and equality in general.