Thursday, 30 April 2015

The sexy stitch

Somehow I seem to have made a rather explicitly sexy quilt without really trying. 

Synapse (detail). 

True, the image taken from Botticelli's Birth of Venus was chosen because I have long considered it the epitome of sexiness, and then I added some hibiscus which, as I have remarked in the past, are blatantly pollinated with testosterone, plus some canna lilies, ditto. And then I added an orchid which, since Georgia O'Keeffe painted them in huge close-up (below) have been impossible to look at without blushing. But when I had bonded it all down irrevocably I saw that the end result was rather more explicit than I had intended. (This is a detail of a much larger quilt, Synapse, which will be at the Prism exhibition Lines of Communication, in Hoxton, east London, May 20- 31. Details at

Quilts in general don't do sexiness, despite countless thousands of people having been conceived beneath one. Together with embroidery, they have a proud history of women's lib feminism and consciousness raising - see the classic book The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker - exploring subjects such as menstruation and childbirth and, iconically and beautifully in Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party of 1979, female genitalia. But that's not the same thing at all. 

Notable exceptions occur in erotic images by male embroiderers such as James Hunting. But do a Google image search of "sexy quilt" and you will be totally untitivated. The always excitingly different  Alexander Henry Fabrics (in the UK from Fancy Moon) may do a range of quilting fabrics featuring 50s-style pinups and hunky cowboys and firemen stripped to the waist, but these are as humorous as they are erotic.

....and there are those hibiscus again

And laughter seems often to be the default reaction.
I recall at the Festival of Quilts a decade or so ago standing before a large quilt that depicted two full-fronted naked figures in a lush garden without fig leaves but holding an owl (no, I don't know why either). It had, predictably, been banned from exhibition in America, but in Brum it was met by giggles.

The American quilter Jan Myers-Newbury, well-known for her innovative tie-dye and Shibori techniques, also came up against the censors, although was baffled as to why a particular quilt she had submitted for a show had been vetoed. Later, telling the story to an audience at the V&A, she put up a slide of the totally inoffensive abstract block quilt and told how she had phoned up the organisers for an explanation, to be informed that it was because of the, ahem, "female parts". The audience was equally puzzled. Then she showed a detail. There was a moment's silence, a collective intake of breath then gales of laughter. There, formed by the dye marks in a border fabric, was a huge, graphic depiction of a "part" usually seen only in hard porn and medical textbooks.

Perhaps the sexiness of quilts is best appreciated in a snuggly, lights-out bedroom context. And who could complain about that.

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