Fashion’s Common Thread for Fall 2017 is Embroidery
With elements of storytelling, embroidery is personalizing the increasingly impersonal and fast-paced fashion industry.
For her What I Like exhibition at South London’s Now Gallery last winter, English fashion designer Molly Goddard invited visitors to pull up a chair, grab a needle and thread and embroider a design onto oversized versions of her colourful tulle dresses. For almost four months, the communal art installation—lovingly covered in hand-stitched hearts, flowers and messages—was an honest collaboration that Goddard described as “a living thing changing daily.”
In today’s increasingly detached climate of instant gratification, where everything from new clothes to intimate relationships is just a smartphone tap away, time-consuming detailing like embroidery and cross-stitch—X-shaped stitches tiled in raster-like patterns—brings a calm to garments. The handicraft was spotted on the Fall 2017 runways at Gucci, Altuzarra and Temperley London, and Toronto-born, New York-based designer Tanya Taylor added a mix of hand-stitched and machine-embroidered bird and floral designs to her striped blouses and ruffled dresses. “Cross-stitch adds colour, texture and meaning,” she explains. “It represents how I want every piece to feel like a collector’s item.”
An element of storytelling is what attracted an unexpected fan base of hip-hop artists, says Chicago-based cross-stitch artist Emma McKee. Growing up in St. Louis, Mo., McKee had no interest in her family’s tradition of cross-stitch, which, at the time, was commonly associated with the benign floral designs hanging on the walls at her granny’s house. “It seemed to me to be something that polite women did when they had to keep themselves occupied,” says McKee, 31. In 2012, she finally started stitching as a way to reconnect with her mother and ended up falling in love with its calming and meditative aspects. It wasn’t long before she was making her own contemporary designs inspired by the artists and musicians she’d gotten to know in Chicago. Since then, she has made embroidery pieces for jackets and sweaters worn by Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Jazz Cartier and more.
When asked why she thinks her work resonates with men who work in an industry better known for macho bravado than contemplative crafts, McKee says the appeal of cross-stitch lies in the time and care required for its creation. “You look at cross-stitch versus machine embroidery and you can see how much time went into it. It’s impossible to ignore,” she says. “Time is the only thing we can truly give of ourselves because it’s the one thing we can’t get back.”